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Mayoral hopefuls spar in debate double-header

Well-attended events put candidates on the hotseat over ferries, housing and each other.

Ferries, parking, taxes, traffic and the future of downtown Winslow were the prime issues bandied about during a double-header day of mayoral debates Wednesday.

Mayor Darlene Kornonowy, Councilman Nezam Tooloee and city code enforcement officer Will Peddy laid out their platforms at a morning debate organized by the Bainbridge Island Economic Council and an evening event at City Hall hosted by the Kitsap County League of Women Voters, the Bainbridge Island Review and the Chamber of Commerce.

Accountant Michael Berry, on an extended vacation in Italy, was not present at either debate.

Major themes that boiled to the top of both debates included:

Leadership: Both Tooloee and Peddy characterized themselves as decisive leaders who would move faster than Kordonowy on key issues.

“I’d be an action-oriented, old-time CEO,” said Peddy, saying the election falls on a “juncture in the city’s evolution” that will require his “leadership to face the challenges we face today.”

Tooloee said he “understands the will of the community and will act on that will.” An ability to “act and not just talk” is what separates him from the other candidates, he said.

As a model, Tooloee highlighted the work of Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman, whom he credited with “an amazing revival” in downtown Bremerton through “proactive leadership.”

Kordonowy defended her approach to the office, citing the progress of the Winslow Tomorrow planning effort, which is set to recommend action to the council this fall. She also said much of her time in office has been spent “laying a solid foundation for the future” with a new city management team and last year’s clean audit.

“I’m a collaborator,” she said. “I want to bring people together. I do take time, (but) I’m thorough and I consider myself thoughtful. I want to build on what I’ve started.”

Traffic and parking: Kordonowy commended the work of Winslow Tomorrow project manager Sandy Fischer and other project participants for crafting a “multiple-pronged approach” for downtown traffic and parking improvements.

She hinted that city parking codes for businesses could be changed this winter to ease requirements many small businesses consider an obstacle to development. To make up the difference, Kordonowy proposed re-painting on-street parking for more angled lots, shuttle services and underground parking facilities. More angled parking, she said, could increase parking by as much as 40 percent during the first months of 2006.

Tooloee and Peddy offered similar visions on parking and traffic. Peddy strongly advocated a parking garage near the ferry terminal while Tooloee estimated the city may soon need up to six new parking structures to accommodate growing demand.

“Just enforcing the heck out of parking isn’t the solution,” Tooloee said. “It’s a complex problem that needs a complex solution.”

He also advocated taking a more active role working with other communities and county government to ease traffic congestion.

“We’re not at the table helping to craft this complex solution,” he said.

Ferry maintenance yard and terminal: All candidates said they’d make sure the island’s interests were a part of over $200 million in upgrades and redesigns planned for the state ferry maintenance yard and terminal. They agreed safer pedestrian and bicycling pathways should be a paramount feature of the new terminal.

Tooloee differed sharply with Kordonowy and Peddy over the future of the maintenance yard.

“Let’s be clear about one thing: the Washington state government has already decided that the ferry maintenance yard will remain on Bainbridge,” Kordonowy said. “Our elected representatives made that decision. Now, we must make sure the island’s interests are fully considered.”

Peddy said the island should accept the yard as “here to stay for the near term,” but said the city should work “closely with WSF for their needs and our needs.”

Tooloee, who believes the area could be put to better use with retail and public space, said WSF has turned a deaf ear to the island’s interests.

“We’re not equal partners with the ferry system,” he said. “They send a few mid-level people here to collect input and then they say ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll think about it.’”

Taxes: Peddy said people tell him they are being taxed off the island and that few citizens understand how the island’s five taxing districts work. He advocates coordinating the city, parks, fire, schools and library budgets and having them present financial proposals simultaneously.

“I would partner with all the different agencies where they come up with one budget to present to the community at one time, to know how much this is costing them,” Peddy said.

But Kordonowy and Tooloee pointed to the current “tax model,” a consolidated statement by the Intergovernmental Work Group available through the city’s website, which provides a look at property taxes in the past, present and the likely state in the future.

Tooloee said he would also like to see more collaboration between agencies to do more with less. As an example, he pointed to the $90,000 of seed money that was given to the park district when four open space parcels were transferred to the park district, which has more expertise than the city in getting parks ready for public use.

He also pointed to a two-page report produced during the tenure of interim City Administrator Lee Walton that outlined 30-40 opportunities for resource sharing cost savings. He was aware of one item being implemented – shared fueling between the districts – which he estimated resulted in $20,000 savings.

“We need to get busy acting on that list,” Tooloee said. “The savings are literally in the millions of dollars.”

Winslow’s future: Kordonowy often highlighted the Winslow Tomorrow project, which she initiated at the beginning of her term, as an effective guide for downtown planning. She said the first series of Winslow Tomorrow recommendations are planned for October and will be presented to the City Council in November. The project’s recommendations on parking, zoning, transportation connections and other issues will shape the face of the island for “not just the next five or 10 years, but 25 or 30 years into the future.”

Peddy said he’s concerned the Winslow Tomorrow project is moving too slowly and should be completed soon.

He said some citizens worry that its implementation could mean higher taxes.

“We need to begin the pieces that are doable and implement them immediately,” Peddy said.

He said he would begin implementing Winslow Tomorrow’s goals starting with infrastructure and other items that would not lead to higher taxes.

Tooloee said he was pleased with Winslow Tomorrow’s progress but that the community needs to have a larger role in crafting a vision for downtown.

He agreed with Peddy that the project “is getting dragged out a bit” and has been losing momentum.

Tooloee believes much of the financing for downtown improvements can be accomplished through private capital. He again used Bremerton as a model, which he said revitalized its downtown with 80 percent private capital.

Affordable housing: All three candidates said they’d like to see more housing on the island that lower and middle-income people can afford, especially for key processions, such as teachers, police and firefighters who are often priced off the island.

Peddy said the city should pursue more federal dollars and touted his tenure with the city of Fresno, where he worked with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to obtain funding for affordable housing.

Tooloee said the city is “bursting at the seams” with opportunities to increase housing options but that the city hasn’t acted fast enough.

Kordonowy disagreed with her opponents regarding funding, saying the island doesn’t fit the profile of “needy” required for a quickly shrinking pot of available government funds.

She said much has been recently accomplished to foster affordable housing, including the preservation of the Island Mobile Home Park and the formation of the Community Housing Coalition.

Ballots for the all-mail election, which also includes fire and police levies, were sent out by the Kitsap County Elections Office a week ago. The deadline to return ballots is Sept. 20.

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