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Residents speak out against port district annexation
POULSBO — The Port of Poulsbo has entertained the idea of expanding its boundaries for nearly one year. Little, if any, opposition to the notion presented itself during that time. In fact, only a handful of supportive voices were raised at port meetings and a town hall on the topic.
But at a Jan. 24 forum hosted by the North Kitsap Herald at the Poulsbo City Hall, the opposition finally showed up.
"All of us waterfront homeowners, we got the DNR, we got the Army Corps of Engineers if you got a dock, we got the county, we got septic people, and now you (want to) put another layer — you guys — over that,” said Joe Prevost, whose family has lived on Pearson Point in Liberty Bay for 25 years. “We're worried. We got enough already.”
He added, “This is a 71 percent increase (in the port's taxing area). I’m very opposed to this."
Prevost lives in one of a few neighborhoods along Liberty Bay that will vote Feb. 11 on whether they wish to join the Poulsbo Port District. The others are Lemolo, Scandia, Virginia Point, and parts of Poulsbo.
The council chamber was packed and left with standing room only. Commissioners Jim Rutledge, Stephen Swann and Mark DeSalvo attempted to explain why the surrounding communities should be included in the port district.
"The city has grown," DeSalvo said. "Now less than half of the city is part of the port district, including Walmart and Home Depot. They are not participating in this, and they benefit from it.
"(Liberty Bay) is governed under the state or the county, there is no one voice for the bay other than going through the state or the county. We want to keep it local, we want to bring it back on down so there is local control. That's what the port does. Right now, just a small, little minority in Poulsbo controls everything to do with the port."
"If you care about the community and think that the waterfront is an important part of it, I would say that you should care," Rutledge said.
"Economically, I would bet that the health of Liberty Bay is important to you and your property values, to your jobs, to the economic success of the area.”
Rutledge said the bay is silting in, and the downtown Poulsbo seawall is failing. The port aims to fix the seawall and dredge a part of the bay to help boats, even small cruise ships, to come in.
"The visitors that come into the area through the port spend millions of dollars in this area every year. This reduces your tax burden and makes the area more economically healthy."
Rutledge also said that the port's main objectives to be an environmental steward, foster economic development and represent port members. He noted that the port helps protect property owners' rights, and helped waterfront property owners negotiate during the last round of controversial shoreline master program updates.
Some residents were not swayed by commissioners' arguments for annexation, and said they could not see the benefit of joining the port.
"I'm not unsympathetic to you," said Carl Shipley of Scandia. "But I'm not in favor of this. If you had actually presented something that talked about how I would be drawn more into a community of Liberty Bay, I would have been much more sympathetic. The idea has attraction. There is a sort of natural configuration for a community here. But I just didn't hear it tonight."
Others felt that their tax dollars would only help Poulsbo, not their independent communities.
"Most of your plans seem to be extraordinarily Poulsbo centric," said Karen Timmerman, who grew up in the Liberty Bay area. "The word 'community' is thrown around an awful lot but honestly everything is about Poulsbo."
"Your'e trying to make it sound like ‘Well, all these surrounding people should pay increased property taxes to help out Poulsbo.’ If you don't shop in Poulsbo and many people don't, they go to Silverdale, what does it matter if they help Poulsbo?"
She added, “They're accepting all the risk and Poulsbo is reaping all of the rewards.”
DeSalvo countered by saying that the areas up for annexation are not in the port district yet, and therefore the port doesn't have any plans for them. "You are right," DeSalvo said to Timmerman. "Look at our constituency, we don't represent you right now, so our plan has nothing to do with you right now."
Moderator and Herald editor Richard Walker worked to keep the forum on track, fielding questions from the crowd and facilitating commissioners’ answers. But the meeting, at times, broke into stretches of residents putting commissioners on the defensive.
"You're a bureaucrat!" a women from the crowd exclaimed to a commissioner. Others spoke up, claiming that annexation would be the first step toward the city enveloping their communities.
Others criticized the very procedure of the forum, debating whether or not it should follow the question and answer format. And some accused Walker of speaking more as a "fourth commissioner" instead of a moderator. The expansion, if approved, would take port borders to the remaining shorelines of Liberty Bay, except Keyport, and the upland regions associated with them. The port would then gain tax revenue from the newly annexed properties.
Only the residents that would be annexed will vote on the measure in February. If approved, the levy would be 30 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value. The levy will not change for existing port district residents.
The Port of Poulsbo is operated by three commissioners, five full-time employees and three part-time employees.
WHO VOTES, AND WHERE
On Feb. 11, 2,483 voters will vote on whether to annex into the Poulsbo Port District.
In precincts 401, 403, 404 and 406, within the Poulsbo city limits: 1,116 voters.
In precinct 445, Pearson: 559 voters.
In precinct 455, Scandia: 137 voters.
In precinct 435, Lemolo: 671 voters.