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Bainbridge city manager opposes outsourcing city's water system to KPUD

Bainbridge Island City Manager Doug Schulze has come out in opposition to the proposal to outsource the city of Bainbridge Island's water system to Kitsap Public Utility District.

Schulze is recommending the city reject a proposed five-year contract with KPUD for the Poulsbo-based utility to take over the city's water system, and Schulze is expected to detail the many problems with the proposed offshoring of the water utility at the council meeting next week.

In an agenda bill that accompanies the proposed contract, Schulze has laid out multiple problems with the proposed contract, and recommends that the city council not approve the contract.

Schulze said the contract conflicts with the city's comprehensive plan, the expansive document that regulates growth and development on Bainbridge Island.

Cost remains a concern. The administration also said the proposed contract would mean total costs of more than $1.1 million to the city.

Also, the outsourcing of the city's water system would mean the loss of employees, and Schulze, in the agenda bill, pointed out that it would be premature for the council to vote on the contract because it would violate the city's collective bargaining agreement with the city employees union.

Last week, Paul Miller, the business representative for the International Association of Machinists, District 160, said the union would fight any attempt by the city to adopt the KPUD contract.

Schulze acknowledged the desires of some on the council to shed the city of its water system.

He noted they had raised concerns about the cost of the water utility and shared a desire to focus on fewer core services, and noted community concerns about accountability, rates and the past performance of the city.

The problems with the KPUD contract, however, were many.

"Unfortunately, the decision-making process related to the outsourcing of the water system operation and management has followed an unusual path," Schulze said in the agenda bill for the proposed KPUD contract.

The water system is a $15 million asset, Schulze continued, owned by the city and its ratepayers.

"Typically, a decision of this magnitude will involve comprehensive and strategic plan considerations. Outsourcing the operation and management of the city’s water systems is inconsistent with current comprehensive plan policies and adopted city council policies," he continued.

"During the past seven months, the city council has not collectively discussed or agreed upon a common objective or set of objectives to be achieved by outsourcing the water system [operations and maintenance," he wrote.

He also said it would be impossible to eliminate the involvement of city staff in the management and administration of the water utility.

He advised the council that city employees would still need to provide planning, budgeting and coordination of services of the water system even after a contract with KPUD.

And he rejected the notion raised by some that the city was stretched too thin and needed to concentrate on providing fewer services to its citizens.

"The city of Bainbridge Island already provides fewer core services than many cities of similar size because both fire and parks/recreation services are provided by special districts. The city is not overextended by providing more core services than reasonable or typical," Schulze said.

Approving the contract would also pose problems with the union that represents more than 65 employees.

"Under collective bargaining law, the city cannot decide to contract out until it bargains over that subject to impasse or agreement with the International Association of Machinists (IAM)," Schulze said in the agenda bill. "What the council can do now is decide whether it wants to direct the city manager to bargain with IAM over the decision to contract out, prior to making a final decision."

The council will review Schulze's recommendation on the proposed KPUD contract at its meeting next week.

The meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 5 at city hall.

 

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