Code City: Port Orchard changes its city classification

PORT ORCHARD — Port Orchard will soon join nearly every other city in Washington state as a designated non-charter code city.

The transition from its status as a second-class city was adopted by the City Council in a unanimous vote at its March 28 meeting at City Hall.

According to Mayor Rob Putaansuu, the shift in the city’s classification gives it more flexibility and authority to enact city policies on its own, as long as they follow state law.

He said in an interview last week that the second-class city regulations, which are remnants of laws enacted in the late 1800s, hamper city business since Port Orchard, as it stands today, can use only state statutes in its operations.

While the City Council’s approval was expected, it was less clear whether council members would decide to put the proposal to a vote by city residents instead of approving it by council action.

Council member John Clauson said he was persuaded by an informal survey of residents about the classification change conducted on the city website.

“I was quite impressed with the results of the survey,” Clauson said at the council meeting. “I don’t see a downside to doing this. This puts us in a league with other cities.”

Council member Bek Ashby said the non-charter code city option is an avenue the state Legislature has provided to cities to further establish their ability to use the concept of home rule in conducting their business.

“My question is, why didn’t we do this two decades ago? That’s where we need to be,” Ashby said.

While he acknowledged the survey “isn’t an election” and wasn’t fully representative of those who didn’t have internet access, Chang said he appreciated Putaansuu’s effort to elicit public input into the decision process.

The process to change the city’s classification went relatively smoothly in contrast to two earlier efforts by the council.

The most recent attempt in 2013 was soundly defeated by voters, who decided on a proposal that included two changes to city government: whether to become a code city and switch to a city manager form of government.

The council in 2011 formulated a resolution but withdrew it over objections to the costs of a special election.

Port Orchard becomes a non-charter code city 90 days after the resolution is published and goes through a referendum period.

In other City Council news:

Council members voted to approve a 12-year multifamily tax abatement to OVAH, LLC to construct the Olympic View Apartment Homes, a 38-unit structure that is to provide 20 percent of its apartment inventory to households with low or moderate incomes.

The affordable housing units are to be available for at least 12 years. The project at 3410 Orlando St. in Port Orchard has an estimated property tax value of $2,699,059.

According to Nick Bond, the city’s community development director, the exemption doesn’t apply to the value of the land or to existing or nonresidential improvements.

In his report to the City Council, Bond said property taxes on these assets would remain in place during the exemption period.

Putaansuu said he welcomed the affordable housing addition to the city.

“I’m thankful for this opportunity,” he said. “It helps put that (affordable housing) inventory out there.”

Clauson said he believed the mix of affordable units with market-priced apartments is a good concept for future development in Port Orchard.

“I don’t think it’s good for the community to have affordable housing crammed into one area,” Clauson said, referring to the tendency of some cities to segregate lower-priced units from the rest of their market-driven housing stock.

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