Voters focus on finances

North End commissioner candidates address residents’ questions in forum.

BREMERTON — Residents from Poulsbo to Port Orchard packed Bremerton’s Cloverleaf restaurant yesterday for one-on-one face time with North End commissioner candidates.

Steve Bauer, the incumbent North End commissioner, and his challenger Sandra LaCelle faced off at the Eggs and Issues Forum, sponsored by the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce.

In opening, LaCelle said she’s lived in the area about 25 years and considers herself a Northwest person who is concerned because she’s seen local government stagnate.

If elected to the commissioner seat one of her top priorities would be making government more open to residents and to recognize individual property rights.

“As a lawyer I’m an advocate of open government,” she said.

Bauer highlighted his past experience handling large budgets saying the 2008 budget was the first that hasn’t dipped into reserve funding since 2001. He was appointed to the position of North End commissioner about 15 months ago when the previous commissioner, Chris Endresen, resigned to take a post as a state director for U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Bauer said since then he’s “proven to be a creative problem solver,” adding he advised councils and committees to hold meetings at night so those who work and commute can attend.

Bauer said his 25 years of experience, which includes working as Bellevue’s city manager and as the director of finance and administration for Portland, Ore. prepared him well for handling Kitsap County’s budget.

Protecting Puget Sound and accommodating projected county growth are his top priorities, he said.

In response to her first question, LaCelle said she’s worked with small businesses before and knows the processes, including the hiring and firing, but hasn’t worked with large budgets before.

As the North End is home to two tribes, the question of who, exactly, represents them on behalf of the county was posed.

Bauer said the county commissioner does represent those individuals and the citizen action committee — Suquamish Citizens Advisory Council — meets to represent the concerns of the non-tribal members in those boundaries.

He added there might always be some state of contention between the people living in Suquamish because of the Tribe’s financial resources; however, from those he’s talked to, the diversity and multicultural aspects outweigh negatives.

LaCelle said she agreed with Bauer, the commissioner should represent all people in those jurisdictions. But, in efforts to reduce the budgets, the cost the county puts into citizen action committees should be looked at and potentially cut.

The county’s permitting process was also a hot-button issue.

Because of the topography and varied terrain of the county, permits were necessary to ensure safety for both people and the property, Bauer said. He said the county has an obligation to protect the homes’ future inhabitants.

LaCelle agreed with Bauer saying the process makes it lawful for people to live in the homes. She added that as a wife of a builder she knows sometimes the permitting process works well and other times it doesn’t.

Switching back to financial concerns, the candidates addressed the county’s funding to the arts.

Bauer said historically the county gave the Admiral Theatre in Bremerton $40,000 annually. Commissioners decided Monday that 25 percent of the hotel/motel taxes would go toward local arts organizations.

“What we’ve done is given them the option to tell us what they need. If they make the case they need money they’ll probably get it,” Bauer said.

LaCelle said she didn’t believe the tax percentage would be a disadvantage.

“The arts have such a strong following in the community and we have to look at our priorities first,” she said. “Unfortunately, while the arts are important, they might not be as important as things like law and justice. We have to go from the top down as we have mandates.”

When faced with the subject of affordable housing within the county, both vying candidates agreed there is a great need for it with the projected county growth.

The Bremerton Chamber of Commerce holds its next Eggs and Issues public forum at the Cloverleaf next Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. The 23rd District Representative candidates Mark Lowe and Christine Rolfes are attending.

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