Bainbridge dialoge contentious, but involved

Some islanders would like everyone in the community to get along and to settle their disagreements with civility and calm. That would be nice, but it isn’t always going to happen on an island that has a recent history of heated dispute over its makeup and the direction it has taken. However, while the dialogue has been contentious at times, generally it has been healthy since Bainbridge Island’s voters decided on Nov. 6, 1990, to annex all of the island to Winslow, which a year later became the City of Bainbridge Island.

The island’s movement toward self-rule began when the community asked the Kitsap County Boundary Review Board to allow a vote on creating a separate City of Bainbridge Island. The board denied the request, which in essence denied islanders of a basic American right. The decision led state lawmakers to decrease the authority of boundary review boards across the state, and allowed island voters to decide their own fate.

The six months leading up to the November election were tumultuous as islanders were strongly divided over what would be best for all. There were many differences, but generally those in favor of annexation felt it was time for islanders to start making their own decisions instead of Kitsap County doing it for them, while those against it feared that environmentally sensitive areas and the island’s rural nature would be torn asunder by commercial and residential developments.

On the Wednesday before the election, The Review ran a total of 51 letters in its 52-page edition. All but nine of the letters were about annexation: 27 were for it, 11 against it, and four were neutral. Votes were cast by nearly 72 percent of the 8,157 island residents living in the unincorporated areas of the 32-square-mile island who were eligible to vote. It was a squeaker: 3,193 in favor, 3,057 against.

As predicted, growth management issues have been difficult under one government because of the unique rural-urban mix that annexation created. The city’s comprehensive plan offers a blueprint that allows much of the island to remain rural, the designation of open spaces and the urbanization of the old Winslow core and three service centers. But an island has a finite amount of land and population growth has been steady during the last 18 years as urban dwellers have sought the good life on Bainbridge.

Predictably, the growth, which has helped make the real estate and the housing industries the dominant players on the island and critical to the city’s ability to fund its services, has slowed to a trickle only when off-island events led to economic slumps nationwide and regionally. Since 2000, population growth has increased annually in the 2 percent range except in 2002 (post-9/11) and during the first six months of 2008. The annual increase was 0.87 percent in 2002 and 0.43 percent (23,080 to 23,180) through June of this year.

More self-sufficiency would be ideal, but, while we like to think we’re an island unto ourselves, it’s not true. In a way, islanders have become dependent on growth, as have most cities in the Puget Sound area. Until recently, it has been taken for granted because the flow has been remarkably constant during the last two decades. And it’s a fair assumption that steady growth will resume once the economy becomes stable. But when? The City of Bainbridge Island seems to be banking on that assumption, though there has been some tightening of belts and, hopefully, increased efficiency in City Hall as the new city administrator settles in.

That’s good, because this little slump could easily turn into a major one.

What is encouraging, however, is that the community is beginning to become more involved and influential, and there are ongoing skirmishes between the city’s eight elected officials about how to deal with its financial shortfall. It’s not always pretty and people often allow their egos to get involved, but government operates best when it is transparent and dialogue is uncensored. Let it all hang out.

Yes, Bainbridge came together 18 years ago for a good reason, so don’t waste it.

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