Stumbling blocks to annexation

As previously mentioned in this column, the Port of Poulsbo Commission has been working toward annexing the port marina and Liberty Bay Marina into the port district.

The reason for this move is to ensure that the registered voters residing within the two marinas, who are directly affected by port decisions, are able to vote for the elected officials who make those decisions. This will also allow any of those qualified voters to run for commissioner in the future, should they decide to do so.

Both Commissioner DeSalvo and Commissioner Saunders have made it clear they are committed to ensuring that those voters have that right. Commissioner Swann, since this annexation was first suggested, has brought up several concerns, questioning the process, costs, legality and reasons for annexing. After much research and discussion of the requirements, cost and logistics of a limited annexation, the question of the legality of doing so was made to the port’s attorney, who gave the commission the legal go-ahead to get the annexation on the November ballot.

At the June 7 port meeting, Commissioner Swann once again expressed concern regarding this move, ultimately halting the vote to proceed with the annexation process. He read a lengthy email he sent to Commissioners DeSalvo and Saunders just prior to the meeting outlining those concerns. In a nutshell, Commissioner Swann believes that because the leased tidelands the marinas are over are the property of Washington state, managed by the Department of Natural Resources, that annexation would be illegal — contrary to the previous advice of the port attorney and legal counsel. Interestingly, the Poulsbo Yacht Club, which also leases tidelands from the state, is included in the port district and the liveaboards there are able to vote for port commissioners.

Mr. Swann contacted Linda Gallagher, legal consultant at the Municipal Research and Services Center, a nonprofit organization that helps local governments across Washington state by providing free legal and policy guidance on any topic. Ms. Gallagher’s final paragraph in response to Swann’s inquiry was, “I recommend you consult with your port’s legal counsel on this issue and whether the DNR tidelands under the marina to be annexed become territory of the port district and/or within the jurisdiction of the port district.”

In the ensuing discussion, it was pointed out by Commissioner DeSalvo that the intent of the annexation is to not annex the DNR tidelands, but the voter addresses above the tidelands within the marinas. Similar has been done state-wide with “non-traditional” addresses to allow citizens access to voting.

Swann has, in prior meetings, questioned the reasoning for including those liveaboard voters into the port district and reiterated that opinion in his email, stating, “… inclusion of these boaters (non-property owners) by annexation into the Port District would not provide additional port district tax revenue …” It was pointed out to Mr. Swann that many voters within the district are renters (non-property owners), and that the live-aboard voters do pay leasehold taxes, of which a portion does go to the Port District.

Both Commissioner Saunders and Commissioner DeSalvo agreed that Swann’s concerns and the response received from Linda Gallagher should be reviewed by the port’s legal counsel, who previously gave the go-ahead on the annexation.

Carol Tripp, the port business manager, reminded them that all documentation and required information, including a legal survey, need to be presented in full and correctly no later than Aug. 7 to be included in the November election. Ms. Tripp was instructed to request the legal counsel expedite his review and, if needed, a special meeting will be called prior to the next regular commissioner meeting to discuss the annexation as time is running out to make the ballot deadline, as several weeks will be needed to complete the necessary documentation.

It is hoped that the annexation process will continue to go forward without encountering further stumbling blocks. If the deadline for the ballot is not met, it will delay the process for another full year until the next regular election in 2019 — an election in which a new port commissioner will be selected as Mr. Swann’s term will be up. Those 50-plus voters would like to have a voice in that election.

— Pamela Benson, SV Spirit of Freedom, C-Dock, Port of Poulsbo.