Voters might have to wait on charter election

Only two more steps stand between a proposed new Kitsap County charter and the voters.

The Kitsap County Board of Freeholders voted 15-4, with one abstention and one absentee, to approve the charter Tuesday, Oct. 23.

The freeholders will vote on the charter again on Saturday, Nov. 3, a procedural move required by the board’s bylaws. The charter then will go to the Kitsap County Commissioners, who have authority only to determine when the measure is sent to voters. The charter is scheduled to be submitted to the commissioners on Monday, Nov. 26, according to freeholders staffer Terrie O’Neill.

The electorate will decide whether to implement the document, which would create a five-member county council, an elected county executive and grant new powers of initiative and referendum.

The timing of that election, however, is a matter of some debate.

The freeholders requested a February 2002 special election on the document, but members of the board revealed Tuesday they might not get their preferred date.

A preliminary budget presented to the commissioners by county Administrator Malcolm Fleming on Monday, Oct. 29, would put the charter before voters in the November 2002 general election. Fleming said Wednesday that officials hope to save $165,000 by conducting the election in November.

Voting on the charter in a February special election, with no other measures on the ballot, would cost the county an estimated $180,000, county Auditor Karen Flynn said. Conducting the election in November 2002 — on the same ballot as congressional, legislative and other county issues — would cost the county only about $15,000, according to the preliminary draft county budget.

The cost of general elections in even years is shared among the various jurisdictions participating — including the state, cities, special taxing districts and the county. The county would be solely responsible for a special election on the charter, since no other jurisdictions would have measures on that ballot.

But if the charter was sent to voters in November 2002, a special election in early 2003 also might be required, freeholders Chair Linda Webb pointed out Tuesday.

Article XI, section 4 of the state Constitution requires the new governmental form to be in effect within six months of the charter election. That means the county likely would have to schedule special primary and general elections for two new council members and an executive by May 2003 — elections which otherwise would not be required.

The county might be solely responsible for the cost of those elections, too, freeholders said.

Fleming acknowledged that the special elections in 2003 would incur extra expenses. But he said those elections might still cost less than the $180,000 the proposed February 2002 special charter election would cost.

“It depends on how many other jurisdictions were on the ballot at the same time” as the 2003 special council and executive elections, Fleming said. “I will be asking the auditor for her estimates.”

County Commissioner Chris Endresen said Thursday that the commissioners have not yet discussed the charter election issue. She said the question will be examined in more depth at a Nov. 14 study session, which the commissioners and freeholders both will attend.

“That ($180,000) is a lot of money,” Endresen said, “but if that’s what needs to be, that’s what needs to be.”

She added that a November charter election might be better for taxpayers and voters. Voter participation is higher during general elections than special elections, and a later date would allow for more “voter education,” Endresen said.

Silverdale freeholder Marcus Hoffman, however, said such a late election might not be constitutional.

The state Constitution requires the commissioners to “immediately” call an election upon receipt of the completed charter. Hoffman questioned whether conducting the election in November 2002 — a full year after the charter is submitted to the commissioners — fits the definition of “immediately.”

Fleming said he would seek an opinion on that matter from the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office.

The timing of the charter election is expected to be a topic of discussion at an upcoming commissioners’ meeting, Fleming said.

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