Commissioner candidates dispute budget, transportation priorities

County budget issues and potential transportation changes were debated Wednesday by Central Kitsap county commissioner candidates who answered audience-submitted questions in a Port Orchard forum.

The debate, hosted by the Bremerton Area and Port Orchard chambers of commerce at the Port Orchard City Hall, included incumbent Democrat Josh Brown, elected in 2007, East Bremerton Republican Abby Burlingame and East Bremerton Democrat Wally Carlson. Silverdale Republican David Corley had to leave the event before the debate started due to a family emergency.

The debate took place on the heels of county budget projections last week that estimated Kitsap’s budget shortfall to be $610,000 through the end of 2010 and $4.7 million for 2011.

Burlingame said the county needs to focus on paying for law enforcement, roads and keeping the courthouse open five days a week — other areas could be pared down.

“We have not been focused on core priorities in our budget,” she said.

Carlson, who has owned a custom homebuilding business for 40 years, said he has decades of experience running a budget and added that the county’s cumbersome permitting process is driving homebuilders and businesses away from Kitsap.

“In 40 years I’ve never seen the county so dysfunctional,” he said.

Brown said the county has reduced its spending by $14 million — from $93 million to $79 million — in the four years he’s been in office. He also noted taxes have not been raised nor have county budget writers dipped into reserve funds. He said he also hopes to reform employee pay by aligning salaries with those paid for similar work in the private sector, which would save the county money.

Burlingame and Carlson also criticized Transportation 2040, a regional transportation plan approved by elected officials from Kitsap, King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, including Brown. Transportation 2040 is part of Vision 2040, a Puget Sound Regional Council plan outlining how the four counties will manage future population growth. The two challengers denounced Kitsap’s participation in the regional measure and Burlingame decried the proposed vehicle miles traveled taxes and highway tolls the plan recommends before the year 2020.

Brown defended the plan, adding that 98 percent of those who voted on the measure approved it. He also said that tolls would be limited to large projects such as the 520 bridge and the Alaskan Way tunnel in Seattle.

“I don’t see any time soon any tolls on state highways in Kitsap County,” Brown said.

Carlson, who expressed his distrust in regional government, said he preferred “Wally Vision 2010.”

Kitsap County’s primary election is August 17. Another forum between the candidates is planned for August 10 at the Norm Dicks Government Center.

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