Category Archives: Red light cameras

COUNCIL SCORE CARD: Taxes, fees and some gavel banging


Taxes were defined, fees were raised and an argument between two City Council members drew the gavel from the president. The Bremerton City Council meeting Wednesday night went three-plus hours with lots of issues on the line. Here’s my synopsis:

Call it a tax: The Council voted to merge a fee and a tax it collects on its own utilities into a single tax. Of course, when it taxes its own utilities — those of the water, sewer and stormwater systems — it is effectively taxing the ratepayers of that system, as the cost is passed along.

The city’s fee known as PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) was created to charge the city-owned utilities because they are exempt from property taxes. Others have called it a “stealth tax.” In any event, now PILOT is dead, consolidated with the utility tax, thanks to the vote Wednesday.

What that means: your utility bill will now include a 15.5 percent tax on water and 20 percent tax on sewer and stormwater, respectively. Councilman Roy Runyon pointed out that it raises a little under $5 million for city coffers each year.

Both he and City Councilwoman Leslie Daugs asked if the utility tax could be placed, as a number, on residents’ utility bills. That question went unanswered. When Runyon pushed the issue, Council members Dino Davis and Greg Wheeler stopped him, saying the issue should be brought up before the city’s public works committee meeting as “housekeeping.” Davis and Runyon continued arguing until Wheeler, the Council’s president, was forced to go to the gavel to get them to stop.   

Result: 4-1 in favor (Runyon voted against)

General facilities fees (GFCs): The Council passed by one vote changes to the fees the city levies on builders to offset costs in developing additional water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure. Water fees for the smallest meter size will go to $5,880 from $2,511 by 2018; sewer fees will rise to $6,863 from $3,801; stormwater rates will go to $3,157 from $1,019. (See my Wednesday story for more background.)

Joe Keller, an engineer for the city (pictured at podium above) voiced opposition to the plan, saying it placed a larger, inequitable burden on builders of single-family homes. City officials disagreed, saying the fees were fair by charging developers by what their developments would use. Daugs was concerned it could affect rates of home ownership in the city.

Result: 3-2 in favor (Davis and Daugs voted against)

City fees: Some city fees are increasing under the 2016 budget. Red light tickets in 2016 will increase from $124 to $136. Parks fees are going up across the board. The fee for a grave site at Ivy Green Cemetery, for instance, will increase from $1,224 to $1,346. Wyn Birkenthal, the city’s parks director, said the increase was necessary to cover parks costs.

Result: 5-0 vote in favor.

Conference center debt extension: As revenues for the $1.1 million expansion of the Kitsap Conference Center have not materialized, the city asked the council to authorize extending out the debt on its $500,000 loan that helped pay for the project. The money was supposed to be paid back to the city’s $4.2  million vehicle fund in five years; now it will take until 2034.   

Result: 5-0 in favor.

Federal block grants: The Council is close to completing its pivot from using its yearly federal block grant money as an open process to one specifically targeted to downtown redevelopment. Because two Council members — Jerry McDonald and Eric Younger — were absent, Greg Wheeler said the Council will wait to vote on the five year plan at a special meeting next Monday. Wheeler added he had to recuse himself from the vote because he serves on the board of Kitsap Community Resources, which is a possible recipient of the funds.

The Council will also vote on the funding recommendations, which include $58,500 for Kitsap Community Resource’s BE$T program and its weatherization and home repair programs, as well as $235,000 to replace facades on two buildings and retrofit another on Fourth Street.

Larson on Fourth Street. MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN
Larson on Fourth Street. MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN

The Council also heard from Wes Larson and Mike Brown, leaders of Sound West Group, which is hoping to secure that $235,000 to do the Fourth Street work.

“We’re committed to downtown bremerton,” Larson told the Council. “That’s our heart and soul.”

Other items of note from the meeting:

The budget: The Council held the first of two hearings on the 2016 city budget. Mayor Patty Lent’s budget’s largely “status quo” with few changes. The city will also be raising property taxes in the city by one percent, as is the maximum allowed under state law. The budget will be voted on in December.

Washington Avenue: City Engineer Tom Knuckey announced some delays to the Washington Avenue project. The issue this time is that crews from Puget Sound Energy, which is putting much power on the street underground, got pulled away for Tuesday’s windstorm. They probably won’t be back on the project until after Thanksgiving. The project is still expected to wrap up by the end of the year, he told the Council.

Lions Park: Parks staff announced the city will receive $250,000 to design reconstructions of the boat ramp and dock on the northern edge of Lions Park off Lebo Boulevard. I’ll have a story on that later this week.


Manette Playfield: Tuesday’s public meeting to plan future developments at the park had about 40 people, parks staff said. (See photo.) A followup meeting has been scheduled for Dec. 15.

Crownhill sidewalks: In its consent agenda, the Council approved an $88,000 contract that will design the new sidewalks doing to Marine Drive and areas near Crownhill Elementary School. Also, the city approved another $139,000 contract to design safety improvements at seven intersections in Bremerton next year: 11th and Montgomery, 6th and Callow, Burwell and Callow, Burwell and Montgomery, Burwell and High, Burwell and Chester and Sheridan and Wheaton Way.

Councilwoman scrutinizes Bremerton’s red light cameras


Bremerton City Councilwoman Leslie Daugs is taking on the city’s red light photo enforcement system. 

In a lengthy opinion piece published Friday, she scrutinizes the falling revenues from the program and believes that it has become a cost to city government, rather than a benefit for it. She acknowledges some “traffic calming” effects but believes it may be time for the cameras to go.

“It’s time to re-evaluate the best way to keep our citizens safe, and be good stewards of our tax dollars,” she wrote.

I talked with Daugs Wednesday night about why she’s taking on the cause. Daugs acknowledged that part of her motivation was a Kitsap Sun investigation that found last year the cameras are close to losing the city money, do little to enhance safety and are run by a company that has been embroiled in scandal of late.

She has also had concerns over the easy way many people get out of a red light ticket: just say you’re not driving. Her stats indicate that of the 6,609 tickets issued in 2014, 1,086 were dismissed.

We reported last year:

Like many photo enforcement programs around the country and the state, Bremerton’s was lucrative from its onset. The city took in $842,580 in 2008. Over the past five years, motorists have paid $4.3 million in fines, with $2.6 million going to Redflex.

But the amount collected dwindled to $570,775 in 2013. The drop in citations issued between 2012 and 2013 was the biggest ever — a decrease of about 2,500 tickets.

Factoring in the $432,000 the city pays each year to Redflex, the margins are thinning for the city.

“There is an obvious trend here,” Daugs says in her letter. “At this rate the cameras will soon cost the city money, rather than bringing in revenue.”

She believes the program has “harmed working families,” and despises the idea that governments would target the people simple to produce revenue.

“I am wary of replacing thinking, feeling, human police officers with the unblinking camera eye — and I object to exporting Bremerton dollars to Phoenix,” she wrote.

What do you think? Sound off below, or take our poll at right.

The towers are for hoses (or ten things I learned about Bremerton in 2014)

Happy new year, Bremerton! Here’s a list of the 10 most interesting things I learned about Bremerton in 2014.


1. Bremerton’s red light camera experiment is sputtering

The first year of Bremerton’s red light cameras brought in almost $850,000 for the city. Since, that amount has basically been in free fall.

In 2015, if history serves, it will barely bring in any revenue for the city at all.

Combine that with inconclusive evidence they do much to promote safety at intersections and a scandal that has embroiled the company to which Bremerton pays $432,000 a year in operational fees, and the cameras may not last much longer. Mayor Patty Lent has signaled she’d get rid of them if they become a cost for the city.

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2. Bremerton’s rate of violent crime is plummeting

I rode with Bremerton Police in every shift possible the first year I worked at the Kitsap Sun. I’d routinely witness drunken fights, domestic assaults and even a Tasering (interesting if sad story, ask me about it sometime).

That was 2005, the year Bremerton held the dubious distinction of being no. 1 in violent crime per capita in the state of Washington.

Yes, Bremerton still has its share of crime. But its violent crime rate is half what it was in 2005 — 11.7 incidents per thousand then to 5.7 in 2013, according to FBI statistics. That’s a pretty remarkable drop. There’s lots of reasons why — rising homeownership, renewed parks and focused policing to name a few — which you can learn about here.

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3. Those tires won’t remove themselves

Spare a tire? The police shooting range west of Gorst, within Bremerton’s watershed property, has plenty of them. In fact, the city has spent in excess of $12,000 removing them about 8,500 of them, and more may be spent.

The police department thought they might need them for training but at a certain point, Public Works Director Chal Martin said they had to go. How they got there was actually even investigated by a separate police agency. Ultimately, no wrongdoing was assigned.

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4. It’s the water

Meanwhile in the Bremerton watershed, another little brouhaha cascaded from the headwaters of the Union River. The city built a dam in the 1950s and has used the water above it as the bulk of the drinking water for around 1/3 of Kitsap County’s residents.

Because the lake is remote — like 3,000 acres around it remote — the state doesn’t require Bremerton to filter its water supply (though the water is treated with chlorine and ultraviolet light).

City officials are adamant the land around it stay preserved. The city went so far as to release photos this year of trespassers — poachers, hikers and bikers — using the area.

Some wonder if the city couldn’t lighten up a bit, and a countywide trail is being contemplated for the total 8,000 acre parcel the city owns, where the city also has a golf course and the police shooting range (and by the way, anyone need some extra tires?).

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5. The towers were for the hoses

Why, when you see old fire stations do they have towers that rise into the sky from their basic structures?


Turns out fire hoses used to be made of cotton, which needed to be hung up to dry after fighting a fire. If they weren’t dried properly, they’d mold. Today’s hoses are synthetic.

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6. There’s redwoods in them there sewer towers

Speaking of towers — a somewhat routine at the city’s sewer treatment plant contains an interesting tidbit.

Some giant filters made of redwood trees are being retired out. While the new material is plastic , the redwoods, from the 1980s, have broken down but may have a second life as beauty bark (Or bark. Or mulch. Or whatever term you like).

Public works officials say the city will use it around its properties, maybe even parks, if its environmentally safe to do so.

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7.  Bye bye Maple Leaf, may your sign be immortal

Yes, we said goodbye to the Maple Leaf Tavern in 2014. The place was unrivaled in its around 77 years tending bar in Kitsap County. But the now fabled Lower Wheaton Way watering hole closed due to nonpayment of $25,000 in taxes, in 2010. And city engineers saw it as a chance to clear some needed room for the Lower Wheaton Way project earlier this year, tearing it down for $18,000.

Breakfast at Sally’s author Richard LeMieux called its slanted floor — you have to admit it had been worn down in recent years — the feel of “one of those oblique fun houses with a moving floor” that actually got more stable as you drank.

Rest in peace, Maple Leaf.

I get asked a lot about if its storied sign was preserved. The answer: yes. It is in the capable hands of the Kitsap Historical Society.

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8. The ‘Mo-Sai’ Bank Building has the state’s most complex Carillon system

A longtime curiosity of mine was satisfied when I was learning about the bells on the roof of the Chase Bank building at Fifth and Pacific this year. That odd facade on the building giving it the look of a vertical beach? It’s called Mo-Sai, and the architects used this rock peppering as a way to reflect the Northwest’s rugged terrain. Huh.

It certainly is unique. But up on its roof are the speakers that play Bremerton’s Carillon system. Probably the most complete in the Pacific Northwest. Yep, they’re real bells. And they played on a snowy Christmas Eve, 1971, for the first time.

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9. So that all may play

When all was said and done, around $500,000 and countless volunteer hours had made Kitsap County’s first all-accessible playground possible.

The playground, inside Bremerton’s Evergreen-Rotary Park, is almost always packed when the weather’s nice. Hard to believe how quickly it came along — a testament to what the community can do when it comes together.

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10. Mudslides in Schley Canyon

Fish passable? What about a mudslide? The state views Schley Canyon, that land cavity that cuts Manette from the rest of East Bremerton (or does it? The boundaries, to be fair, are unclear) as one fish could head up, or fish passable. The city says the little crevasse’s just a drainage and it doesn’t need to pay millions of dollars to replace the 1927 culvert over it at Lower Wheaton Way.

But the canyon has had a slide once when rains get too heavy. A geologist told me the canyon’s probably not a huge slide hazard. But it’s something Mayor Patty Lent said recently she’d like to further examine to be sure.

Honorable mentions:

  • *Many are just convinced the apartments at 704 Chester Avenue are haunted. Even the skeptics have to agree the building does have a long, and sometimes spooky history. It served as the site of Harrison’s first hospital and was later converted into apartments. Bremerton native and Washington State Legislator Speaker of the House Frank Chopp’s low-income housing nonprofit improved the complex in the early 2000s, but residents there still say there’s still strange noises at odd hours.
  • *No new homes — or any structures — can be built out over the waters of Puget Sound. But the homes that remain on the water near the Bremerton Boardwalk enjoy a “grandfathered” and can stay for as long as they’d like as long as they’re maintained.

Are there any I missed you’d like to add?

Red light cameras: have you been caught?

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Raise your hand if you’ve been here: The traffic light goes yellow and you have to make a split-second, game time decision. There’s $124 riding on it — and you can only lose.

In the words of The Clash, “Should I stay or should I go?”

But it’s too late. And through the intersection you go, in a panic that, by the time you forget about the close call, a citation will arrive in the mail.

Bremerton, I’m looking for your own experiences with the city’s red light camera system. Now in its sixth year, it has written more than 50,000 tickets and generated more than $4.3 million in revenue, $2.6 million of which goes to the Arizona vendor that provides it.

How do you like it? Opinions are almost always strong about the cameras. And all of us seem to have a story about them.

I look forward to hearing from you. This is just an introduction to my new project, examining the system. It’s the focus of a special report in Sunday’s edition of the Kitsap Sun.