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Vet levy costs less than Kitsap commissioners thought

For months, the cost of November’s countywide vote on a proposed levy to fund local veterans and the county’s homeless has been shared with the public as $75,000. The real price tag that will likely be sent to taxpayers is less than one-third of that.

The Kitsap County Auditor’s office released the cost of The Kitsap County Veterans and Human Services Levy, and at least, two county commissioners have been quoted in several stories in local papers, including the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot, saying the price tag was $75,000.

Kitsap County Auditor Walt Washington Monday said that commissioner Robert Gelder’s and Kitsap County Board of Commissioners Chair Charlotte Garrido’s telling of the $75,000 amount in recent meetings and newspaper articles was indeed incorrect. Washington estimated the cost to be closer to $20,000, and the ballot measure cost could be further reduced as the full ballot comes into shape during the week.

“It is premature to say how much it will cost,” Washington said.

While human services levy was created and presented to the public for consideration, commissioners promised transparency with all monies raised from the levy, including money used for administrative costs shortly before Gelder said the BOCC was justified in spending $75,000 to put levy to voters.

If the levy wins approval by voters in November, the cost would be paid back to the county from funds raised through the increased property tax.

Josh Brown, Dist. 3 Commissioner,  said he’s not sure why fellow commissioners started using the $75,000 number, but said the levy would surely not cost $75,000.

Gelder said the $75,000 number he cited originally came from documents provided by Auditor’s Office and made public during the public presentation introducing the levy for consideration and resolution.

Monday, Gelder said he did not know that the ballot measure likely to cost $75,000 is his own race for the Kitsap County Commissioner District 1 seat. Until last February, Gelder’s seat was held by Steve Bauer, who resigned to spend more time with family. Gelder was appointed to the seat as the top choice of Kitsap County Democrats precinct committee officers, with a special election to this fall.

Gelder said he did not think the $55,000 price variance over the actual cost of placing the veteran’s and homeless levy on the ballot would color opinion or sway voters one way or another when election day comes.

“The important thing to look at is not the act of placing [the levy] on the ballot,” Gelder said. People should be concerned about what’s important for the community long term.”

Garrido said she thinks that voters are paying attention to the cost of elections and ballot measures, but that they also follow the issues within the measures, such as the veterans levy. Garrido offered no prediction on how much weight voters give to cost versus substance of any ballot measure.

“As a voter myself, I’d like to think that people are paying attention,” she said.

Leif Bentsen, human services planner and Kitsap County Veterans Assistance Program director, presented the levy with the inflated cost to the BOCC and the community on July 25. Bentsen said he only later found out the auditor’s number was wrong for “whatever reason.” Bentsen said he was not aware of any negative perception attached to the levy as a result of the inflated cost being attached. But, people have asked what the $75,000 is for, he said.

“We were all thinking the cost was $75,000,” Bentsen said.

Currently, services for homeless and at-risk veterans in the county are funded by the county Veteran’s Assistance Fund, which is supplied by an existing property tax of just over $0.01 per thousand dollars of property value. That tax generates about $319,000 per year. The additional tax, if approved, would generate about $1.6 million per year.

The levy, which will be listed on the Nov. 8 ballot as proposition two, authorizes a temporary increase of $0.05 per thousand dollars of home value, or about $12.50 per year in additional tax on a $250,000 home. If approved in November, half the money will go to homeless programs the other 50 percent to homeless veteran programs.

In the end, the actual cost per measure place on the ballot all depends on total number of measures that end up on the ballot and from which tax district, said Washington.

Several other local initiatives will join at least five statewide initiatives and possibly reduce further the total amount to those measures down because the overall election expense to each junior taxing district is shared in relation to the ballot measure location with the top being the largest.

If the veterans and homeless levy were on on a ballot by itself the price would be $75,000, Washington said.

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