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Mayor, council split on downtown priorities

Some say the Winslow Tomorrow effort is crowding out other needed projects.

The City Council punched big holes in the mayor’s blueprint for implementing the Winslow Tomorrow project.

“It’s all about accountability,” Councilman Bill Knobloch said, voicing concerns about the city staff’s ability to complete downtown improvements while still meeting general city needs.

“You will be held accountable,” Knobloch told the mayor and senior City Hall staff, at a formal presentation on Winslow Tomorrow financing Wednesday. “(The mayor’s plan) may be tweaked or somebody’s going to get fired. If this ain’t going to work, we’ll be looking at you.”

Councilors and citizens questioned a range of elements in the mayor’s Winslow Tomorrow finance and work plan, including funding sources. The council focused particular criticism on the downtown revitalization effort’s organizational structure and workload, which some councilors say is overwhelming other city duties and aims.

“We are subsidizing (Winslow Tomorrow) by not doing the things we would ordinarily get done – things like maintenance for roads,” Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said, citing a list of other projects the administration has already said it cannot complete without more staffing. “ I’m worried Winslow Tomorrow will swallow City Hall.”

The mayor’s plan for Winslow Tomorrow implementation includes a $415,000 operating budget for 2006, with design funding for areas near the ferry terminal ($125,000), a boost for downtown bus service ($50,000) and further development of an organizational structure to implement the long-term revitalization plan ($110,000).

Almost $2.7 million was earmarked for capital projects, including downtown employee parking ($840,000), property acquisition for new street and alley connections ($700,000) and design work for Winslow Way ($650,000).

A long-term financing strategy, possibly stretched over 20 years, amounted to $120 million. This estimate includes about $95 million for capital projects, such as pedestrian and bicycle improvements, new parks, green space preservation, underground and expanded parking, transit services and street work.

Councilman Nezam Tooloee said the financial plan lacked adequate detail.

“I do not believe we have a financial plan for Winslow Tomorrow,” he said, before asking the administration to draft a new plan by the summer.

Finance Director Elray Konkel doubted he and his staff could formulate a finer-focus plan within Tooloee’s requested time frame.

Tooloee also expressed concerns about funding sources for the project, which assumes the city would bring in about $33 million in grants.

“We’re betting a lot will be happening,” he said, adding that he’d like to see more “certainty and control” in the financing.

Other potential funding sources named in the plan include almost $60 million in developer incentive fees, $31 million in new city revenue and $10 million in parking fees.

Konkel said bonds may also serve to kick start the project.

Knobloch said some form of a bond makes sense, especially if it pays for the “big dig” for utilities improvements under Winslow Way. Other councilors said they favored additional island-wide bonds that they say could supply a stable source of funding from a broad base of residents that will eventually benefit from Winslow improvements.

But resident Doug Hatfield told the council he was skeptical that the project would have equal payoffs for all islanders.

“What’s in it for me?” asked the Lytle Road resident. “It makes me nervous that you’re splitting the island with Winslow here and the rest of us as the poor step-sister.”

Winslow Tomorrow participant John Waldo offered a different take.

“We can assume we’re going to grow anyway,” he said. “The most economic way to grow is where we have roads and utilities. Suburban growth is a whole lot more expensive than urban growth.”

Some councilors strongly opposed the mayor’s proposed organizational structure for Winslow Tomorrow, which would weave much of the project’s work within the public works and planning departments.

“It’s a lot of work to give people already overloaded,” Tooloee said. “How do you rationalize that?”

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy assured councilors that city staff will rise to the challenge.

“This organization needs to deliver across the board,” she said. “You want results. This organization is going to deliver it.”

Kordonowy said she opted not to make Winslow Tomorrow a separate department because the project’s long-term process would require an integrated effort among various departments.

She said short-term staffing for a Winslow Tomorrow department, as some councilors have proposed, would leave the city without experienced staff to carry the project over its projected two decades.

Councilman Chris Snow said he’d like to see Winslow Tomorrow coordinator Sandy Fischer given more control and influence over the project’s implementation.

But Fischer said she can’t take on additional duties without staff help.

“I didn’t have the resources last year,” she said. “I traded favors with friends, I took work home at night.”

Kordonowy disagreed with the “picture being painted” that depicts Winslow Tomorrow overshadowing other city priorities. She stressed that important projects, including road repairs and non-motorized transportation upgrades, will carry on.

Still, she admitted the city will need to defer items on the council’s list, which amount to “more than the city can do” this year.

“We can’t do it all,” she said. “We’ll have to make choices.”

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