County commissioner teamwork and community partnerships key to progress

Commissioner Chair Ed Wolfe ending his term in office

As I near the end of my term as chair of the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, I want to take a moment to reflect on the board’s activities over the past 12 months.

What stands out most of all is how we worked together as a team on behalf of our constituents. I’m grateful to serve alongside commissioners Garrido and Gelder. Here are highlights of our 2019 accomplishments and a preview of priorities as we head into a new decade in 2020.

County budget

One of our most important mandates is balancing the county budget. We are responsible for not only maintaining the stability of the county’s finances but at the same time, leveraging funds to provide effective and efficient services, preserve natural resources and promote economic development.

The $379 million budget for 2020 adds staff to our Sheriff’s Office, Community Development, Parks Department and Emergency Management organizations, and establishes an in-house Coroner’s Office forensic pathologist rather than contracting out for those services. In the coming year, the planning and design of a new addition to the courthouse will progress. We have spent much of the past year evaluating phasing and financing a sorely needed expansion to house additional courtrooms.

Community projects

Championing community projects are priorities for county commissioners. We celebrated the opening of a new veterans clinic in Silverdale for our 37,000 veterans living in Kitsap. We’re looking forward to the ribbon-cutting in 2020 for the new addition to Harrison Medical Center in Silverdale that greatly expands state-of-the-art critical and acute care services in one of the most energy-efficient facilities in the state.

Parkland and open space

County government would not be as successful without the efforts of our dedicated employees and volunteers. Our volunteer parks stewards serve as community partners and fundraisers, supporting our efforts to develop recreational opportunities while preserving 11,000 acres of county parkland. Our parks holdings will grow again with the state’s transfer of Square Lake State Park to the county. This 231-acre diamond in the rough, along with the adjacent 118-acre Camp Calvinwood, joins the nearly 1,500-plus acre Coulter Creek Heritage Park.

Another group of dedicated park stewards and the surrounding community rallied to raise funds to complete the purchase of the final five acres previously identified for development. Instead, this woodland was added to the now over 580 acres of the Illahee Preserve Heritage Park.

Initiative 976

With voter approval of Initiative 976 that caps vehicle registration taxes and revokes the authority of state and local governments to add new taxes, we will be working with staff and the legislature to identify other funding sources. We remain committed to maintaining our investment in local roads and transit, and to improving traffic on state highways that run through our communities.

Legislative and policy priorities

Our board is taking a statewide advocacy role in 2020. Commissioner Rob Gelder was elected to serve as president of the Washington State Association of Counties for 2019-2020. We’ll join forces with Washington’s 38 other counties to advocate on issues of importance such as reimbursement of unfunded state mandates, additional state funding for road maintenance and indigent defense.

We’ll also focus on how to best support affordable and supportive housing countywide, using retail sales taxes the legislature freed up last summer. Other policy discussions will focus on amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan, short-term vacation rentals and analysis of developer impact fees.

Teamwork between county commissioners and community partnerships will continue to be key to maintaining and improving the quality of life for all Kitsap citizens. We hope you will contact us with questions or concerns and provide input through outreach events to help us champion Kitsap County.

Best wishes to you and your loved ones for health, happiness and prosperity in the year ahead!