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Change splits fire board -- News Roundup

Bainbridge fire commissioners Wednesday delayed a vote on reorganization of the department’s top management.

On the current organization chart, an executive director oversees the department and all personnel, including the fire chief. An ad hoc committee has spent two months studying whether to switch to a “traditional” model, with the fire chief heading the department.

While commissioners have attempted to deal with the questions in the abstract, a change would have the practical effect of demoting current Executive Director Ken Guy to a business manager position, with Chief Jim Walkowski leapfrogging Guy to the top of the department.

The change is backed by firefighters, some of whom dislike the fact that Guy does not boast a background in the fire service.

The executive director now is responsible for finance, personnel and intergovernmental duties, while the subordinate chief oversees emergency operations. A top-dog fire chief could be expected to handle many administrative duties.

Wednesday, commissioners were told that reorganization would create the need for a new operations chief position to oversee incident responses, at a cost of $100,000 per year for salary and benefits.

Commissioner Doug Johnson opposed the change on financial grounds, saying it would cost the department $1 million in additional salaries over the next decade.

He also expressed skepticism that the change is warranted for its own sake.

“It’s clear that this is a highly emotional issue, where (firefighters) want the fire chief at the top of the food chain,” Johnson said. “But we could never come up with more than an emotional reason to do this.”

Supporting a change was commissioner Jim Johnson, a former firefighter, who said an operations chief probably would have to be hired within three years anyway.

He suggested that the department delay equipment replacement to cover new salaries. Failure to act, he suggested, might cause fire volunteers to leave the department.

That left the deciding vote to commissioner Glenn Tyrell, who said he had not yet made up his mind. Tyrell did say he was wary of introducing new personnel costs, when the department already plans to go before voters to ask for more tax revenues in 2004.

“Whatever we do, we’re going to have to convince the voters it’s the right decision,” Doug Johnson agreed.

In addition to firefighters, the meeting drew what was by fire board standards a full gallery of citizens. One man called for a public hearing on the issue, while Nancy Fortner said she failed to understand the need for a change, absent specific problems under the current structure.

Ironically, the matter was sent back to Guy and Walkowski, who could determine their own futures. The pair were directed to craft job descriptions for the fire chief and business manager positions under the “traditional” model.

The fire board is expected to vote on the issue in late April.

– Douglas Crist

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***Council OKs farmland buys

Buying the argument that contiguous parcels of agricultural land can create “synergies” and make up an agricultural district, the Bainbridge City Council Wednesday approved spending $360,000 of open-space bond money to buy seven acres of farmland northwest of Lovgreen Road and Highway 305.

With no discussion other than praise for the island’s farming community, the council unanimously approved purchase of the 4.74-acre Morales tract at the corner of Lovgreen and the highway, and the 2.3-acre Crawford property to the north.

The Crawford parcel is landlocked save for a city right-of-way running from Lovgreen north to Day Road. But it borders the Bentryn winery to the north and the recently donated M&E tree farm to the east, making it a key component of an agricultural district.

Vineyard and winery owner Gerard Bentryn said he would allow an “agricultural easement” across the edge of his property to provide access to the other properties for farming. He said he would also consider giving the city an easement for a footpath that would link Day and Lovgreen.

Because of its proximity to the highway, the Morales property is envisioned as a possible location for a stand where island-grown produce from area farms can be marketed.

While the Morales property has not been farmed for several years, it could be planted almost immediately, according to the report from the city’s open-space commission.

The Crawford property has become overgrown with alders and brush, and would need to be cleared before it could be planted.

– John Waldo

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***Madison work starts Monday

Crews from Kemper Construction will begin work Monday on Winslow pedestrian improvements, the city public works department announced this week. The phased project will run through May 30.

Improvements will include “refuge islands” and crosswalks on Madison Avenue between Winslow Way and High School Road, and along High School Road between Madison and SR-305.

The contractor will build three islands in the center turn lane on Madison Avenue, starting at Winslow Way and proceeding north. New crosswalks will be installed on Madison at Knetchel Way, Wallace Way and Ihland Place.

Two pedestrian islands will be constructed along High School Road in the turn lane between the roundabout and SR-305.

Also, a new sidewalk will be constructed next to Lundgren Station. Three parking stalls there will be unusable for the duration of the construction, but will be replaced with four new stalls when lane re-striping is complete.

Portions of the center turn lanes and sidewalks will be closed to traffic throughout the project, although access to businesses and residences will be maintained.

Information: Lorenz Eber, project manager, at 780-3720, or see www.ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us.

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