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Despite another look, KPUD contract still more expensive than status quo

It wasn’t so much of a sequel as it was a remake.

City Manager Doug Schulze returned to the Bainbridge Island City Council Wednesday with the results of negotiations to outsource the city’s water utility. But the response wasn’t far from Schulze’s previous report in March, leaving the city manager with more work ahead of him.

Schulze told the council that after all costs were taken into consideration, and the numbers were punched, the Kitsap Public Utility District said that the city would be charged $915,746 for a management contract to take over the city’s water system.

With the goal of saving 20 percent from what the city is currently budgeted for, the price tag is approximately $50,000 short of reaching the savings goal, Schulze said.

The hope by many on the council was that through negotiating a draft contract, more concrete numbers would be provided, putting to rest a debate over whether it is cheaper to outsource the utility or to retain its management under the city’s control.

But as with the city manager’s last message to the council in March, the council was again told it would be cheaper for the city to manage the utility.

At this week’s council meeting, Schulze was directed by the council to return with further calculations that include staff costs, charges on the sewer utility, performance measures for KPUD, and other considerations.

Schulze will likely report back to the council in June.

Council members David Ward and Sarah Blossom took note of KPUD’s number-crunching in the contract and said they believe that the final cost was overstated by approximately $78,000.

Ward and Blossom said their different perspective came from costs associated with capital facilities and new service installations.

But Schulze held his ground and told the council that the price tag is nothing new and remains well-established.

“I think we can tweak the bottom line here and try to make it fit where we want to make it fit,” Schulze said.

“But we’ve been around this ballpark figure for the six months I’ve been here and we keep coming at it from different angles. I think it’s pretty accurate,” he said.

Schulze also noted that the actual cost to the city is higher than his figures. Other costs to the city are not currently being taken into account, such as staff time that will be spent on managing the contract.

Schulze said that monthly meetings between city staff and KPUD officials would likely occur if a contract is approved.

“Under this contract we assume that there will be no city involvement, but I don’t think that is a reasonable assumption,” Schulze said.

“We will get calls from ratepayers, we have involvement in administration and oversight of the contract. We can’t really assume there won’t be any staff involvement whatsoever,” he said.

That staff involvement will likely add further costs to outsourcing the water utility, Schulze said.

Despite the back-and-forth on the numbers, some on the dais said the proposal accomplished what they wanted.

“I see this as meeting the intent of what I was looking for,” Councilman Steve Bonkowski said. “It meets the intent of getting the city out of the water management business.”

“Even if I ignore the belief that it is overstated, this contract will save the ratepayers $800,000,” he said. “You are looking at $1.2 million savings over the life of the contract. With 2,000 people, it’s a substantial amount of money.”

Other aspects of the contract had others concerned.

“A five-year contract with a termination clause is unusual to me,” said Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos. “I’m very concerned with that. It’s a five-year commitment where we will have to negotiate our way out of this.”

Councilman Bob Scales felt that five years was not long enough from his perspective.

“What happens in five years, after we reorganize our city and possibly none of us will be on the dais?” Scales asked.

“KPUD holds all the cards and they say the price goes up, or they say they don’t want to do this anymore. There are no guarantees beyond those five years,” he said.

Council members also were concerned that there were no performance measures in place to monitor KPUD.

The contract lays out the responsibilities of each party; the city and KPUD. The draft agreement includes provisions on insurance, responsibility for repairs, business and operation taxes and billing, among other items.

The city will hold responsibility for the budget for capital improvements such as constructing new water mains, reservoirs, or the replacement of meters and pump stations.

Under the proposed agreement, KPUD will step in to manage the Capital Improvement Program for future improvements to the city’s water system. The outside manager will also oversee current water-related capital projects for an additional fee of 4.5 percent of the projects’ costs.

The city will pay for any repairs to the utility’s system that are more than $3,500. KPUD will handle any repairs below that amount.

The contract notes that KPUD will require additional employees to handle the takeover of the city’s water system. Some employees would be shed from the city and picked up by KPUD, and the city employees would be transferred to new district jobs.

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