By LESLIE KELLY
Central Kitsap Reporter
Western Washington’s four newest cities incorporated because residents wanted more control over how their tax dollars were spent and how their cities developed.
“For me, I wanted to make sure that police services in my area improved,” said Rebecca Clark, a former Covington City Council member. She became involved in that city’s incorporation efforts more than 10 years ago.
“After much study, we determined that by incorporating, we could better control what our taxes were spent on and ultimately provide better safety, better planning and better development standards than we were getting from King County.”
Clark was one of five panelists who spoke to about 60 people who attended a Jan. 17 forum sponsored by the Central Kitsap Community Council and the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce. Others on the panel were from Kenmore, Maple Valley and University Place.
Silverdale residents vote on Feb. 12 on whether to incorporate their community as a city. If approved, Silverdale would be Kitsap’s third-largest city, with approximately 19,140 residents. Bremerton is the largest city, with 39,051 residents; Bainbridge is the second-largest, 23,025.
Ballots were mailed Jan. 25 to approximately 9,000 registered voters. Kitsap County election officials said they anticipate about a 50 percent voter turnout. That means, Silverdale could become a city with approximately 2,300 votes in favor.
At the Jan. 17 forum, panelists said if they hadn’t incorporated, they risked being annexed by neighboring cities.
“We knew that if we didn’t do something, eventually, someday, we would be annexed by Tacoma,” said Caroline Belleci, a member of the University Place City Council. “Our citizens were frustrated with the growth in multi-family housing in what was a single-family community. We felt that the county was just letting it happen and we didn’t have a say-so. We weren’t seeing the new developments being asked to help pay for street improvements even though that’s what the county standards called for.”
That drove residents of the area to look into incorporation, she said. “We wanted what would give us the best control over our future. We decided incorporation was the best option.”
Other members of the panel said that as unincorporated areas, they had no identity.
“Kenmore now is a great place,” said David Maehren, co-chairman of the incorporation efforts in Kenmore. “Before, we didn’t really have an identity. Now, we do. We have a City Hall and we have celebrations and hundreds of residents participate.”
Before incorporation, Kenmore experienced uncontrolled growth of such things as storage facilities in the middle of town and adult entertainment venues, Maehren said. But once Kenmore became a city, it was able to regulate growth and preserve its character as a small community.
Panelists said the move to incorporation wasn’t without struggles. Leaders of each new city had to work out contracts with the county and/or neighboring cities and agencies for services such as fire protection, police, public works, planning and development, and library. Covington, Kenmore, Maple Valley and University Place chose to contract for police services rather than have their own departments. Since becoming cities, however, they have taken on the responsibility for other services, such as planning and public works. Some of them now have their own city office buildings; others rent office space.
“Was there a sense that we were out to build an empire? I don’t think so, and we haven’t spent tax dollars without going to the voters to give them their say,” Maehren said. “But the advantage in that is that as a city, you have a representative that lives in your neighborhood and knows you that you can contact, whereas if you are part of the county, that isn’t always true.”
Efforts to incorporate Silverdale aren’t new. Throughout the years since the mid-1980s, groups have sprung up to promote cityhood. On Nov. 2, 1999, an incorporation measure failed by five votes — 2,100 against, 2,095 for. Another attempt failed in a special election three months later — 2,574 against, 1,788 for.
Citizens United for Silverdale has been spearheading the latest incorporation effort for the past year. The group’s strongest commitment to incorporating is providing residents with local control. But those who oppose incorporation say they fear cityhood would just create another level of government.
“You cannot get a new layer of government without paying for it,” Paul Middents said. “In Covington, residents saw an average $400 increase in their taxes after incorporating.”
Middents said he worries that creating a city of Silverdale would be costly.
“City managers don’t come cheap,” he said. “And how long before Silverdale leaders will think they need to have a city hall to rival the Norwegian Vatican in Poulsbo,” he asked, referring to Poulsbo City Hall.
He also thinks Kitsap County government is working well and providing good services to all county residents.
While the county’s Boundary Review Board ruled in October that Silverdale should not incorporate, Randy Biegenwald, chairman of the pro-incorporation committee, said the decision really belongs to voters.
He said the Growth Management Hearings Board of Central Puget Sound ruled that incorporation is appropriate for an area like Silverdale, because it has a densely developed commercial hub and urban services.
Proponents argue that there will not be another level of government or more taxes.
“Instead of paying the county, you’ll just be paying the city,” Biegenwald said. “And the control over those dollars will be more local.”
Citizens United for Silverdale states on its website, www.silverdaleinc.com, that the new city would have a seven-member city council, which would select the mayor from among its members. The council would be charged with hiring a city manager, setting up city departments, and approving contracts for services, such as law enforcement.
The proposed city of Silverdale’s boundaries have been redrawn a couple of times since incorporation efforts began. It now comprises about 12 square miles and would have an assessed value of nearly $2.2 billion. Tax revenue per capita would be about $600.
— See also Kelly's editorial, "Educate, then vote."
— The county Commissioners Office looks at how incorporation will affect the county.