No increase in city staffing for 2003

Citing a down economy and concern for the tax burden on island residents, the Bainbridge Island City Council agreed Monday to a policy of “no net increase” in city staff for 2003.

The council stopped short of an outright hiring freeze, under which positions that open up during the coming year could not be filled.

“We’ve been criticized for not thinking we’re part of the county – sometimes I wonder if we realize we’re part of the state,” said Councilwoman Debbie Vancil, who cited a regional downturn that has left some cities and counties with budget shortfalls.

The city now has about 125 full-time equivalent positions. Four new positions were on the table for discussion in the Monday budget session, although several of those were to be temporary or “defined term” posts for specific projects.

A divided council also agreed to leave the city administrator position at full time for 2003, but deferred a decision on the human resources director until later.

Councilwoman Deborah Vann repeated her earlier assertion that the city could get by with a half-time administrator and less management overall.

“We’ve got a mayor who’s full time, whether she’s paid full-time or not,” Vann said. “We have directors, we have directors under directors. We have management coming out our ears.”

But Councilwoman Lois Curtis argued that the city’s management structure should be studied later, outside the context of the budget, while Norm Wooldridge defended the administrator position outright.

“To reduce that salary, whether it’s Lynn or somebody else, is absurd,” Wooldridge said. “We absolutely need that position.”

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy accused the council of “tinkering” with the administration, which drew the rebuke of Councilman Bill Knobloch and several others who have favored cuts.

The resolve for no net increase appears to leave the administration to decide where to trim spending on personnel.

The public works department, for example, will likely have to choose between a long-sought utility worker for the Winslow water system, or a new engineer.

Wooldridge noted that the department has asked for the utility position for five years.

“We’re reaching a critical point, where machinery is going to go down,” he said.

The move could also put an end to Bainbridge Police’s “student resource officer” in local schools. Chief Bill Cooper has said that if his request for a new patrol officer is denied, the SRO will be reassigned to other duties.

A second parking enforcement position, approved by the council earlier this year but not yet filled, may also be eliminated. The council tabled consideration of that position pending a report from the city’s parking committee.

The draft budget laid out operations spending of $17.01 million for 2003, from which the council has been cutting.

Several proposed additions have already gone by the wayside, while the council has added new spending of its own. Among the favored programs are $40,000 in new spending for council “outreach” to the public; support for a stream restoration project in the Manitou Beach area; and administrative salaries for the Health, Housing and Human Services Council.

The council will take up the budget again at tonight’s council meeting. Knobloch half-jokingly threatened to keep his colleagues there until midnight if need be to reach a final agreement on the budget.

Budget adoption is expected at the Dec. 18 meeting.

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