Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson was joined by Washington State Senator Christine Rolfes during her “office hours” last Saturday, in order to hear what Poulsbo would like to in the upcoming legislative session, set to convene on Jan. 13.
A small crowd gathered in the Poulsbo City Council Chambers where Erickson and Rolfes hosted an informal question and answer forum. Unfortunately, Mayor Erickson had to depart around 10 a.m. to attend a League of Women Voters event in Bremerton, however, Senator Rolfes remained to continue the Q&A and speak with people afterward.
The topics of discussion ranged from parks to education to mental health, homelessness, and the environment.
“Well the biggest concern I think that we have in the city of Poulsbo is what’s going to happen with transportation funding after the [I-976] vote,” Erickson said.
I-976 is an initiative passed in November with 56 percent of the vote in the state and 52.8 percent in Kitsap County. The initiative is better known as the “$30 car tab initiative” given that the most prominent feature of the initiative sought regulate the price of annual car tab renewal.
The passage of this initiative has resulted in WSDOT pausing multiple infrastructure projects across the state due to having to restructure transportation funding. Affected projects include the forthcoming Johnson Way roundabout, a $5.4 million project.
“I’m hopeful that it will get resolved before they ever get into the session. But if it doesn’t, I would think that would be my main concern for the city and the community. The City of Poulsbo is somehow figuring out what we need to do to get that funding restored,” Erickson said of the project.
When asked about the impact of I-976 and what she will do to keep projects like the Johnson Way roundabout on track, Senator Rolfes was unable to provide a clear answer.
“I don’t know the answer. Because its all happening kind of fast, the governor did his list of delay in order to give the legislature time to figure out a path forward,” the senator said. “The assumption will be that the $30 car tab stands, so we’ll first have to get the legislature to agree on that assumption and then we will work on planning, well what do we do with all those projects that can’t get funded now?”
“We’ll probably have to sift through all the projects statewide and see how we balance … the transportation budget. Then, in the long term what are we going to do to make up for that lack of funds.”
Rolfes also stated her intent to push for projects like the Johnson Road roundabout, which already has federal dollars contingent upon it, and if the state pulls the cord on the project, the whole thing collapses.
“That should be a criterion when we are looking at what should be moving forward,” Rolfes said.
One topic that came up during the forum was a house on Viking Way that is currently home to several sexually violent predators (SVP’s), despite being in violation of county code.
Rolfes admitted the system that is currently in place is flawed.
“The system itself was not built around safely housing people like that and we don’t actually have a very good process in place for it,” Rolfes said. “You want to be gracious and say everybody gets a second chance and these are people who have been deemed by psychologists to be very likely to re-offend, so they’re really not who you want in a neighborhood.”
Rolfes acknowledged Kitsap County’s efforts to address this issue, particularly how the home was able to be established as an adult family home, but it should have more oversight than that of a home for older people.
“At the state level, this all broke news last December so it wasn’t enough time to get organized for the last legislature. We introduced a bill last year that I hope will be heard this year and my office is working with the county and coordinating the commissioner’s office on legal ideas to present to the legislature,” Rolfes explained.
Rolfes also touched on other issues facing the north end of Kitsap County and Poulsbo specifically.
North Kitsap School District ( NKSD) had to tangle with a $3 million deficit and as a result, made cuts to staffing, staff hours and programs. It also recently had to pay a $5 million settlement to families of special needs children who had been sexually assaulted on a school bus by another student five years ago. The Herald asked Rolfes if anything new in education funding was coming that could help the district.
“Every legislative session, the legislature strategically invests more money into schools, what it will be, I don’t know. But last year we did a big push on special education funding and getting that out to the districts and I think that helped. From what I understand it didn’t completely take care of special education needs, I think that finishing that will probably be the priority,” Rolfes said.
Rolfes said she can’t speak for the legislature as a whole, but that education funding remains a priority for herself.
The senator also touched on the topic of I-940, legislation dictating the need for independent investigations into officer-involved shootings, as it related to a July police shooting in Poulsbo which ended in the death of Stonechild Chiefstick.
When the legislation passed, the rules for how independent investigations should be conducted had not been written. The rules are currently being drafted by the Criminal Justice Training Commission. The basic rules currently state that the department of the involved officer is excluded from the investigation and outside representatives from other law enforcement agencies are tasked with conducting the investigations.
Rolfes agreed that the legislation could have been more clearly defined prior to being passed.
“There could have been more detail on that,” Rolfes said. “But even if we put in more detail it probably would have been wrong. The whole situation is unfortunate all the way around.”
”Poulsbo’s experience as a government, actually using the rules under that initiative, I think are going to be really important as feedback to legislators on what we might want to change or beef up to make sure that it works better for communities.”