Bainbridge citizens criticize city's capital facilities plan

Anger. Frustration. Disappointment. Confusion. 

All were among the emotions expressed by islanders packing the council chambers Wednesday.

Most were there for a public hearing on the capital facilities plan, the document that outlines which projects will be built by the city over the next six years.

But the discussion extended well beyond any specific plan, as speaker after speaker – both City Hall regulars and those who don’t usually attend public meetings – shared how they believe the floundering city government has let them down.

“I admit to being confused,” said Senior Center Vice President Joan Tracy, who led off the hearing.  “My confusion comes from trying to understand the city’s priorities. The people representing us, both elected and staff, seem to have entirely different agendas. Thus we see continued changes of priorities outlined in the capital facilities plan.”

The existing senior center building is undersized and outdated, and has long been targeted for renovation.

But like most projects on the city’s wish list, it has seen its funding deferred due to a projected revenue shortage.

Officials have said the city has almost no capacity to complete capital projects over the next two years, despite the deferment of several planned projects – including the senior center – and some $3.6 million worth of cuts to the operating budget.

Only a few projects still have funding. The biggest two over the next two years are Winslow Way and a new police and court facility. Also included in the draft plan are road preservation, Fort Ward Hill and restoration of a property storage facility at Head of the Bay.

Absent from the mix are the senior center, affordable housing and a host of other projects lobbied for by attendees Wednesday.

The CFP was originally slated for passage in June, before leaders decided to push the decision back to December.

Wednesday’s hearing was the first of at least three such public airings of the plan; two more sessions are scheduled for July 16 and July 23.

Many speakers on Wednesday said they were upset by a lack of progress at City Hall. Others were angered by a recent guest column in the Review by Councilman Barry Peters, who asked critics of city leaders to be more civil.

“We as taxpayers have been short changed,” Senior Center President Tom Kilbane said. “I don’t think we’re getting our money’s worth. I think when we’re angry we should let that be known. And I’m a little angry.”

Several people called for the inclusion of an alternative capital facilities plan – dubbed the “Community CFP” – that was introduced last month by Councilwoman Debbie Vancil.

The draft plan, which still isn’t attached to specific dollar amounts for projects, was crafted with help from several community members. Vancil said it would plot an alternative course for the city by limiting debt and reducing operating costs.

It includes rough suggestions about how to fund Winslow Way, a new senior center, non-motorized projects and affordable housing. It also aims to implement the recommendations of a benchmarking study, conducted last year to evaluate the city’s efficiency; the study found the city uses more resources to accomplish less than comparable cities.

After the hearing, councilors agreed to forward the Community CFP, along with other councilors’ proposals and the original plan crafted over the first half of the year, to city staff for comparison and analysis.

Councilors will discuss the various suggestions at a workshop to be scheduled later.

The council on Wednesday postponed a controversial decision about whether to reallocate $2.5 million in grant money to either Wing Point Way or Winslow Way. The city only has enough money to do one of the two projects, both of which are aimed at improving safety and utility.

Public Works Director Randy Witt said the city wouldn’t lose out on the money, as some feared, if leaders wait to make the move later in the CFP process.

Proponents of both projects pleaded their case during Wednesday’s hearing.

Winslow Attorney and Chamber of Commerce spokesman John Waldo said downtown business owners have been put in a difficult position due to the indecision of leaders.

“We know doing Winslow Way is a tough decision,” Waldo said. “That doesn’t lessen our need for some certainty about when it’s going to happen.”

The project was scheduled to break ground next year before being delayed to 2010; without funding the project would be delayed even further.

Others had similar complaints about Wing Point Way, which, like Winslow Way, has remained unfixed despite the need for repairs having been identified years ago.

Wing Point Way resident Tom Williams has lived in the neighborhood for a decade, and said the fact that his two grandchildren recently moved nearby has for him created a sense of urgency. 

“I care a whole lot all of a sudden about the traffic on Wing Point Way,” Williams said. “I too have heard that there are four people who are going to kill Wing Point Way. We’ve known for 20 years that we had an enormous problem with Wing Point Way. We certainly can’t say we’re not going to do something because we’ve not put together a plan.”

Williams and other speakers on Wednesday drew a sharp line between the “council majority” of Peters, Chris Snow, Kjell Stoknes and Hilary Franz, and Chair Bill Knobloch, Debbie Vancil and Kim Brackett.

The latter three have typically voted to postpone the Winslow Way project, while the other four have mostly favored moving ahead.

South-end resident Sally Adams has been collecting signatures for a petition that supports changing the island’s form of government. The plan, which could end up on the ballot in November, is to eliminate the position of mayor in favor of a city manager.

She said the overwhelming majority of those who’ve signed the petition expressed frustration at leaders and fear that rising taxes could one day soon force them off the island.

“What they’re telling me is that they’ve had it up to here with the city spending money,” Adams said. “They’re clued into the realities of the national, local economic picture even if the administration and the council majority are not.”

Bill Point resident Elise Wright said she’s disappointed by ineffective government and the appearance of important decisions being predetermined based on information that hasn’t been made public.

“It’s with a great deal of dismay that I’m here tonight,” Wright said. “I’m very frustrated that citizens should have to do this. I and those who voted for each of you voted for you to represent us. We did not vote for you to use inside information. We did not vote for you to apologize for failed city policies. We voted for you to do fiscal oversight and I have to say the finances of the city are broken.”

Some, like south-end resident Dennis Vogt, said the city’s capital planning process is equally broken. 

“Our city CFP process is not an effective planning document,” Vogt said. “Without holding the city administration accountable for its actual performance of the CFP in the prior year, what is intended by law to be a solid ongoing rational plan ends up being built on a quicksand of ad hoc numbers not tied to the past – you just end up starting over every year with this fruit-basket upset of things that are tossed into the pot as numbers.”

Former council member Bob Scales said leaders need to be more realistic about how much capital work it can complete. He said it’s unlikely the city can complete both Winslow Way and a new police and court facility over the next two years. Meanwhile, other important community interests, including those identified as priorities in recent surveys, are being neglected.

“What is our track record in building major projects?” Scales said. “The city has no track record for completing a project like this on budget and on time.”

Scales said cutting operating expenses is the only way the city can expect to increase its output.

After the hearing, councilors and Mayor Darlene Kordonowy acknowledge the frustration of attendees, but didn’t discuss the specifics of the CFP in depth. That will come later, after more public hearings.

Said Wright:

“I feel the frustration of all of you, the people at Wing Point, the senior center, the police and court facility, the Winslow Way property owners. They were all promised things that we cannot deliver.”

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