County Unveils Plan to Pay for Bethel Road Improvements

The Port Orchard City Council on Monday learned how the county plans to raise $43.4 million for the Bethel corridor project and what the city’s role in paying for the major road revision may be.
The proposed project now lies outside city boundaries, but when and if that area is annexed, the city would assume the county’s bond payments, said Eric Baker, the county’s special projects manager, who made a presentation to the city council. Local residents, business owners and developers will also shoulder a portion of the financial burden according to a county proposal for financing the project, Baker said.
A levy to help pay for the project will be put before voters in 2008.

Improvements on the Bethel corridor cover 274 acres along South Kitsap’s major commercial core. Bethel Avenue, the main drag, will be widened to four lanes in most areas, with traffic circles to aid the flow of cars and feeder roads leading to shopping and residential centers. The area will be attractive as well as functional, said Baker, who described a pedestrian friendly zone with planted areas and gathering places. The project will have an upscale feel reminiscent of Gig Harbor’s new Burnham Drive interchange, except it will be more than twice as long.
Improvements to Bethel Avenue have been among the county’s long-term plans since 2000. Since then much of the land has been rezoned commercial, and annexation has become a more imminent reality.
Costs to acquire right-of-way have escalated, along with building costs for an estimated total of $26 million. Add to that $1.8 for permitting and $15.6 million for financing and it all starts to add up.
“That’s a pretty large chunk of money for any jurisdiction, too big a chunk for the county to swallow alone,” Baker said.
So the county came up with a three-pronged funding strategy designed to “equitably” distribute the cost among those who stand to benefit from the project, Baker said. The split was made based on projected traffic volumes through 2025, with the county assuming responsibility for “existing or background” traffic (38 percent of projected traffic), residents paying for “pass-through” traffic (21 percent), and business and commercial property owners paying for “destination” traffic (41 percent).
The county’s road fund will pay for $16.4 million of the total cost. On annexation, the balance due will be transferred to the city.
Residents who live in a wide area of South Kitsap surrounding the Bethel corridor — the county calls it a Transportation Benefit District — will get to vote in 2008 on a property tax levy to fund $9.1 million toward the project. A 60 percent super majority is required for passage. The assessment boundary covers virtually all of South Kitsap, with the western border being Highway 3 and the southern border being SW Wildwood and SW Hovgaard roads. The exact method for assessing tax rates has yet to be determined, Baker said.
Commercial ventures that will benefit from road improvements in the corridor also will pay their fair share, Baker said. The county has determined another taxing district — the County Road Improvement District — within which business and property owners will contribute $17.8 million toward the project cost. Implementation of the tax will require signed approval from a simple majority (50 percent ) of property owners.
The next step, said Baker, is for the county and the city to sign a formal agreement on the funding proposal.
Members of the city council were generally receptive to the project, but they had a few questions.
Rita Dilenno was concerned about the project’s reliance on funding raised by elections.
“What happens to the three-legged stool if one of the entities doesn’t choose to put a leg on it?” she asked.
Baker said county officials are confident that they can show voters the benefit of the project.
Rick Wyatt said people he had talked to, especially people in single family homes on commercially zoned property, were worried about being taxed off their property when the additional assessments come. He suggested grand-fathering them in at residential rates as long as the property remains under their ownership.

4 thoughts on “County Unveils Plan to Pay for Bethel Road Improvements

  1. I wish it were legal to “grandfather” in residential property owners until they sell. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is how the law reads.

    Kathryn Simpson

  2. After further review… Wow! This is a very complex proposal.

    Obtaining a super-majority in South Kitsap can be very challenging.

    Kathryn Simpson

  3. If it’s an excess levy requiring 60 percent to approve, is it also only a one-year levy? Or, is it an excess levy to pay back money borrowed by issuing bonds?

    If it’s for bond debt, for how long would the levy last?

    I wonder what the assessed value within the district is. With that, you could easily estimate the tax rate needed to collect $9.1 million in one year. I would guess it would take about $1.50 per $1000, assuming that most of the property within the school district would also be within this Bethel Road levy district. Since I presume the commissioners would really rather not have angry mobs with torches and pitchforks in their front yards, I guess it wouldn’t be collected in one year.

    So what is the period of the bonds? What would be the estimated tax rate?

    I’m curious since I’ve heard there is a need to build a school or two in this area — and that isn’t easy to do when other taxing districts surprise everyone with a substantial increase in the tax bill.

  4. All these unique ways to separate a taxpayer from his money. It is truly ridiculous. Have to say, if the people want it they will vote for it but I still wonder why this project isn’t funded out of the coffers of the county just like all other projects are. Was there special taxes on Silverdale to get its’ roads in the shape they are now? If there was, I sure didn’t hear about it. And, how much money did our county fork over to the City of Bremerton for their projects?

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