With less than two weeks to go until a vote on incorporation, both proponents and opponents are forecasting victory.
“We’re very happy with the message that is out there,” said Rob MacDermid, an attorney who is working with the efforts to incorporate. “We feel really good about what we’re hearing on the streets. There hasn’t been any official polling, and you never know until it’s over, but we think people do understand the advantages of becoming a city and that that will be reflected in the vote on Feb. 12.”
But Jerry Vanfossen, a retired federal employee who opposes the incorporation, said he thinks the measure will be defeated.
“A lot of the people I talk to just don’t see the positives to becoming a city,” Vanfossen said. “I don’t expect it to pass.”
Silverdale’s incorporation will be decided by voters in the proposed incorporation area in a mail-in only ballot. Ballots have been mailed to voters and are due back to the county Feb. 12. An expected 50 percent turnout could mean as many as 4,500 votes will be cast. The Kitsap County Auditor’s office said the Silverdale incorporation ballot measure will cost taxpayers about $35,000.
While Silverdale has tried to incorporate several times in the past, issues over whether it should or shouldn’t become a city have always been heated. Some say incorporation will allow the city to have more local control over how its tax dollars are spent. But those who oppose incorporation say becoming a city will just lead to another layer of government that will mean more costs to taxpayers. Civic groups and the Citizens United for Silverdale have hosted forums where representatives of cities that have recently incorporated spoke about their experiences. Those who oppose becoming a city, however, have said that the forums were heavily biased in favor of incorporation.
“We felt the best way to let the public know what it may be like to become a city was to let those who have done just that tell us about their experiences,” said MacDermit, of Citizens United for Silverdale. “Universally, they all said if they had to do it over they would still become cities because it has proven to have been the best thing for them.
“They said that in most instances, their taxes have gone down and they’ve seen additional income because as a city they are eligible to receive millions of dollars in grants from federal government agencies that’s being left on the table.”
Vanfossen, however, said that he doesn’t buy the argument that becoming a city isn’t going to cost residents something.
“Just setting up shop is going to cost something,” he said. “We’ll have seven city councilmen that will be paid salaries. And we’ll have clerical staff and they’ve got to have somewhere to work. All of that is money that could be used to patch potholes in the streets.”
Another argument proponents have is that government will be more accountable because it will be more local.
“(Kitsap) County government is doing a good job,” said MacDermid. “But their legal responsibility prevents them from focusing on the needs of Silverdale. They have to focus on the entire county. The attention that Silverdale requires as the second or third largest city in the county can only be accomplished through incorporation. Silverdale doesn’t have the oversight management that it should have.”
But Vanfossen said he doesn’t agree.
“County government has always been responsive to our needs,” he said. “If we have a city government here, we will still be relying on the county for services and its the county that will be assessing the value of our property. To me it just seems like we’re adding a level of government that isn’t needed.”
Vanfossen said in the circles that he travels, there are those who know that they either support incorporation, or that they don’t.
“It’s those on the fence that will decide this election,” he said. “They are either people who are new to the area and haven’t made up their minds yet. Or they just aren’t interested and haven’t educated themselves on the issues.”
Those voters are a concern to MacDermid, too.
“When you think about the fact that as many as 4,500 people could vote in this election and there were only about 70 to 90 people who attended the forum, you begin to wonder if they are going to engage and study the issues around incorporation,” he said. “When you talk to people in the community, many of them say they thought Silverdale was already a city. They have no idea that it’s not. And when you tell them that by becoming a city, Silverdale could retain tax dollars to be spent to improve things locally, they come to see the advantage of being a city.”
By having its own seven-member council with its sole focus being Silverdale, government will be much more responsive to local voters than the county commission, he said.
MacDermid said that when he first moved to the area in the mid 1980s, he voted against incorporation.
“At that time I didn’t appreciate the significance of incorporation. I didn’t study it. But the next time, 10 or 12 years later (1999-2000 votes) I voted for it because I knew it was the right thing for Silverdale.”
He thinks the reason the city hasn’t incorporated is because voters fear the unknown.
“What if we retained those tax dollars here and focused on Silverdale?” he said. “Can you imagine how great we could be?”
But those who oppose incorporation don’t think that becoming a city will provide better services or solve any issues.
“It will be awhile until any city services would be up and running,” Vanfossen said. “What happens in the meantime? And they (proponents) keep saying it will improve the library? The library is controlled by a separate taxing district and being a city wouldn’t solve anything about the library.They say we may contract with the county for other services like police. But if the county isn’t getting our tax dollars, won’t those police services be negatively affected?
“You can’t take a piece of the pie out of the whole and expect it to still taste good. You have to make up for that piece.”