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Group seeks Suquamish city status

SUQUAMISH — There was some jaw dropping taking place last week as residents and officials got word that a local group was working to incorporate Suquamish.

The Suquamish Incorporated Project, consisting of Suquamish residents, was recently formed to further research the possibility of turning the community into a small city while working with community members, county officials and the Suquamish Tribe.

Suquamish resident and SIP chair Matthew Cleverley said the primary advantage of becoming a city would be having local control and local leadership, rather than depending on elected officials in Port Orchard.

“The biggest benefit is local citizens and local residents controlling the decisions and being active and available and working with the community,” Cleverley said, noting that another benefit would be keeping local dollars in the area. Instead of the majority of taxes going to the county, funds would be redirected to the new city, which would then decide how to support its services.

“That started becoming very attractive to citizens as well,” Cleverley said.

Another advantage of incorporating includes being able to make local land-use decisions and promoting businesses and development, he explained.

“What we are looking at (is) providing the opportunity of the city to focus on priorities within the city and the residents versus accepting whatever priorities the county delegates,” Cleverley said. “We’re cognizant there are a lot of unknowns and a lot of questions out there.”

The proposed city boundary would run from the Agate Pass Bridge, south following the waterfront around Sandy Hook, up and across Highway 305 to Totten Road and north along Totten to Widme Road. The boundary would continue north along Widme to Lincoln Road, east along Lincoln to Port Gamble Road and north along Port Gamble to Gunderson before turning east along Gunderson to Miller Bay Road and following the waterfront back to the bridge.

The effort started about a year ago, with informal discussions between residents voicing frustration about the county’s lackluster response to issues ranging from roadwork to drug abuse, Cleverley said.

While the group has invited the tribe to assist with the process, some involved have had a checkered history with the Suquamish.

Several members of SIP are also members of Friends of Old Man House Park, a group that is encouraging the Washington State Parks Commission to retain ownership of the Suquamish park instead of turning it over to the tribe. Others were also individuals listed in a lawsuit against the tribe in 2001, which claimed the Suquamish existed as a corporation, not as a federally-recognized tribe.

WHAT ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE?

The proposal to incorporate Suquamish came as a shock to county and tribal officials, starting a flurry of research to see how it would affect both agencies.

Tribal spokesperson Leonard Forsman said the Suquamish Tribal Council received a letter from the organization late last week and met Feb. 9 to discuss how the tribe will approach this.

“The tribe is stilling studying the issues and we are going to analyze what’s best for the reservation — the tribal landowners, the tribal members and the non-tribal members,” Forsman said.

He also noted that a large percentage of the land within the proposed boundaries is tribally-owned. This land is tax-exempt because of the tribe’s status as a federally-recognized sovereign nation.

Cleverley said he believes the incorporation talks provide a good opportunity for the tribe and residents to work together.

“We contacted tribe before we made any announcements,” Cleverley said. “We look forward to working with the tribe ... with the city working with the tribe, there will be a lot fewer issues because we would all be working towards the same thing.”

Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen said she isn’t sure if incorporation is viable, but, if anything, it will be an experience for residents to learn how to create and run a government.

“I think the process is laid out for the community to chart their own destiny,” Endresen said. “The county will help supply them with numbers and all the information they need. Even if they don’t incorporate, they will learn how much government costs and services cost.”

Taking the property off the county tax rolls won’t have that much of an impact, she said, as residents will still be contributing a portion of their tax dollars to the county for certain services such as the justice and law system.

And because of the small business economy in the area, there won’t be much of negative impact to the county from the lost sales tax base, either, she said.

However, Endresen said she is not sure if it is possible for Suquamish to incorporate.

“I don’t know if it’s viable or not because I don’t know if even Kingston is viable,” she said. “Before the county spends money, we need to find out if it’s 20 people or 100 people that want this.”

HOW TO GO ABOUT BECOMING A CITY

There will be an informational meeting for the public in late February or early March at Suquamish Elementary School to further explain the proposal. The meeting date will be posted on the web site.

If there seems to be enough support to proceed with the effort following the meeting, the group would file a Notice of Proposed Incorporation with the county.

A public hearing would be held with the county’s Boundary Review Board.

The group would then have six months to gather signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters within the proposed boundaries to put the issue on the ballot and present it to the county auditor.

Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn roughly estimated that there are about 2,100 registered voters within the boundaries, however, she said it’s hard to say officially because there are no official boundaries set.

If the auditor verifies there are enough signatures, the issue is put to the voters within the proposed boundaries during a special election expected to be held next year.

Cleverley said the results of informal discussions with residents have mixed — some have been for the idea and others have been against it, fearing growth.

“There are people of all viewpoints that are out there,” he said. “Many more people were positive about the idea, about the concept, rather than negative, which is why we decided to go forth with it.”

IS IT ECONOMICALLY FEASIBLE?

With government comes a need for revenues, and Kitsap County Assessor Jim Avery said he’s not sure if Suquamish as a city could make it on property taxes alone.

The group’s web site estimates the local tax revenue within the area to be $1.2 to $1.8 million and the cost of city government to be less than that.

Avery has figured that with an assessed property value of the proposed area of $350 million, the city could collect $560,000 in property taxes. The majority of city revenues, he added, are generated through this funding mechanism.

Even so, 14 acres of land on Suquamish Way and Highway 305 that is home to the Clearwater Casino could be transferred from simple-fee land into federal trust tribal land this year — taking an additional $33 million off the assessed value. This would drop property tax revenues to $507,000.

“It would be difficult,” Avery said. “$500,000 goes fast if that’s your only sense of revenue.”

While Avery said he was impressed with the group’s web site and information, he’s not too sure about the $1.2 to $1.8 million revenues with services.

“That’s what they think they will be collecting,” Avery said. “I don’t know where that is going to be coming from.”

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