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Transit officials fire back at critics
"Though not formally organized, many Kitsap residents wonder why Kitsap Transit officials asked voters in September to raise the sales tax when the agency has spent millions of dollars on capital improvement projects.That much was obvious when voters turned down the three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax measure, better known as Proposition 1, by a nearly 10-point margin Sept. 19.Transit officials say the measure would have raised enough funds to return the agency's operating budget to where it was in 1999, before Initiative 695 cut Transit's budget by 43 percent. The proposition could have raised an additional $7.5 million, officials said, which would have been funneled directly back into service.But the proposition proved too hard for folks to swallow. Why raise local sales taxes, many wondered, if transit officials managed to complete the Bremerton Transportation Center this year, along with purchasing the Enetai building and a building at 6th Street and Montgomery Avenue in Bremerton?And didn't transit officials receive a $4.7 million federal grant this year as well? The Bremerton Transportation Center, which cost more than $30 million in grants from 14 sources, had to be finished this year because construction contracts already had been signed and sealed.In concept, the BTC project started in 1993 and construction on the site began some time in 1998, said Jim Lundstrom, Kitsap Transit's finance director. Even if transit officials wanted to, they couldn't cease operations once the contracts were signed, and there was already a lot of money invested.Capital project manager Wendy Clark talked at length about the $4.7 million federal grant, saying there are major strings attached to it.First of all, that particular grant is to be used solely for capital projects in keeping with the overall mission of Kitsap Transit, Clark said. While transit service is maintained solely by local tax revenues and fares, capital projects are funded by state and federal grants.That $4.7 million grant - only half of which is available now - will go toward expanding the park-and-ride facility at the Harper Evangelical Free Church near the Southworth ferry dock. Already overloaded, the parking lot has created pedestrian safety concerns among residents and county officials.Kitsap Transit plans to spend $1.1 million of the grant money to plan, permit and build a larger park-and-ride for commuters. While a little less than $1 million of the project will be funded by the grant, Kitsap Transit will cover the local share at $148,500.Kitsap Transit officials also are looking to use $500,000 of the grant money to purchase property near the Southworth ferry dock for improvements and expansion. Another portion of the federal grant is expected to be used next August to purchase and expand the Annapolis Park-and-Ride space for $280,000. Already, Kitsap Transit is leasing the space with the option to buy it next year.Still other voters wanted to know, according to Kitsap Transit Executive Director Richard Hayes, why Transit decided to buy the Enetai building in downtown Bremerton for $715,000 during such a budget crunch.Hayes said $619,000 of that purchase was funded by grant money, with the remainder covered by local funds.Ever since the purchase of Enetai became final in September, Kitsap Transit has received $5,000 a month from its tenants. The agency plans to eventually level the building and create a site-ready pad for any potentially interested developers. Another portion of the site will be used for an accessible park-and-ride for the ferry terminal. The Naval Museum, which currently is located at the Enetai building, already has scoped out another permanent site, Kitsap Transit officials say.Another misunderstanding, Hayes said, stems from Kitsap Transit's lease agreement with the owners of the building located at 6th and Montgomery.What with all the construction going on because of multiple improvement projects in downtown Bremerton, Hayes said Kitsap Transit officials wanted to provide commuters with yet another park-and-ride option near the Bremerton ferry terminal.The 6th and Montgomery building contains an attractive parking lot. The only way Kitsap Transit could get its hand on it, however, was to rent the attached building as well. Hayes said this particular 10-year lease contract isn't unusual among business entities. Already, Kitsap Transit officials say they have tenants lined up interested in renting space out of that building, in addition to the Holly Ridge child care center, which, once inside the building, will pay Kitsap Transit $107,000 a year in rent. In the meantime, Holly Ridge will occupy the Enetai building. It plans to open its doors Dec. 1.The money Kitsap Transit will garner in rent from the building will pay for improvements to it, while providing adequate parking for commuters, officials say. Rent received from tenants will reportedly bring back money spent up front on improvements to the building and, over the next 10 years, will earn interest. "