Port implements plan to keep public informed

At its first 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday, the Port of Bremerton’s Board of Commissioners approved a new policy designed to improve the organization’s communication with the public.

“It is absolutely appropriate that we are voting on this policy at our first evening meeting,” said Ken Attebery, the port’s chief executive officer, describing the “Community Outreach/Participation Policy” as a way to improve the “two-way conversation” between the port and the public. Attebery then quickly read through the document, which stated the policy’s goal as “to enable the citizens, business persons and other stakeholders of the port district to become better informed and engage in port business,” since the “port’s mission will not be achieved without ... becoming dedicated to informing, listening, interchanging ideas, openness and transparency.”

Attebery said the evening meetings were a good start because they would allow more citizens to attend, and he also pointed to plans to send regular community reports and to allow the community to comment on the port’s projects as improvements. Commissioner Bill Mahan, who worked with the port staff to create the policy, said the need for such changes became apparent after the public outcry following the port’s decision to establish an Industrial Development District tax in 2006, which last year began collecting 45 cents more from homeowners per $1,000 of assessed property value.

“The mistake we made was not being transparent in what we were doing,” Mahan said. “We followed the laws, but if this policy had been in place, the IDD Levy would have been put on the ballot for a vote.”

One action item in the plan states: “Any proposal to increase the property tax collections beyond that which is provided by state law for the port’s regular levy shall be submitted to port district voters.”

As for alerting the public about another IDD levy, that appears to not be necessary anymore, since Attebery explained last year that the port already used up its allotment of such levies.

“State law provides for establishing an IDD tax,” Attebery said, explaining that imposing such levies by ports do not require approval by voters, but they are limited to only two such levies total.

“The first IDD created was in the 1960s, for the airport and areas including South Kitsap Industrial Area (SKIA) and in Gorst,” he said, adding that the IDD created for the expansion of the Bremerton waterfront was the second.

Kathryn Simpson asked the board if it would notify the public about general obligation (GO) bonds, as well.

“The IDD was a very special case that increased the property taxes,” Mahan said, adding that GO bonds “do not increase property taxes” and would not apply under the policy. Other members of the audience who commented on the new policy commended the port for creating it, but also asked that it go further. Gene Hart requested that the plan include specifics such as an “annual” report being provided instead of a “periodic” report, and that notifications of meetings be e-mailed as well as advertised in mailings or press releases.

“I don’t think you’ve gone far enough,” John Hanson said, explaining that while it was easier recently for him to get requested information from the port, he felt the policy was missing a crucial ingredient — public involvement. “There was no citizen involvement (in this document),” he said, adding that the public should have been involved in the process since “it is (them) who are missing the information.”

In response, Commissioner Larry Stokes asked if it might be prudent for the board to table a vote on the policy until said public could be involved in creating the policy, but Mahan and Commissioner Cheryl Kincer said they preferred to approve it then.

“I heard from the public that that they are not satisfied with this, but I would like to get this policy adopted,” Kincer said.

“I feel we need to approve this,” Mahan said. “I guarantee you that if we delay and make improvements, the next time we try and vote, somebody’s going to stand up and want it to go further.”

Mahan suggested instead that the board approve the policy, then form a committee that “will work on it as long as they want.” After a motion was presented to approve the plan and form a committee to collect public input, the board voted unanimously to approve the policy.

• Also included in the policy is the port’s plan to begin recording and televising meetings some time in 2009; however, Tim Matthes, who is running for Jan Angel’s South Kitsap Commissioner seat, asked the port to begin televising the meetings sooner, given that important decisions will soon be made on both the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project and the potential annexation of the SKIA.

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