Bainbridge council, community remains divided on transferring city water utility | UPDATE

City Manager Doug Schulze has brought what could be the first steps to the city council on the idea to outsource management of Bainbridge Island’s water utility. It is the latest development in the recent effort to rid the city of its utility.

The city council remains split on the decision, however.

At the city council’s Feb. 6 meeting, Schulze was charged with developing a picture of what the city would look like if the Kitsap Public Utility District took over management of its water utility.

He reported back on Feb. 13 detailing his plan to do so. Schulze didn’t get too deep into specifics, but promised to give a full report at the council’s March 20 meeting.

Schulze’s report will consider policy issues to be addressed. He will also cover expenses outside the contract, such as legal services, contract administration and overhead allocations.

Schulze said he will meet with utility district officials to discuss, in detail, their scope of work.

He also stressed the need to look at impacts to the city’s staff and noted that a switch in management may affect at least one of the city’s unions.

A total of three full-time equivalent employees are estimated to be eliminated should the jobs be outsourced.

At the council’s Feb. 6 meeting, members were clearly divided over the idea to contract with the Kitsap Public Utility District as the city’s new water purveyor.

Councilman Steve Bonkowski has spearheaded the most recent attempt to move the utility from under the city’s purview.

He has said city staff would benefit from a switch to outside management, because city employees would be able to divert their energy toward other areas that need attention, such as roads.

“It is not going to be this huge disruption to city staff,” he said at the Feb. 6 meeting.

“The highest amount of hours per week of any individual is four hours per week (spent on the water utility),” he said. “You are talking about people you are charging a tenth of their time to the water utility. So the complexity of dismantling, is not going to be easy, but it is not a massive thing where we will have to do a massive reorganization.”

Others on the council did not appear convinced.

“What you’ve presented are some interesting theories, and I’m not willing to make a multi-million dollar decision based on one person’s theory and conjecture,” said Councilman Bob Scales.

“We are going to have less staff (if the utility is outsourced). We are going to have chaos,” Scales said.

The community echoed the council’s division on Feb. 6 during time for public comment.

On one side are those who feel the city cannot be trusted to operate its water utility, a belief based on Bainbridge’s history of charging double what neighboring utilities have.

Other islanders think the city should have a chance to prove itself after it reduced rates by 45 percent in 2011.

“The primary reason for this management transfer is to punish the city for past misdeeds,” said Randall Samstag, a former member of the city’s Utility Advisory Committee.

Fellow former committee member Bob Bosserman agreed.

“The Ratepayers Alliance has called attention to high rates, and they have now been lowered,” he said.

“That’s a good thing, it’s done. Now it’s time to move on,” Bosserman said.  “Now is not the time to punish the current city staff for the former administration’s actions.”

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