Council reopens debate on 2002 budget

Driven by its new members, the Bainbridge Island City Council is considering a significant restructuring of the 2002 budget to trim some $2.6 million in spending, mostly from public works.

The proposal defers major infrastructure projects planned for this year, including the installation of bike lanes and sidewalks on lower Ericksen Avenue, construction of the decant facility, buying right-of-way for future widening of Wyatt Way and design work on a portion of Winslow Way.

“The catalyst was Ericksen Avenue,” said Bill Knobloch, chair of the council finance committee. “We want to bring public-work spending into line with citizen values as expressed in the community values surveys.”

The council will discuss the budget at a workshop at 5 p.m. today in the work-room adjacent to the council chambers at City Hall.

Council chair Michael Pollock said the possible cuts contained in a draft plan are nothing more than discussion items at this stage.

“This is a point of departure for further discussion,” he said. “The questions we will ask are whether these projects should be deferred, or whether these things are already set in motion and should go forward.”

The proposal recognizes that if certain projects are deferred, the city stands could lose up to $500,000 in state grant money – $300,000 for work on Ericksen and $200,000 for work on the decant facility.

“We’re investigating those grants to determine what their terms are,” said Knobloch. “We think that the Ericksen grant, for example, may call for work to begin by 2003.”

Knobloch said the Winslow Master Plan calls for a smaller Ericksen Avenue than the present public works design, although he acknowledged that the plan does call for sidewalks and bike lanes on the street.

And he agreed that most of the public comments at last week’s council meeting urged the city to move forward.

“That is what we’re trying to resolve,” he said.

A substantial number of the possible cuts take the form of “managed reductions” – sums of money lopped from various budgets that management is supposed to do without.

City Finance Director Ralph Eells said that the budgets are developed based on available revenues, not on specific needs, and are generally not all spent. The “managed reductions,” he said, are in line with actual spending, and should be achievable.

According to Knobloch, revisiting the budget is part of the movement on the part of the new council to become an independent legislative body.

“We’re approaching our responsibilities in a different manner,” he said.

Impetus for the change, Knobloch said, is general island growth.

“In the past, when this was a small town, you could do things with a handshake,” he said. “There was really no need to set policies.”

The push for independence contributed to a prickly exchange between the council and Mayor Darlene Kordonowy last week, over two proposed appointments to the Bainbridge Planning Commission.

Kordonowy proposed two names – environmental consultant Mike Cox and retired physician Lafe Myers. Pollock objected, saying the proper procedure is for appointments to go first to the council’s operations committee for discussion before being brought to the floor.

“We recognize that the mayor has the right to make appointments,” Pollock said, “but by starting with the operations committee, you bring an appointment to the floor that three council members have already approved.”

The council approved Cox’s nomination unanimously, but voted 5-2 to send Myers’ appointment to the operations committee for review.

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