Council looks back, ahead

In December, facing financial constraints, the City Council ordered $2.5 million in cuts from the city’s operating budget.

Tonight, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, councilors will be debriefed on the impacts of those cuts on city operations.

The debriefing will kick off a larger discussion about the next budget, which for the first time encompasses a two year stretch.

The council last year approved the switch to a biennial budget to avoid the pitfalls of previous budget processes.

Two budget requests for 2008 will be part of the discussion.

Money is needed for road repairs – the latest estimates show $1.9 million – following the December storms. The city would likely be reimbursed as much as $1.4 million.

To avoid layoffs, the Police Department eliminated spending in 2008 for emergency preparedness.

Cuts to the department, if not restored, could lead to longer response times, reduced patrol coverage and difficulties with recruitment and retention, officials said.

Members of the City Council’s Community Relations Committee on Monday got a closer look at the state of police work on the island, as Police Chief – and interim city administrator – Matt Haney, and Deputy Chief Mark Duncan addressed committee members.

The department is down two officers following recent retirements and defections.

Though replacements are being sought, Haney said police agencies statewide are suffering from a shortage of recruits.

New officers take one year from the time they’re hired to be ready for patrol. Experienced officers that come from other communities take about four months of local training to be street-ready.

On average, two or three officers are patrolling the island at a given time, Haney said.

Crime statistics are only available for the first half of 2007 – and thus are inconclusive – but the biggest problem facing Bainbridge Police continues to be traffic collisions.

There were two driver fatalities on island roads last year.

“We seem to run into one another at a higher frequency than other places,” Haney said.

State Route 305 is the most frequent site of collisions, especially rear-end collisions.

Police don’t officially keep a running log of whether drivers involved in collisions are from Bainbridge or just passing through, but Duncan said anectodal evidence suggests the majority are from the island.

Police hope new cell phone laws will help – texting while driving became illegal Jan. 1, and talking on hand-held cellular devices will be outlawed starting July 1 – but Haney said drivers allow themselves to be distracted by any number of things, from unruly children to makeup application to shaving.

Duncan said property crimes appear to be on the downswing, though thefts from unlocked cars continue to be a problem.

– Chad Schuster

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