An incremental sales tax increase to fund additional or expanded mental health services in Kitsap County sure sounds like a good idea on the surface, but good luck digging below that surface for any of the details to the current proposal making its way around. The group behind the current proposal is looking for support and approval from the County Commissioners or any other governing elected body in Kitsap County it can get a presentation in front of for a vote.
For a proposal of this magnitude which will generate approximately $2.8 million to $3.4 million annually you would expect a significant amount of support data to be included in any public presentations. As a citizen you would expect a full, detailed presentation on exactly where your tax dollars would go and how they would be accounted for. You would expect a fully developed process for transparency to already be constructed. As a citizen you would expect to either vote on this yourself or for there to be a reasonable amount of time for your elected representation to review all of the details presented and distribute these details back to their constituency for feedback before any vote of support was cast on their part.
If you are a citizen of Bremerton, not one of these expectations was met or even barely considered.
On January 16, a vote of the Bremerton City Council on Resolution 3168 to support Kitsap County’s enactment of one-tenth of 1 percent Sales and Use Tax in Kitsap County was cast. This resolution passed. Would you like to know the total number of support documents submitted by the Kitsap County Strategic Leadership for a Community Behavioral Health Plan that were used for the council to decide their vote of support on? There were only six actual pages of documents submitted for a tax increase that will generate millions of dollars a year. One city council member that voted to approve this sits on the board for Kitsap Mental Health which is one of the targeted recipients. Another city council member, who also voted to approve this, is an employee of the Bremerton School District -- another targeted recipient.
One item of the proposal that was not included in the City Council packet was the complete list of names of who is actually in the group behind the proposal. I was able to secure that document at a later date from the county website. After reading the names on this list, I was outraged that such a knowledgeable group of career professionals, who operate and oversee local agencies that exist to serve this community, would be so callus towards the very residents and taxpayers who will be paying for the increase if it passes.
The people on this list know better. They are required to operate at a much higher level than this within their own organizations. So why are they cutting corners on transparency and accountability now?
I am sure the overall intention of helping those in need is a good one and a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase could accomplish a big step forward with those intentions. However the language of the proposal with words like “supplant existing funding” raise a lot of concern, so does the complete lack of a full and detailed presentation being made available to the taxpayers for a full review well before any vote is cast to implement it.
I encourage the Kitsap County Commissioners to hold off on approving this tax increase until the entire plan has been made available to the public and taxpayers, and they are given ample time to have questions answered, give comments and feedback.