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Windfall eases city budget pain

Nothing balances a budget quite like more money.

So the sudden appearance of $290,000 – half of it in state grant funding, the other half from parking revenues previously thought out of reach – took some of the urgency out of 2004 city budget negotiations this week.

But the mayor and City Council also heeded citizen calls to clamp down on spending, slashing tens of thousands more during a marathon session Wednesday and coming away with what looked to be a surplus to show for it.

“We have a budget,” Councilman Bill Knobloch proclaimed as the group disbanded, somewhat blearily, past the 10 o’clock hour.

Whether the budget agreement will hold up, though, came into question Friday. Mayor Darlene Kordonowy called a late-afternoon meeting with three council members, saying she wanted to review the council’s paring of $250,000 from proposed public works projects in downtown Winslow.

The issue came up as the finance department balanced by fund the final budget, which was to be approved this coming week.

Kordonowy said that because the $250,000 was to be used for right-of-way acquisition for street improvements, it was capital fund money and could not be cut to balance a shortfall in operations.

Results of the Friday afternoon meeting were not known when the Review went to press.

Until Friday, it appeared that a modest operations budget of $18 million and change – some $36.4 million total, with capital projects and carryovers – was a wrap.

A week after deep-sixing a controversial increase to the city’s portion of the real estate excise tax, the council faced cuts of nearly $300,000 to the draft budget.

Kordonowy surprised the group Wednesday with news that the city has earned a $150,000 grant for sidewalks and bike lanes from the Madison Avenue roundabout to the Woodward/Sakai school campus. That $1 million project is still said to be contingent on school district participation.

Also, she announced that the city will continue to receive 40 percent of parking revenue from a state-owned but city-managed lot next to the ferry terminal in 2004. The agreement followed successful negotiations between the administration and Washington State Ferries officials.

The mayor also produced an array of proposed cuts, most of which were embraced.

The council curtailed both the administration’s and its own

communications budgets, competing outreach programs that

Councilwoman Debbie Vann acknowledged had become “a sore spot” between the legislative and administrative branches.

Outgoing Councilman Michael Pollock said he hoped the city will cut down on newsletter mailings, saying they lacked credibility and were poorly received.

The council allocated $6,000 for an interim solution to the absence of restroom facilities in Waterfront Park. The funds may be used to open the Bainbridge Commons restroom on weekends, or to lease a higher-end portable facility during the busy summer season.

Full funding for several environmental programs was preserved, including a citizen-based pesticide education program and the Community Forestry Commission.

Councilwoman Debbie Vancil successfully staved off cuts to the latter group, which will receive $55,000 next year even though city officials said the group has no specific plans for the money.

The council also agreed to put $24,000 toward safety improvements at the Bainbridge Sportsmen’s Club. The club’s shooting range, which police use for training, has been closed for several months since a stray bullet was found in garage in a nearby neighborhood.

Support for a planned children’s museum in Winslow also was preserved at $15,000.

The net result was a $574,000 contingency fund for what were described as “unexpected but not catastrophic projects.”

“I was very gratified to see the community get so involved in various aspects of the budget, whether it was the children’s museum and historical society, to the real estate community and people worried about excessive taxation,” Knobloch said. “It’s gratifying to the council. It feels like we’re responding to the community’s concerns.”

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