The chamber hosted the forum featuring the four candidates vying for the Kitsap County commissioner seats.
After introductions and some opening statements the candidates spent about an hour discussing the issues affecting Kitsap County residents.
Challenges and budget
Garrido answered a question concerning the challenges ahead if reelected stating, “I believe we are seeing some stabilization. We are not necessarily seeing increasing revenues, but I think we are stabilizing.”
She said the commission has learned many lessons during the Great Recession.
“We have decided we will self-insure health insurance at county government, which will save one to two million dollars a year,” Garrido said.
She also said volunteers are a valuable asset for the county.
“This is a forward looking, existing board of commissioners and I believe we are setting the track for a more positive future,” Garrido said.
Simpson said, “The No. 1 problem here in Kitsap County for me is economic development. Economic development and the revenue base (from the development) will significantly alleviate the problems we are having when it comes to a budget crunch.”
According to Simpson the Office of Financial Management stated Kitsap County lost 18,000 jobs between 2009 and 2010.
“Have we recouped those jobs? No,” Simpson said. “So our focus needs to be on economic development.”
She suggested forming an advisory committee to look at economic development in the county.
“We can get rid of some of the policies that are not working for business development,” Simpson said.
She also said customer service needs to be improved to help economic development.
“We need to move forward on the projects where people want to create jobs in our county,” Simpson said.
Concerning the challenges Gelder said he thought the county was not out of the “woods by any means. One year does not a trend make. So we really need to wait it out and make sure we are conservative in our approach, so we don’t go back to some of the decisions we have had in the past.”
Gelder said another issue the county must consider is if Silverdale votes to incorporate.
“If Silverdale goes forward with a vote, if they vote to create a new city, that has a projected impact to the county of about seven to eight million dollars, which is 10 percent of our general fund,” he said.
Gelder said providing services could become a challenge with the loss of funds if Silverdale incorporates citing the “$12 million that we have lost over the past five year.s”
Tibbs agreed with Gelder that the potential incorporation of Silverdale was one of the most difficult puzzles facing the county.
“Silverdale is the bread basket of our sales tax, property tax” Tibbs said. “Should Silverdale incorporate (then) that question is everyone’s priority.”
He called the Bainbridge Island incorporation an “unmitigated failure. Yes the people of Bainbridge Island have more control of their island, but they can’t pay for their roads often time. They’ve had massive issues with their law enforcement.”
He said he disagrees that Kitsap County is “open for business.”
“I think we have to go to a five-day-work week, I think we have the funds to do that,” Tibbs said.
Answering a question on the vision for the future, Gelder pointed to businesses that have located in the county and that an expedited permit process will encourage economic development in the future.
“We need to make sure our zoning and our ordinances are in place so we can be supportive of small businesses of all shape and sizes,” Gelder said. “When it comes to economic development we need look much broader. We need to look at how we support our community overall. So it is a place for business to come, grow and retain their employees.
Tibbs said three police chiefs are retiring, “In Bainbridge Island, in Poulsbo, in Bremerton, this is the time to have an engaged conversation with our local sheriff’s office about looking at contracting those services out.”
Tibbs said he supports a budget based on individual performance audits to “reward departments.”
Simpson would like to see a “more definite support for tourism.”
She would like to see expansion at the Bremerton Motorsports Complex and “I think we should put a BMX track in here …. We can bring people here and that’s what we need to do by partnering.”
Simpson said if the county will build the infrastructure, “people will come here, people will live here.”
She also said the county needs to look at encouraging manufacturing and entrepreneurs that create a jobs base beside the Navy.
“If the Navy had to cut their budget significantly, our economy would take a substantial dive,” Simpson said.
Looking at the future, Garrido discussed whether YMCA is the best recreational center for South Kitsap. She said she has been working with Tim Matthes, mayor of Port Orchard concerning the YMCA.
“We want to hear from the people that live in South Kitsap County whether a YMCA is the best recreation center,” Garrido said.
The commissioner said she plans on putting together a group to consider the options.
Garrido talked about sharing equipment and services across the county.
“There are many ways that we can be working across Kitsap County and county wide,” Garrido said.