Silverdale incorporation talks resume, ongoing

With debate already brewing, there seems to be a new slogan for the next push toward making Silverdale a city — it’s inevitable.

“The longer you wait, the uglier it’s going to be,” said Randy Biegenwald, a Silverdale certified public accountant. Biegenwald acted in an unofficial capacity announcing the renewed effort last week at a town hall meeting of the Central Kitsap Community Council.

He told the council he regularly receives phone calls and e-mails asking him if there’s cityhood in Silverdale’s future.

If the campaign is successful, Biegenwald said, look for the city of Silverdale in 2012.

He said there was intent to actually get started last year, but supporters decided it would make more sense to wait until the economic climate was more favorable.

Supporters have since changed their minds. The time is now, he said.

“By the time this actually happens, it won’t be any worse,” he said. “The general consensus is, it needs to be done.”

While members of the council kept mostly quiet on the matter, County Commissioner Josh Brown addressed the issues facing the county — among them losing the county’s main source of retail sales tax.

“Change is something very difficult for people to come around to,” Brown said, adding that the implications for the county would be significant. “It would be shortsighted to say we should ignore the changes.”

Biegenwald said he empathized with the effect incorporation would have, but said it’s only a matter of time before it happens.

The last time voters saw the option was 10 years ago, and a lot has changed since then, Biegenwald said.

In 1999, the “nays” won out at the polls narrowly —by less than 10 votes — but the election was eventually thrown out because of ballot issues, Biegenwald said. The following February, cityhood proponents had another shot, but failed by a larger percentage.

Biegenwald told the council that the committee made some “tactical errors” last time. He said that for starters, the committee was made up of people living outside the proposed incorporation boundaries.

“It was a mistake,” he said. “We paid for that.”

Also, Biegenwald said that many of the committee members were also business owners from outside the area, and the voters saw only self interest on their behalf.

“That was enough to change the result of the election,” he said.

Biegenwald also said part of the reason past efforts failed were because residents are weary of change, especially when that change involves higher taxes.

“When it comes to the tax side of things, nobody can say ahead of time that taxes will or won’t go up,” said Jennifer Forbes, assistant city attorney for the City of Port Orchard. Forbes was not directly involved with the previous incorporation attempt but was a source of information for committee members during the process.

She said Silverdale’s elected officials will vote on taxes and will have the power to raise, or in some cases, lower them.

Biegenwald said the tax issue was enough to divide residents.

“Even though I can’t say it’s not true, they didn’t know if it was true either,” he said about taxes being raised on Silverdale residents, adding that their concerns might have turned voters against cityhood. “They said it long enough and loud enough.”

Silverdale already has a water district, fire department, waste management facility and sheriff’s office within its proposed city boundaries. Coupled with a high retail base stemming from Kitsap Mall and surrounding businesses, Forbes said a city council might get away with not raising taxes.

Chico resident Bob Andrews said if a ballot was presented to him now, he’d vote no, again. He said he doesn’t see the point and has been opposed to incorporation in the past.

“Why incorporate?” he asked, adding that with the services already provided there isn’t much need for added levels of services. “What’s the point of creating another business entity?”

Andrews is retired and lives in an area that could eventually be included in Silverdale city limits.

Biegenwald told the council he also wants to see Silverdale adopt cityhood for the sake of having local government. Groups like the community council have no official power and Silverdale is not represented on the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.

However, another form of bureaucracy is just what residents like Andrews want to avoid.

“With the way I’ve seen representation on the federal level, I don’t know if I want more representation,” said Andrews.

For the time being, the three county commissioners make decisions on unincorporated Kitsap, with Silverdale’s welfare in the hands of Commissioner Josh Brown.

While Biegenwald and the council openly praised Brown for his dedication to Silverdale, it’s just not the same as having a municipal government, he said.

He said the change would be an alternative, not another layer of government and voting against incorporation would be a step backwards.

“It would be asking the voters to vote against giving themselves the right to vote,” he said.

Biegenwald said the effort is only in its infancy, with much to be determined. He said the first step is forming a committee that would then file with the state Public Disclosure Committee, the state’s election watchdog. He said he expects that to happen no later than the end of summer.

After that, a feasibility study would need to be completed before anything appears on a ballot.

“We’re at the very, very beginning of this,” he said.

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