Bremerton SKIA Talk Gets Serious

Here is a draft of the Bremerton SKIA story scheduled to run in Tuesday’s paper.

By Steven Gardner

SOUTH KITSAP — There’s talk about Bremerton annexing property near the Port of Bremerton again, but so far it’s not causing the near the heartburn it did when there was a NASCAR speedway involved.

That speedway conversation from a year ago, however, may have affected how serious county, port and city officials are, as well as private property owners, about making the 3,400-acre South Kitsap Industrial Area part of Bremerton.

The county created SKIA in 2002 with the intention of setting land aside for industrial services. Since then, though, there has been little progress in getting infrastructure to the area, which most in the discussion agree needs to happen to get industrial clients interested.

David Overton, who owns much of the private property within SKIA, described the current conversation as a “Could this be a good idea?” discussion.

He imagines the area could attract industrial type businesses, particularly those that serve the Navy or the shipyard.

Such a proposal will surely invite opposition on environmental, quality of life and other issues from varied parties within the county. Those leading the three governments party to the conversation seem willing, for now, to talk seriously about the matter.

Cheryl Kincer, port commissioner, said the conversation about annexation has been going on for years, but described the level of discussion now as “raised.”

For private SKIA property to become part of Bremerton, the port would have to agree to it as well, because it’s port property that’s borders city limits. The state prohibits leapfrog annexation.

Kincer said she’s open to the discussion, but the city’s business and occupation tax would be a hurdle for the port. “I will not be for annexation if they cannot figure out a way to not levy this tax on our tenants,” Kincer said.

Roger Lubovich, Bremerton city attorney, emphasized the city is not leading this annexation discussion, but the Bremerton City Council will be considering a measure that would satisfy Kincer’s concerns. On March 12 the council will discuss in a work session an ordinance that would exempt port tenants from B&O taxes. The ordinance is tentatively scheduled to be on the regular council agenda on March 19.

Lubovich said new businesses on port property would likely generate enough sales taxes to offset whatever the city might forego in B&O taxes. The city has been implementing measures to gradually eliminate the tax anyway to make the city more attractive to businesses considering the city versus other jurisdictions.

Overton said the city’s downtown transformation its aggressiveness when asked to consider annexing the speedway site has increased his interest having the conversation. “It’s fun to look at Bremerton and what they’ve achieved,” he said.

A year ago the city was asked by International Speedway Corp., a Florida company that proposed building a NASCAR speedway on property near SKIA and the port, to look into what it would take for the city provide services to the site. Overton said it took two weeks for the city to come up with estimates, something he said he never got from the county.

The discussion itself was controversial. Then-County Commissioner Chris Endresen argued that the city should not consider taking over a project that would impact the entire county.

ISC wrote into its proposed legislation provisions that would have essentially allowed for a leapfrog annexation of the speedway site. The bill died, in large part because of the lack of support from county officials and legislators, but Bremerton’s stance left a lingering impression on Overton.

Recent developments in the long-standing question of which city, Bremerton or Port Orchard, would provide sewer to Gorst may also be playing into the elevated discussion. Bremerton and the county are working on an interlocal agreement that would have the city providing sewer service.

Kincer said infrastructure would be a key selling point for her, should the issue of moving port SKIA property into city boundaries come up. “It’s very important to us to associate ourselves with partners who can help bring the necessary infrastructure to SKIA for further development,” she said.

Jan Angel, the county commissioner whose district encompasses the SKIA site, said she welcomes the conversation. Angel speculated that the city might have more grant opportunities available to it to help pay for infrastructure development. “I’ve been trying to get economic development going there for eight years,” she said. “I think we need to have the conversations to see what are the possibilities. Any economic development in this area I think benefits everybody.”

Kincer said the annexation discussion could be a regular feature of port meetings for the near future. Lubovich said the city won’t do much to further the issue after the tax exemption is on the council agenda, not until property owners petition for annexation.
Bremerton’s Public Works Director Phil Williams said his department is looking at how the infrastructure could be provided and will probably use some of the information it gathered in the NASCAR discussion.

The NASCAR property was not completely within SKIA. Overton said the current discussion is not a back-door way to get the speedway issue back on the table in Kitsap County. He drew on his knowledge of the sport to emphasize it. “We are not turning left,” he said. “We are turning right.”

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