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City's draft budget holds the line

Facing possible staff cuts for the first time since all-island government began, the city administration is taking advantage of several staff vacancies to balance its proposed budget for 2004.

A lone new staff position will be offset by attrition, according to a draft document unveiled by the mayor last week.

“Three weeks ago, we were really struggling with how we were going to balance the budget,” Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said. “We were at a place where we thought we might not be able to wait for attrition, and would have to cut personnel. (But) we were able to hold the line.”

Often referred to as “the mayor’s budget,” the document was drafted by the management team of Kordonowy, the department heads and interim Administrator Lee Walton.

The budget was released at a council workshop Wednesday, and is available on CD-ROM at City Hall and on the city’s website.

The budget focuses on essential “baseline” services, and does not anticipate significant new programs. It projects operating costs of $17.675 million for 2004, a 3.1 percent increase over this year, as the city feels the friction of voter-imposed tax restrictions against spikes in employee health care and other insurance costs.

Total city spending would be $33.454 million including capital projects.

Revenues

The draft budget projects next year’s local property tax rate at $1.4315 per $1,000 valuation, with revenues up 1 percent per the cap imposed by a statewide initiative.

Other revenue enhancements reflect a bit of financial juggling. The administration proposes to cut the local sales tax in half, to 0.5 percent, but double the real estate excise tax to 1.0 percent.

The move is seen as a way to capitalize on the strong local housing market; finance department figures show that the city would have reaped an additional $325,000 in revenue each year over the past five years had those tax levels been in effect.

On the utility side and per an earlier consultants’ study, Winslow-area residents on the city water system could see their rates increase next year, reaping an additional $118,000 in revenue.

Also, the storm and surface management utility charge – sometimes derisively referred to as the “rain tax” – would be hiked by 50 percent, to $90 per year for a single family residence. Yield: an additional $350,000 in 2004.

A small increase in plumbing and mechanical permit fees would bring in an additional $15,000.

The administration noted that it is foregoing possible tax and fee increases on businesses, private water companies, parking and theater admissions.

Expenditures

New staff: With a new addition balanced out by unfilled vacancies in the finance and information technology departments, the proposed net growth in city staff next year would be 0.3 full-time equivalent positions – the slowest growth in five years.

Total staffing for 2004 would be 134.4 FTE employees, compared to 102.4 in 1997.

As reported previously, the administration hopes to add an in-house attorney ($89,640) to provide legal counsel on a day-to-day basis. Interim Administrator Lee Walton believes the position will curtail the upward spiral of costs from litigation and general legal expenses.

Bainbridge Police are requesting a full-time “evidence technician” ($38,000) to process the daily flow of crime-related material. Need for the position was revealed after an audit by the state that found deficiencies in the department’s evidence storage, and a subsequent study of procedures conducted by the Washington State Patrol.

Public works: Only two major capital projects are envisioned, and one, the south-end sewer work, is contingent on neighborhood approval of an LID this month.

Also slated is construction of the Madison/New Brooklyn sidewalks and bike lanes ($1.024 million), completing a pedestrian friendly zone from the roundabout to Woodward and Sakai schools.

Some $210,000 is earmarked for spoils removal at the city’s Head of the Bay property, and the usual $100,000 for implementation of the Non-Motorized Transportation Plan.

“Community” programs: Invariably the section of the budget that draws the most public comment, this catch-all of social programs and community enhancement projects shows significant growth over 2003.

Items proposed for continuing or new support include public art, the Island Wildlife Shelter, the arts and human services councils, the library and museum, various community events, and new boat moorage off Waterfront Park.

New to the civic dole would be the Natural Landscapes Project, which has been recommended for $35,000 for its community education program against toxin use in gardens and lawns.

If the budget is approved as is, city investment in these areas – popular programs with vocal constituencies – will have increased by 50 percent in two years, to $1.03 million.

The mayor said this year’s list actually excludes many requests from groups around the island, and could force the question in future years of whether to cap such “community” spending as a fixed percentage of the general fund. An off-the-cuff figure proposed by Walton is 5 percent, although the proposed 2004 level is at 5.8 percent.

The City Council will take up the budget in meetings and hearings that begin this month. But the compromises proposed show the eternal challenge of reconciling the long list of wants expressed by various interests against the need to maintain essential services and meet infrastructure needs.

“People’s expectations are so great, and it sometimes doesn’t have much reality to it,” Kordonowy said. “We can’t do all that we’re asked to do.”

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