Council candidates square off at forum

Business and occupation taxes, tourism, sales taxes and the narrowing of streets were among the topics that candidates for the Bremerton City Council District 3 seat addressed at a recent forum.

The League of Women Voters of Kitsap sponsored the candidate forum at the Norm Dicks Government Center featuring Bremerton City Council District 3 candidates Adam Brockus, Michael Strube and Jerald (Jerry) McDonald.

All three men aren’t wild about the city’s Business and Occupation Tax, none of them think their district is dying a slow death and the trio sees hope in annexing more land to boost sales tax coffers. When it comes to narrowing Washington Avenue on the lead-up to the Manette Bridge, there is a consensus of “not so fast” and any decision on whether or not pear trees belong on Fourth Street should probably be left to the experts.

The incumbent, Brockus, thinks he’s done a good job and wants to continue his work.

Strube wants to improve the city’s business climate and says the council isn’t very creative while McDonald says the council needs to work more with surrounding jurisdictions and do a much better job of promoting tourism.

District 3, which has been redrawn following a vote of the people to shrink the council from nine seats to seven, includes Manette and an area downtown that extends north from the shipyard to Evergreen Rotary Park. With Keith Ranburger asking people not to vote for him in the District 5 race, the District 3 contest is effectively the only one in which a primary will play a role ahead of the general election.

During the forum, Brockus, who has sat on the council for eight years, talked about discovering Bremerton while serving in the Army and decided it was “the perfect place to live.”

“I want to continue to represent Manette,” he said. “I think we’ve done a good job with the bridge, the roundabout and East 11th and I want to continue that,” he said, noting that he looks forward to having downtown in the new district which has also seen several improvements in recent years.

Brockus noted that he became a grandfather last year, at the unexpectedly young age of 46, and is seeking re-election to the council because he wants his granddaughter to be proud of the town she lives in.

“It hasn’t all been a cakewalk, but I think things have improved in Bremerton and I wish for that to continue as we move forward,” he said of his tenure on the council.

Strube said he was born in Bremerton, grew up on the East side along Sylvan Way and now lives in Manette. As the executive director of the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce for the past three years, he said it is his job to have his finger on the pulse of the community. He said he’s watched businesses struggle and followed the actions of the city council before deciding to step up and throw his hat in the ring for office.

“Rather than sit back and complain, I decided I would do something about it,” he said. “So, my choice was to run.”

Strube said he aims to create a more positive business environment in Bremerton.

“I think it’s a shame that you can’t buy a pair of jeans in the City of Bremerton and you have to go out into the county and pay taxes in the county and not bring those tax dollars into the city,” he said, noting that he wants Bremerton to be a strong, vibrant place for his son to raise a family.

McDonald said he and his wife moved to town six years ago.

“In my estimation, the Bremerton that we bought into hasn’t yet been completed and that’s what I’ve been working towards since we’ve been here,” he said.

In the last four years in particular, McDonald said he has been working to increase tourism to Bremerton after finding out that the Bremerton ferry run was not the preferred route out of Seattle.

“I think Bremerton needs to start thinking like a business and working towards tourism to make tourism an important part,” he said. We want people to come to Bremerton and leave more money than they go home with.”

All three candidates spoke favorably about a new landlord registration ordinance. Brockus said in the short term it will increase property values and increase rental opportunities while, in the long term, it will improve the city’s quality of life. McDonald said he isn’t sure why the ordinance wasn’t implemented sooner. Strube said the ordinance is a step in the right direction and will give the city some “teeth” when it comes to enforcement.

All three candidates also weighed in on the city’s Business and Occupation (B&O) tax.

“The B&O tax has been a detriment to having businesses come to Bremerton,” McDonald said, noting that a neighbor told him about a company with a $200,000 Navy contract that didn’t come to Bremerton because of the tax. “I believe the B&O should be eliminated, must be eliminated,” he said. “There’s a lot of ways to do it. I’d like to see us annex the big box stores that left and sales tax will take care of that.”

Strube noted the widespread unpopularity of the tax.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the room who thinks the B&O tax is a positive for businesses in the community,” he said, noting that the revenue account for about $3 million of the budget.

He said it will take the city about 30 years to ween itself off the B&O tax, but there are a lot of things that can be done in the meantime to make the city more business friendly. Those steps include streamlining the permitting process, improving subarea plans and annexing commercial areas as ways to improve the city’s business climate.

Brockus also touched on annexation, noting that the Growth Management Act makes often makes it difficult for cities to move ahead with such efforts.

“One good annexation that we did was South Kitsap Industrial Area and airport,” he said. “The city has started to ween ourselves off (the tax) and we will continue to do that and bring new business in.”’

The candidates also addressed ideas for economic development beyond tourism.

McDonald talked about the importance of SKIA and constant communication and coordination with officials from Port Orchard and the Port of Bremerton to drive economic development, but said tourism should be the top priority

“If we can get an anchor tenet in the downtown core, that will, in itself, keep people in town at 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock when stores close,” he added.

Brockus said he appreciates McDonald’s efforts when it comes to pushing tourism to Bremerton, but thinks other opportunities exist.

“I think it’s a good economic driver, I don’t think it’s the only economic driver,” he said of tourism.

Brockus said that manufacturing jobs, including those in the shipyard, and getting them what they need such as mechanical engineering courses and degrees at Olympic College, “will best help Bremerton in economic development.”

Strube said the city’s business districts are too restrictive and push companies into the county.

“We’re fortunate to have some strong leadership at the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance to help us fill the space at SKIA,” he said. “I think its our job as councilmen to set policy that makes it an environment that businesses are going to want to come to.

All three candidates also spoke out against the narrowing of Washington Avenue to one lane near the Manette Bridge.

“It has been called a diet and it’s been suggested by Public Works and the mayor, but I have been in total disagreement with that,” Brockus said.

He said he is especially opposed to such a move from 6th Street to the bridge

“We need both lanes there because there are some people turning right onto the Manette Bridge and some people going straight and we have a traffic light up there,” he said.

Brockus acknowledged issues with the sidewalk being too narrow, especially in spots where power poles are located, but said, “I think we can find a solution which will expand the sidewalk and still keep both lanes there on Washington Avenue.”

Strobe said that he also has concerns.

“I’m not a traffic engineer, but when that was first proposed to me it kind of struck me as odd,” he said. “I recognize the issue of the sidewalk not being wide enough, but I walk down that street all the time and I don’t feel like it’s unsafe.

Strobe also noted that an accident could clog up the intersection in what is already a high-volume traffic area.

McDonald also spoke out against such a move.

“I’ve had several conversations with Chal Martin, the public works director, and I am absolutely against that also,” McDonald said. “Chal tells me it’s only for a couple of minutes two or three times a day, but not sure I buy that and he’s trying to convince me.”

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