Brown’s rivals accentuate their differences


Although voters in South Kitsap have no say in the primary election to choose which two candidates for county commissioner go on to the general election, they can still learn about the candidates.

So far, the issues that appear to be central to the candidates’ campaigns are the county budget, regional planning for growth and transportation improvements, regulation of businesses and land use.

Kitsap County is included in the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), which plans for transportation improvements in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties.

Being lumped together with the more populous counties doesn’t sit well with candidates Abby Burlingame and Wally Carlson, since they believe the linkage of growth management and transportation policies in the regional plans imposes the other counties’ views on us.

Getting out of PSRC probably isn’t a viable option, since regional planning is required as a condition of receiving federal funds for transportation improvements.

Besides, our need to get to and from the business and jobs markets on the other side of Puget Sound is greater than the need to go south or west, which means the region of most importance to us includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Growth management requirements under state law probably won’t go away either, so the choice among candidates seems to boil down to the question whether the incumbent, Josh Brown, or his challengers would do a better job of advocating for policies at PSRC that suit our needs.

The perennial issue of government regulations and their impact on economic growth opportunities seems to attract candidates like moths to a light.

Most of us are pretty sure that government regulations can be so onerous that they stifle economic activity, but hardly anyone would agree to eliminate them entirely.

And, as Carlson has pointed out, the implementation of regulatory rules can also be a problem, if, for example, decisions on land use permits are not made in a timely fashion.

It’s unlikely that the campaigns will result in pointing out any significant differences of opinion among the candidates about the desirability of clear rules, efficient implementation, and removal of unnecessary barriers to economic growth.

Any differences among the candidates will probably involve their ability to identify problems and find solutions.

The incumbent has an almost four-year record of actions in office to indicate his ability — which may be in his favor or not, depending on how his record is perceived by voters.

If Brown’s challengers can find fault with any particular decision he has made, surely they will.

The more difficult task for the challengers is to persuade voters of their own abilities, having not held any similar position before.

With the slow economy and its effect on county revenues, the biggest problem facing the person elected to office as county commissioner will be the need to balance the budget.

In 2007, before the recession hit, the county’s general fund expenditures totaled $88.4 million — including $7.9 million for the Department of Community Development (DCD), which was moved out of the general fund in 2008.

This year, the general fund budget projects total expenditures of $82.7 million — and next year it may be less than $80 million.

Since revenues did not keep up with actual spending, the fund balance has been drawn down from $9.3 million at the end of 2007 to $5.1 million at the beginning of this year.

Adjusting for the fact that DCD is no longer part of the general fund, total general fund spending has remained virtually the same since 2007.

But costs — especially employee compensation and payroll taxes, which constitute 68 percent of general fund expenditures — haven’t remained the same.

Finding solutions for this mismatch between the county’s rising costs as employer and declining revenues (or perhaps slowly growing revenue in the near future) won’t be easy.

Nor will it be easy for any candidate to say in detail how the problem might be solved, but recognition of the problem and general ideas about how to solve it should be included in their “stump speeches.”

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.