Budgets are among top issues at League of Women Voters forum

POULSBO — When asked what major short-term challenge they would take on and what actions or mandate they would order as “president” of Kitsap County, both candidates for County Commission District 1 responded with the budget.

Balancing the budget is the top priority, Chris Tibbs said. He added he wants Kitsap to become charter governed, “eliminating a partisan role for coroner, assessor, sheriff and auditor.”

Incumbent Rob Gelder agreed he would focus on the budget. Gelder said as “president” of Kitsap County — both candidates knew there is no such position — he would work to resize the county’s government to “a sustainable level.”

Gelder and Tibbs were the first to speak during the candidate forum Oct. 13 at Poulsbo City Hall. Hosted by the Kitsap County League of Women Voters, the forum was held for candidates for County Commission, Poulsbo City Council Position 2 and North Kitsap School Board District 4.

Gelder and Tibbs are running in the Nov. 8 election for the right to serve the one year remaining in the term, vacated earlier this year by Steve Bauer, who resigned. Commissioners earn $109,907 per year. They approve laws, set policies, and manage a $325 million budget.

The budget remained the main topic of the county commissioner portion of the forum.

Gelder said if he were to make three budget cuts, barring outside information he would look to cut animal control, central communications and equipment, and the rental and revolving fund.

Instead of discussing cuts, Tibbs opted to discuss what he would fund if elected. This included fully funding law and justice, and roads.

“We need to prioritize before making cuts,” he said.

When it comes to cuts to staffing, Gelder said he would not recommend cuts right now. Tibbs said he would look to eliminate the chief deputy treasurer’s position and would consider bringing the auditor and treasury departments closer together for better “synergy.”

When it comes to property, Gelder said he supports projects such as the String of Pearls trails network being developed by the North Kitsap Trails Association. Projects such as those support eco-tourism, he said.

Tibbs said he would prefer to focus on the budget, but is concerned about the ramifications on private property when trails are developed. Tibbs said the "county is in the business of taking property," and removing homeowners’ ability to develop on shorelines is becoming a problem.

In a rebuttal, Gelder said the county is finding ways to responsibly manage shoreline development, with help from an advisory committee.

The two candidates also disagreed on the proposed veterans and homeless levy. The levy would add 5 cents in property tax for every $1,000 of assessed real estate value, or about $12.50 per year on a $250,000 home. The levy would last six years before needing approval again. Gelder supports the levy, Tibbs does not.

Poulsbo City Council Position 2

City Council candidates Connie Lord and Mike Dunphy kept their answers short and often overlapped on their ideas, making their debate the shortest of the forum.

Lord, as a 12-year member of the council, referred to her work on numerous committees and the management plans she has worked on. Dunphy had more to say about environmental issues, but didn’t articulate many ideas to solve budget problems.

City Council members serve four-year terms and receive $6,000 per year. The City Council is the legislative branch of city government; members approve the budget, make laws, set policies, and serve on committees.

Both candidates had similar responses to one resident’s question about the critical challenges facing Poulsbo — reviving Viking Way and other economic development in the area, stabilizing the budget while providing current levels of service, and protecting the local environment.

However, they differed about resolving budget issues and possible cuts. Dunphy said the city should consider a four-day work week, while Lord, chairwoman of the council’s finance committee, said the committee is working with the mayor to prioritize services in each department, avoiding “sweeping” cuts across the board.

Another resident asked about the city’s annexation rate. Dunphy said he has heard from residents who do not want to be annexed, and he would continue to listen if elected, but both he and Lord said they would abide by the state’s Growth Management Act standards and incorporate land “when we have the capability to sustain it,” as Lord put it.

Both candidates have a business background and expressed a deep concern for Poulsbo. Dunphy said he was a concerned citizen who will “bring a new perspective to the council. I think it’s time for somebody new.”

Lord said now is not the time to replace experience when tough decisions need to be made.

“We don’t have the luxury of winging it,” she said. “We have policies in place … issues that nobody could predict in front of them."

North Kitsap School Board District 4

Though the forum for school board candidate Scott Henden and incumbent Val Torrens was last, the council chambers was far from empty.

The two candidates running for North Kitsap School Board District 4 discussed many similar issues to council portion of the forum. Each candidate, however, had two rebuttal opportunities.

The one rebuttal was used by Henden when the topic of the superintendent search arose.

Answering how he would prevent the next superintendent from being asked to leave within his or her first term, Henden said he did not know. Before he can consider remedies to possible problems, he first wants to see the board clearly define the characteristics and background it wants in a superintendent, he said.

Torrens said the board created the superintendent search committee for that reason; the committee held its second meeting Oct. 6.

Like the budget, Henden believes the board should be further along in the search.

"I truly believe we are behind right now," he said in his rebuttal.

In her closing statement, Torrens said she did not feel the board was behind on the budget, as the Citizens Budget Review Committee is already looking at the 2012-13 budget.

The budget and superintendent were not the only disagreements during the school board forum.

When asked how much both candidates value the arts, Henden said the arts are lumped in the same category as athletics and music: not education. Though he supports all forms of education — especially school sports — if it comes down to cuts, those would be first.

Torrens again disagreed. She said art is now considered part of core education and a requirement for graduation.

Among their disagreements — which also included bullying, charter and private schools and the theory of evolution — the budget and student achievement remained prominent.

Henden would like the board to find alternative funding, such as selling team names to businesses. If elected, Henden said he would look at each program in the district to see if its worth the cost of running it.

Torrens said a supplemental levy is another way to mitigate cuts, but funding from outside sources is difficult.

“A lot of places don’t have extra funding,” she said.

— Herald reporter Megan Stephenson contributed to this report


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