Union vows to fight any Bainbridge contract with KPUD

The union that represents public works employees for the city of Bainbridge Island said the city's move to outsource management of its water system will cost jobs and lead to higher water bills for ratepayers.

The Bainbridge Island City Council has been considering a contract to turn over its water system to the Kitsap Public Utility District.

Paul Miller, the business representative for the International Association of Machinists, District 160, said the proposed contract will cost the city more to monitor the proposed five-year agreement than it will save.

He also said the union will take steps to quash any contract that's passed by the council.

Miller said administrative costs are expected to range from $100,000 to $200,000 a year, and could add up to as much as a $1 million over the term of the proposed contract.

That's likely to translate into higher bills for water customers.

"It's really not a cost savings to the city, with the information we have," Miller said.

The discussion to offshore the city's water utility is being driven by politics and the past, he said.

"It seems to us that it's a bit more of a vendetta against the city by a small group of vocal citizens," he said. "I think there's a group of people on the island who just want to see smaller government, and

less responsibilities there at city hall."

Those desires, he said, may stretch back to hard feelings that followed the vote to incorporate the whole island as a city.

Much has changed in recent years, Miller added. Managers at city hall who weren't able to adequately explain the city's need for high water rates are gone.

"I've got full confidence in City Manager Doug Schulze," Miller said, and added that the city's now poised to look for a new public works director.

The city council reviewed a proposed interlocal agreement with KPUD earlier this month.

Under that contract, the city would pay $915,746 each year to the Poulsbo-based utility to manage the city's water system.

The amount was approximately $50,000 short of the council's goal of achieving 20 percent in savings from the status quo.

The price is nothing new to the long-standing water utility discussion. Schulze told the council at its May 15 meeting that despite coming at the issue from different angles over the past six months, the number has not significantly changed.

Some on the city council, such as Councilman David Ward, remain convinced that the numbers still do not reflect an accurate picture of how much the city will save through outsourcing. Ward estimated at the same meeting that the cost was overstated by approximately $78,000; he based his opinion on numbers estimated for capital facilities and new service installations.

Schulze will return to the city council on June 5 with updated information, taking into account feedback from the council and other factors.

Miller said Tuesday that some of the advantages of contracting out are not really advantages at all.

City residents will still have to foot the bill for maintenance and upkeep of the water system, which Miller said will kick in as a direct cost for any item that exceeds $3,500.

Bainbridge will also lose needed help if a contract is approved. Public works employees are cross-trained, he noted, so the loss of any employees will mean fewer workers to respond when the power goes out and generators must be manned to keep sewer lift stations from backing up, or when trees fall during windstorms and block roads, or streets need to be plowed of snow.

"Everybody thinks about police and fire when it comes to emergencies. They don't think of the guys who go out and plow the roads at 4 in the morning so the police and the fire department can get to those emergencies," he said.

There were 35 positions in operations and maintenance in public works department at the end of 2008, and today, there are just 22, he said.

"It's going to be absolutely detrimental if the city reduces its staffing any further," he said.

The International Association of Machinists, District 160 represents more than 65 employees who work for the city, including all non-exempt workers except commissioned police officers.

Right now, the vote on a contract with KPUD is too close to call, and Miller said there may just be one swing vote on the seven-member city council.

The union promised to challenge any contract that's approved.

"We'll fight this, in any way, shape or form that we can," he said.






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