News

February date set for charter vote

The Kitsap County Commissioners unanimously set Feb. 5, 2002, as the election date for the proposed home-rule charter during a standing-room-only meeting Monday, Nov. 26 at the courthouse in Port Orchard.

If approved by Kitsap voters next year, the charter would implement a slew of groundbreaking changes to county government, including creating a five-member county council to be elected in district-only balloting.

The charter also would create an elected county executive, make most county elected offices nonpartisan and create new powers of initiative and referendum.

The commissioners’ unanimous decision reflects a request by the elected county Board of Freeholders, the 21-member committee that wrote the charter over the last year.

But commissioners disagreed with one another about whether the February date gives voters enough time to study the ins and outs of the charter proposal.

“I support the Freeholders’ decision to place the charter on the ballot in February,” said County Commissioner Tim Botkin. “At the same time, the public should be actively engaged so citizens can speak their minds, and nuances of the charter can be worked out.”

County Commissioner Chris Endresen agreed with Botkin and said the February date leaves little time for voters to learn more about the proposed charter.

“While there has been a lot of openness about the process and a great deal of media coverage on the home-rule charter, a lot of folks don’t know what the final product actually looks like,” Endresen said.

Voters have plenty of time to make up their minds, said Commissioner Jan Angel, especially since the process of developing the charter has garnered heavy media coverage and several public meetings have been conducted on the proposed document.

“If the charter passes, then there will be enough time for a transition period,” Angel said. “In other words, there would be adequate time for redistricting efforts and would coincide with the election cycle already in place.”

The commissioners’ voted after about 20 people spoke on the charter and its election date.

Among them was League of Women Voters of Kitsap County President Kim Abel, who said she was concerned a February date would be too soon for voters.

“The Feb. 5 date gives voters about two weeks after the new year to look at the issues,” said Abel, who organizes public forums prior to elections as a way to educate the public on particular ballot measures or candidates.

The election likely will be conducted via the mail, instead of at the ballot box.

“A March date would give us more time to set up informational gatherings,” Abel said.

Silverdale resident and community activist Jim Sharpe suggested the county include a fiscal note with the charter proposition on the February ballot.

“There is no way for the average citizen to find out what the costs will be,” Sharpe said. “When justified, voters will agree to raise their taxes as they did with the Central Communications levy and the Kitsap Transit proposition.”

Freeholder Karl Duff of South Kitsap argued that the cost estimates are widely available to the public. They are also palatable, he said.

Implementing the charter will cost about one-half of 1 percent of the county’s budget, he said.

County officials said the February special election will cost about $180,000. If voters approve the charter, the Board of Freeholders estimate the new form of government would cost about $450,000, not including elections.

County officials estimate the charter could cost $848,900, including election costs, in 2003 and $723,850 annually thereafter.

The ballot measure likely won’t include a fiscal note. Instead, a voter’s pamphlet could include that information under a pro or con statement about the proposed charter.

For more information about the proposed charter and the estimated financial impact, visit www.kitsapgov.com.

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