PO mayor: Rising infrastructure, homelessness, crime

A bright future for infrastructure and a continued call on the state to work with local police and government highlighted Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu’s recent State of the City presentation.

Regarded highly in his presentation were the 28 projects scheduled to receive just under $41 million in funding through the 2023-24 budget. $18 million is designated for the largest project — repairs and replacements to the Marina Pump Station that will kick off up to a six-year construction period in that section of the city.

Also mentioned were the $3 million roundabout projects on Lincoln Avenue, one of several projects centered on improving in-city transportation, and a $7 million “reskin” of City Hall.

It’s a lot on the table, but Putaansuu said it’s encouraging news for the long-term stability of the city. “We’re seeing, I believe, the right type of activity that will continue to fuel our local economy,” he said of the high volume of future construction. “I’m encouraged by the things going on in our community.”

Putaansuu continued to favor the $4 million Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway extension, which has attracted the ire of some community members for its displacement of waterfront homeowners.

As for the housing market, Putaansuu said it’s not perfect but is increasing in Port Orchard and Bremerton at a high rate. Specifically, he noted a “modest” level of construction for single-family residences and a “tremendous amount” of multi-family developments on the way.

“There’s still a housing shortage out there, but I think we’re doing our part,” he said. “We can’t solve it for the entire region, but we need to solve it for our community and that development activity is how we can solve it.”

Putaansuu also spoke about the growing homelessness problems in the city. He agreed that more locations for the homeless are needed, but in saying so, he also took a bold stance on those simply refusing government help, namely those with criminal histories and drug addictions.

“If 20% of these folks that we arrest take a deferral and enter the therapeutic court and get into treatment, we’ve helped some people,” he said, “and if you don’t want treatment and you’re committing crime and you’re doing drugs, you’re going to go to jail.”

Putaansuu said he will work with the state on homelessness and policing, which has faced its difficult share of roadblocks. Six new officers joined the Port Orchard Police Department’s small staff, which remains so due to the effects of statewide police reform and COVID. The long city employee vaccine mandate did not affect applicants, Putaansuu said, but there were more early retirements because of the nationwide anti-police sentiment.

“I know there were horrific things that happened in the world, George Floyd and those situations, but that’s not how we were policing in Port Orchard,” the mayor said. “If I was a law enforcement professional and were being lumped in with a group of unethical people doing improper things, it hurts.”

The department made moves to increase transparency, he said, including a body camera program, along with adding a fifth sergeant position and allocating funds for more police staffing.