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City cuts service groups’ funding out of budget

The Bainbridge City Council has cut about $700,000 – primarily in community services – from its preliminary 2011-12 budget in an effort to get closer to reserve funding goals.

The nonprofits hit hardest were the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council (BIAHC), the Health, Housing and Human Services Council (HHHS) and Bainbridge Island Television (BITV).

The council also reduced Bainbridge Island Downtown Association’s proposed funding from $64,5000 to $40,000 and suggested moving the estimated $200,000 that is currently in the restricted Housing Trust Fund to an unrestricted sub-fund of the general fund. The money could then be used for whatever the city wishes, including affordable housing. But the proposal was put on hold until the city attorney weighs in on the legality of it.

Most of Tuesday’s funding cuts involved BITV, HHHS and BIAHC:

• BIAHC’s proposed budget of $308,132 will be completely eliminated.

• The city will continue to fund human services, though $81,000 was cut from the proposed $324,000, but HHHS’ implementation funding was reduced from $117,263 to $14,000.

The HHHS board said recently that it wasn’t interested in supplying organizational services for the estimated 10 human services organizations on the island if the budget was less than 75 percent of the proposed funding. Still, the council agreed to ask the organization if it wants to provide $14,000 worth of work. If not, the city would offer the job to Helpline House or have city staff do it.

• BITV’s contract, which was expected to be worth $296,000 in 2011, will be terminated 60 days following Wednesday’s notfication. The organization said it expects to close its doors in 60 days since the funding it receives from Comcast through the city) is 85 percent of its budget. The city will contract with another operator to televise the council’s meetings for an estimated $50,000, or televise the meetings itself.

The proposed budget for BIDA had $29,500 for the organization and $35,000 to help mitigate problems incurred by downtown businesses during the Winslow Way reconstruction project. The council eventually decided to give BIDA $40,000 in 2011 and stipulate that it be used specifically for the project.

Mayor Bob Scales made the motion on BITV, but the tone of the meeting changed when Councilor Kirsten Hytopolous moved that the HHHS budget should be cut.

“It’s important to clarify that HHHS is valuable but it’s not the same as a direct service like Helpline House and others,” she said. “These services will remain.”

Scales advocated cutting HHHS funds when he was on the council in (2004-07), but the city wasn’t in a financial crisis then. Still, Scales was surprised that the council approved all of the cuts, especially the HHHS funding.

“I had no idea what was going to happen,” Scales said Wednesday. “Traditionally, the community services page [in the budget] has been untouchable. The advocacy groups line up and the majority of the council hasn’t wanted to touch it. So the requests have been getting greater and greater with every budget. But with our financial crisis, that had to stop.”

In order to meet the council’s proposed reserve funding of $2.4 million by the end of 2011, an estimated $1.7 million has to be trimmed from the budget proposed by Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer.

“Staff is at rock bottom, down to 111 FTEs (full-time equivalents) after the latest cuts,” Scales said. “We just started with the budget and we’re trying to find ways to narrow the gap and there’s no way to do it without cutting services. We’re trying to stay away from cutting basic services. Next we’ll look at cutting professional service contracts and the money we transfer to other governments for services. And hopefully we’ll add some revenue.”

Bauer said seven or eight staff members will lose their jobs because some of the 13.9 FTE positions eliminated in her proposed budget involved vacant jobs that won’t be filled.

It’s apparent now that the majority of the council doesn’t want to cut salaries and benefits since union employees agreed earlier this year to roll over its 2010 contract to next year.

While some members of the council knew about some of the proposals beforehand, Bill Knobloch, Kim Brackett and Debbie Lester appeared shocked and disappointed by the actions. Brackett is the liaison councilor for BITV, while Lester represents the council on issues involving BIHAC.

Lester questioned the legality of many of the cuts because the city’s Comprehensive Plan includes human services, arts and affordable housing as basic needs on the island.

Councilor Hilary Franz said there is nothing in the plan that says the community “has to do what it says.” She said the city has to ensure that it can meet its basic needs and state-mandated requirements for all municipalities.

Knobloch and Brackett said the city should be looking at cuts that would make a larger dent in the budget, rather than beginning with the smaller community service cuts.

“My biggest problem is that we’re approaching expenditures before talking about revenues,” Knobloch said. He also believes the city government remains too large and more money could be saved if it were downsized even more than it has been during the last two years.

“This is a new economy and we have to adjust,” he said. “The elephant in the room is the current city structure. We can’t afford it with our revenue base. We need to change the structure... we can’t afford it. Salaries and benefits don’t match our revenues. Eventually we’ll have to get to it.”

Bracket made a motion that the city should reduce the general fund by 10 percent across the board, but it was defeated when only she and Knobloch voted for it.

The council will discuss the budget every Tuesday for the next few weeks with the goal of completing the process by the end of November.

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