When Bainbridge Island City Manager Doug Schulze told the city council that it would be more costly to outsource management of city’s water utility, he presented his analysis of the numbers.
But Schulze also said the city could only be sure of the value of outsourcing its water utility to the Kitsap Public Utility District would be to delve into the details.
“The only way to know exactly what it will cost to have KPUD manage the utility is to negotiate a contract with them,” Schulze told the council at its Wednesday meeting.
Schulze offered to lead the way on the talks.
“I can go through the process of negotiating that,” he said. “It doesn’t commit the council to it, but it gives the council numbers.”
The council welcomed the idea, and said it made sense for Schulze to start contract negotiations with KPUD.
To keep with protocol, however, the council agreed to hold off on an official vote until its next meeting. Wednesday’s meeting was a study session, therefore, no official decisions are voted upon. The council is scheduled to have a business session April 10.
Schulze had previously told the council it would cost the city approximately $100,000 more to hire the KPUD. Some on the council questioned the accuracy of his analysis, though, and Schulze conceded that there was some leeway with the numbers because the only way to get an exact price tag would be to officially draft a contract with the county utility.
Some council members hope that when such a contract is drafted, it will prove that an outside manager will be the better option.
“I believe fundamentally it will be less expensive to have KPUD to manage,” said Councilman Steve Bonkowski. “I firmly believe the cost will be less.”
Bonkowski acknowledged the proof of such was still lacking.
“We don’t have those numbers,” he said.
Bonkowski noted that when the city’s Utility Advisory Committee previously analyzed a management proposal from KPUD, it found that the costs would be lower. Bonkowski said that the best way to get an accurate representation of the cost to the city would be to get a contract.
But it might not be so simple.
One concern with outsourcing the water utility is that the shared costs between it and the city’s other utilities could be affected, as they share employees and resources. If management of the water utility is handed over to KPUD, some believe the costs for the sewer utility could go up. That could translate into higher sewer bills.
“There’s a very strong likelihood that when we reduce staffing, because we won’t manage the water utility, we then would still be doing stormwater, which is shared island-wide,” said Councilwoman Anne Blair. “That then has an impact on the economy of scale,” she explained.
The council also considered other issues involved with outside management of the water utility, such as future island development and emergency preparedness.
While there was plenty of debate on the dais, the discussion didn’t end there.
“I am a ratepayer for both sewer and water here in Winslow,” said Maradel Gale. “And the thing that has amazed me in all of this discussion is that no one has ever asked the ratepayers what they think.”
“We’ve had a group called the Ratepayers Alliance, which has pretended to speak for us but has never reached out to the ratepayers to ask what we think or how we feel about this,” she said.
“Frankly, I don’t think KPUD will give a flying fish what happens on Bainbridge Island if we really need them,” Gale added. “If there is a problem in the area we are not going to be the first place they look. We need to keep the whole process on the island where we have people who can help in an emergency.”
Gale didn’t stop there.
“I want to know before you decide, for me, whether I am going to pay more for sewer because you cut my cost with the water utility,” she added.