Gelder seeks sales tax hike for public safety

With less than a month to go before his resignation, Kitsap Commissioner Robert Gelder is hurrying to address “dire circumstances” within the county by pushing for a May 8 vote to place a three-tenths of a percent public safety sales tax on the primary ballot Aug. 1.

The possibility of a tax was initially hinted at by Sheriff John Gese, who told the Kitsap Daily News in January that a growing population and tight funding has the office struggling to keep up with present-day expectations and a tax would generate the additional funding needed.

Aside from that, the subject of a tax had not been widely discussed in prior commissioner meetings in 2023. So when Gelder appeared before the Port Orchard City Council April 25 to pitch the idea, city officials such as Councilman Shawn Cucciardi were caught off guard.

“There definitely is an impact to the cities in Kitsap County, and I wish you guys would have approached us sooner just to loop us in,” he said. “Not to say that we aren’t supportive of it, but we don’t even meet again before May 8.”

That date is key as it is the last opportunity for the county commissioners to approve the tax for the primary ballot. Gelder apologized for the lack of communication and explained that while the county could potentially wait until 2024 fears of growing budget issues were motivating him to seek a solution sooner.

“I just have concerns that, you know, it waits till 2024 and it doesn’t happen, then I know the county, as an organization, is going to be in a very severe cut mode,” he said.

Port Orchard city attorney Charlotte Archer said the statute allows for a tax of up to three-tenths, meaning Port Orchard could still pursue a one-tenth tax even if the county only passed a two-tenths tax. A three-tenths measure would preclude the city from attempting to pass the tax.

“I know the dire circumstances that we’re in and what we need to do, and this is one of those tools because we have done pretty much everything else,” Gelder said, “and so, I just want to leave the county in the best possible position to be able to support and to deliver the services that we need to our residents, and the same thing for the cities.”

This news comes less than a week after the city of Bremerton approved a resolution for a voter-decided property tax increase geared toward funding its fire and police departments.