Dec. 7 date set for hearing on Bremerton government building

Kitsap County and the city of Port Orchard could resolve their long-standing dispute over a proposed $33 million downtown Bremerton joint governance center by the end of this year.

A Dec. 7 date has been set for Thurston County Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Berschauer to hear arguments about whether the county’s plan to shift jobs and offices to the proposed governance center amounts to transferring the county seat from Port Orchard to Bremerton. Berschauer could rule as soon as mid-December.

Port Orchard attorney Loren Combs doesn’t anticipate the city or county will appeal the judge’s ruling, primarily because both parties want the dispute resolved quickly.

“The chances of an appeal occurring on either side are minimal,” Combs said Monday. “I don’t anticipate that happening.”

To that end, Kitsap County deputy prosecutor Sue Tanner and Combs have been working toward an agreement on a statement of stipulated facts, which will be submitted to Thurston County Superior Court.

The statement will be a list of facts agreed upon by both parties, which the judge can use to review the case and as a basis for his ruling.

The county commissioners voted in May to move forward with design work and land acquisition on the project, over the objection of Port Orchard residents and city officials.

Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel, who represents Port Orchard and parts of Bremerton, voted against moving forward with the plan. Commissioners Chris Endresen and Tim Botkin approved the move.

County officials plan to move about 265 county jobs from Port Orchard to Bremerton. That would include all or parts of the county offices of administrative services, administrator, assessor, auditor, county commissioners, community development, personnel and human services, prosecutor and treasurer.

After the split vote, city and county officials began talks on a friendly lawsuit to decide contentious issues.

“Port Orchard isn’t trying to stop the placement of county satellite offices in Bremerton,” Combs said. “The city isn’t opposed to that because it helps people.”

Instead, he said, the city’s case hinges on the state’s constitutional requirement that the heart of county government remain in the county seat.

The December suit is expected to determine if transferring the departments and jobs constitutes a de facto move of the county seat from Port Orchard to Bremerton.

Washington counties are allowed to have satellite offices scattered through their territory, but the heart of government must remain within the county seat, Combs said.

If the judge determines that the move is in violation of law, the city will ask for a cease-and-desist order on the governance center until there’s a vote of the people in Kitsap County.

If the judge rules that the new facility is not a transfer of the county seat, the county can move forward with planning.

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