Future attempts to incorporate years off

After suffering a large defeat in Tuesday’s incorporation vote, Randy Biegenwald predicted it will be years before another attempt is made.

“It will be a long time,” said Biegenwald, who chaired the efforts for the Silverdale incorporation. “Especially with the heavy lopsided vote we had this time.”

Voters rejected a measure to incorporate the Silverdale area in a 70 to 30 percent majority. Of the 9,696 registered voters in the incorporation area, Wednesday’s count showed 4,255 votes cast with 2,997 (70.47 percent) voting not to incorporate while the “Yes” votes were 1,256 (29.53 percent).

Kitsap County election officials said there was a 44 percent voter turnout.

Biegenwald attributed the loss to “not getting the message out.”

“As recently as yesterday (Tuesday) I was talking to people who still didn’t understand the issues,” he said. “There was a disconnect between what we were saying and what the voters were hearing and understanding. They didn’t understand how incorporation would benefit them.”

Biegenwald said even after holding public forums and getting the endorsement of the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce, the local homebuilder’s association, the Republican Party of Kitsap County, and a local newspaper, people were afraid that being a city would end up costing them more.

“They assumed that incorporating and being a city would mean higher taxes,” he said. “They were worried about the economy. And even after hearing from other places where incorporation happened, they still didn’t understand. That was their assumption and it’s just not correct.”

Kathleen Knuckey, executive director of the Silverdale chamber, however, said the chamber did not endorse incorporation because it did not have time to poll all its members. The chamber helped sponsor forums on the issue, and in past incorporation efforts it has favored Silverdale becoming a city.

But those opposed to incorporation blamed the organizers of the effort, Citizens United for Silverdale, for not getting their opinions from the start.

“Those wanting to incorporate didn’t get the opinions of residents,” said Joyce Merkel, who led the “No” campaign. “They just listened to the (Silverdale) Chamber of Commerce and went forward with this thing. Nobody wants this. This is the fourth time they’ve tried this and at $35,000 a pop it’s a big waste of taxpayers' money.”

Merkel referred to the cost of the mail-in election which was estimated to be $35,000 by county election officials.

“People didn’t want more taxes,” said Ed Berg, who also opposed the measure. He has been a resident of the Silverdale area for 64 years. “And no matter what anybody says, it would be inevitable. Becoming a city would cost us more.”

Sam Foster, a retired shipyard planner, said he was glad to see the measure defeated.

“I’m happy voters could see through the guise that they (supporters of incorporation) were putting out there,” Foster said. “They were trying to pull the wool over our eyes.”

He said the measure failed because the group backing it “didn’t have an agenda that appealed to people.”

“They had no direction,” he said. “They didn’t get their points across very well.”

Incorporation has been a hot issue in Silverdale for the last few decades. Beginning in the mid 1980s, efforts surfaced to make the Silverdale area its own city.

The last time the issue was before voters was 1999, when it passed by less than 10 votes. That election, however, was thrown out when it became apparent there were ballot irregularities and the following February, when the vote was re-done, the issue failed by a larger percentage.

This time around, Citizens United for Silverdale took on the charge, gathering signatures and getting the measure on the ballot. During the election campaign, opponents and proponents argued whether Silverdale needed to be a city for the sake of getting better services.

Those in support of the measure campaigned that as a city Silverdale would have the ability to determine how to spend the sales tax revenue it takes in, rather than leaving those decisions up to Kitsap County.

But those who opposed incorporation said services provided by the county were quality services and that if Silverdale became a city, the loss of sales tax revenue to the county would impact it so greatly that services for the remaining unincorporated areas wold be negatively impacted. They also said that as the boundaries were drawn, Silverdale would include areas that are rural in nature and should remain in the county.

Those who live in the area proposed to become the city were the only registered voters allowed to vote on the measure.

Even thought she does not live in the area that was designated to be a city, Karen Best, campaigned against the measure.

“I was concerned about how this would affect people who live in the county,” she said.”You can’t take that much (sales) tax revenue away and not feel an impact. Things change. But it has to be the right time and this just wasn’t it.”

Biegenwald said when Citizens United for Silverdale gathered signatures, 1,400 people signed the petition to put incorporation before the voters.

“And yet in the results I’ve seen so far, only 1,100 voted in favor of it,” he said. “That means a lot of people just didn’t vote.”

Biegenwald said the committee will seize to exist for now. It has been anywhere from 12 to 15 years between incorporation votes and he doesn’t plan another campaign anytime soon. By state law, there must be a three year waiting time between efforts if the measure receives less than 40 percent in favor of incorporation.

Merkel said if the proponents of incorporation try again, she would advise them to talk to people first.

“Hold meetings and hear people out,” she said. “Spend time getting a feel for what people really want. Don’t just tell us what you want. People don’t react well to ‘top down’ measures. They want to be a part of the planning and have a voice.”

Incorporation proponent Marcus Hoffman said he has worked over the years on five successful statewide initiatives and that successful political campaigns require enough time to get the message out in order for it to resonate with voters.

“It’s a governance issue and it’s hard to explain,” he said of incorporation. “It’s not a soundbite. When you have to explain a complex issue and answer a lot of questions, that takes a year, not 30 days. If you present people with the information, they’ll make good decisions. We just didn’t present people with good information. If people don’t know, they’ll vote ‘No.’ “

At a gathering Tuesday of those who backed incorporation, John Taylor was surprised the measure went down.

“I thought we were gonna win it,” he said. “I really did. It’s what’s best for the community.”

But Rob MacDermid, a member of Citizens United for Silverdale, the group backing the campaign, wasn’t that surprised.

“I’m not particularly surprised that it lost, but I am surprised by the margin,” he said.



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