Bremerton’s bizarre borders

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On a map, Bremerton is a Tetris champion’s worst nightmare. Geographically, it’s filled with holes: West Hills, Gorst (for now), Navy Yard City. There’s even an island in Port Orchard.

In sum, it has quite a bizarre set of borders.

Since I took over coverage of the city for the Kitsap Sun in late 2012, I have been perplexed as to how it came to be this way. Each area, of course, has its own story — Rocky Point, anyone? — but here we are, an oddly-shaped blob of a municipality.

As we have seen in this past week, Bremerton is widely known as a much larger area. The postal code includes areas in Seabeck and at the Fairgrounds. Bremerton’s public works department also provides water to a larger swath of land than is the city.

You may have seen Sunday’s story about how Bremerton is actually barred by agreement from annexing the area north of Riddell Road. We’ll see if that changes, following conversations between the city and the county over South Kitsap landowner David Overton’s desire to end the agreement.

This year, I plan to write a series of articles focusing on some of those holes. Many of them are UGAs — short for Urban Growth Areas, destined to come into the city under the state’s Growth Management Act. What’s kept them from coming in?

And for that matter, how different are services between those offered in Bremerton to those in the unincorporated county?

I offer one example regarding emergency services. There are already mutual aid agreements that ensure fire trucks and police cars are on their way, regardless of jurisdiction (South Kitsap Fire & Rescue, interestingly, is still the official fire department for Rocky Point). But when it comes to policing, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is spread thin around the county, whereas Bremerton’s force is concentrated. The result more frequent patrols on city streets, and the ability of Bremerton police to respond much more quickly to emergencies.


Taxes and regulations are also different. Bremerton has a B&O tax that some cite as a deterrent for coming into the city. Of the regulatory climate, here’s one interesting nuance. There’s a storefront for a medical marijuana collective garden tucked into a sliver of county land near the Perry Avenue Mall. The city banned such gardens in 2013. It’s surrounded on three sides by Bremerton.

I think there’s a general assumption that coming into a city means more taxes, more regulation, more services. That doesn’t always turn out to be the case. I talked to a Rocky Point resident who recently told me why he didn’t want to be in the city. He recalled a relative supporting Marine Drive’s annexation into the city.

“Marine Drive got in because they wanted sewer and sidewalks,” he recalled. But they got nothin.'”

I hope to learn a lot this year on this issue, and welcome your knowledge and opinions.

8 thoughts on “Bremerton’s bizarre borders

  1. The GMA was supposed to “fix” the issue but it really just confused the issue more. Bremertons borders have never really made since mainly due to the watershed area they claim and the need for the city to acquire sales tax revenue over residents. Odds are politics and the old “you scratch my back I’ll scratch your back” concept had more to do with boundaries than most anything else.

    My biggest issue is if it is in the city of Bremerton boundaries, then the city of Bremerton needs to supply all of the needed services. Why is South Kitsap Fire & Rescue supporting the city of Bremerton? The same goes for sheriff’s and any county supplied service. If South Kitsap F&R limited itself to South Kitsap, Port Orchard and unincorporated Kitsap County how much less would it cost taxpayers in those areas? SKF&R could possibly be downsized. SKF&R annexed the city of Port Orchard a number of years ago, it cost the unincorporated taxpayers more money because the city services had to be upgraded to meet SKF&R standards and those outside the city paid the cost.

    How about asking Overton and those other property owners who were so hot on being annexed by Bremerton why they seem to have done ZERO when it comes to the economic development of the old SKIA? I fear they and the Bremerton city council see the Port of Bremerton as a potential pot of money for their use. They conveniently forget the many taxpayers and voters who do not live in the Bremerton city limits but do live within the Port of Bremerton districts.

    1. One quick point of clarification Roger. In terms of Rocky Point, while South Kitsap is the fire agency for the area, there’s been an agreement worked out, because Bremerton also has Puget Sound Industrial Center-Bremerton (formerly known as the South Kitsap Industrial Area). Basically, Bremerton handles Rocky Point calls and South Kitsap runs the ones at or near PSIC-Bremerton. Whichever agency has more calls at the end of the year gets reimbursed by the other agency.

      1. Yes, they do have an agreement in place. The patch work boundary lines for both cities combined with he patchwork boundary lines for services is one thing GMA should have solved. It is pick & chose politics while taxpayers on both sides pay the bill.

        Unincorporated Kitsap County is getting smaller and smaller as areas are annexed. Maybe a map with not only Bremerton but Port Orchard comparing unincorporated areas and the overview of what GMA’s exist now. Were not the UGA’s reduced in size by either the state or the courts?

  2. Silver dale has had a couple of opportunity to vote for incorporation. What are the advantages for the normal residents in the are and disadvantages as compared to current unincorporation? I understand the financial returns that Kitsap County is benefitting as whole from the Silverdale Mall and other businesses in the area. Are the residents in the Silverdale area actually getting less service because the money is being spread to the unincorporated areas in Kitsap County? I understand there are polices who would like to run Silverdale but for who’s gain and advantage? As the residents currently seem to benefit from the current unincorporated county services, how can it be improved without being incorporated. We don’t need another layer of bureaucracy do we?

  3. Josh,
    Thank you for doing this. I think it would be good for the public to understand this issue since it has been the major source of conflict between Bremerton and the county for the last 25 years.
    When I first became a City Council member in 2000, I received a briefing on the GMA. I was amazed that the state was able to pass a law that made so much sense. Most people agree with the concept of directing new growth into urban areas where services can be provided most efficiently, people can live close to work, use mass transit, etc. This also preserves rural areas for the future.
    The problem with the law is that it has no teeth. Unlike most states, cities in Washington cannot unilaterally annex UGAs that are adjacent to the city.
    Since the law was enacted in 1990, the county has taken it as a license to create higher density areas and keep them in the county. They have fought any attempts by cities to annex their UGAs. For example, the county appealed Bremerton’s comp plan in the mid 2000’s because the city stated that the UGAs connected to Bremerton should be annexed in the next 20 years. In their last comp plan, the county designated large areas to become UGAs. Bremerton and others appealed the plan and the hearings board made the county reduce the UGAs.
    Bremerton’s analysis of costs to taxpayers is about the same whether in or out of the county. Also, many people outside the city pay a surcharge for using Bremerton sewer and water that they would not pay if annexed.
    I have long advocated for annexation of the area north of Riddell. In return, I believe that the city could eliminate the B&O tax for the entire city. That would make it a lot easier for large property owners to sign up for annexation. We did that for businesses in Port owned property when we annexed SKIA.

  4. The B&O tax works out (at worst) to something like $10k/$1m of revenue. It’s a non-issue to anyone with a lick of sense.

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