Council relents, agrees to add staff

The City Council voted to add a new staff attorney, engineer and office specialist at a workshop on the 2005 preliminary budget Monday.

While the city will have to sign three new paychecks, councilors and staff said the new hires will cut overall costs in the $35 million budget and boost efficiency.

“This will give us access to an attorney that has the city’s best interests in mind and is a team player,” Councilman Bob Scales said. “We wouldn’t have the feeling every time we want to ask them a question that we’re on the clock and have to ration our questions.”

The attorney, with annual pay set at almost $110,000, is the most expensive new addition. But councilors said an in-house lawyer will free the city from a dependence on expensive, outside legal consultants who don’t have a focus on city issues.

Finance Director Elray Konkel had estimated that having an in-house attorney could save the city thousands of dollars each year but some councilors doubted the savings would be substantial.

“The cost savings would be a nice surprise,” said Councilwoman Christine Rolfes.

Councilors based their vote on the efficiency boost the new attorney would infuse into city matters. Jim Llewellyn said the city would gain a more vigilant defender, sparing possible future legal complications.

“(Consultants) give advice rather than being proactive and saying, ‘hey, you really should do this now or think twice,’” he said.

Contracted attorneys may not warn of dangers that might mire the city in future litigation, Llewellyn added.

“It’s not in their interest because they would get the litigation down the road,” he said.

The council had pledged last month to not approve new staffing requests unless additions were cost neutral or saved money. All three additions met this criteria, councilors said, citing substantial savings in their vote for a new public works engineer.

The city had employed a limited-term engineer until his contract recently expired. The department requested that the city create a new, permanent engineering position devoted to capital design projects that are typically handled by outside consultants.

Public Works Director Randy Witt estimates the upcoming Wyatt Way design project could cost about $110,000 if the city used consultants.

But the city will spend just over $75,000 on the new in-house engineer’s yearly pay and benefits, saving the city thousands in the first year.

The Winslow Tomorrow project also received a nod from the council to add an office specialist to assist manager Sandy Fischer with clerical duties.

But Winslow Tomorrow didn’t come away from the meeting with all the funding it asked for. The nearly $39,000 earmarked for the office position was met with a substantial reduction to a requested $212,000 for Winslow Tomorrow professional support services.

Considered vaguely defined by the council, members moved to hold half of the requested amount.

The council will dole out the withheld portion on a case-by-case basis as Winslow Tomorrow makes individual funding requests. Fischer expects to use the money for visual design work, polling and other services.

“We don’t want to derail the work that goes on (with Winslow Tomorrow),” said Scales. “But we want to send the message that we don’t have an unlimited pot.”

Not all new staffing requests were spared the chopping block. The council voted down an Executive Department request for a part-time legal secretary, paid just over $27,000 a year, who would assist the new attorney.

“I’d rather hire an attorney with word-processing skills and leave it at that,” said Rolfes.

The council left the door open on the new position and may attempt to allot funds if the new attorney requires support.

“We will know in short order if we need a secretary,” said Councilman Nezam Tooloee.

The council also deleted over $21,000 for a Bainbridge Island Police Department evidence technician. The position is temporarily funded until September 2005 but councilors saw no cost savings in renewing the position.

“I don’t see where there’d be savings at all,” said Councilwoman Debbie Vann.

“I hope you understand the consequences,” said Chief Matt Haney after the council’s vote, warning that he may have to pull a patrol officer “off the street for clerical duties.”

More than 1,000 pieces of evidence were submitted in the first half of 2004, increasing the typical workload by about 25 percent, department officials stated.

Tooloee advocated leaving open the option of hiring a technician in the future if the need arises.

The council also dropped a public works inventory specialist from the budget. The cut saves almost $49,000 a year.

The council will discuss the budget again on Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at City Hall council chambers.

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