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Twelve-hour session brings budget talks toward closure

The cuts have been made and the balancing act maintained.

And though the 2009 budget is not final, it is unlikely to change before it’s adopted later this month.

Actions taken by the City Council during a nearly 12-hour budget marathon on Wednesday kept most cost-cutting measures proposed by the city administration and added a few additional cuts at city departmental levels.

“The annual budget for 2009 represents at least a $2 million spending decrease on operating expenses from 2008 budget,” council member Hilary Franz said. “Despite needing to make significant cuts in the budget due to the economy, the council maintained its commitment to those priorities the community expressed.”

Cuts totaling $134,000 to the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council remained in place. Council member Chris Snow, who worked to establish the BIAHC funding model, was optimistic that a $94,000 reduction to the nonprofit agency in 2010 could be reinstated if revenues improved.

“In a way it is a place holder, to balance the budget for 2010,” Snow said. “It helps satisfy the need to make sure the pain is being spread fairly. There is a good probability that funding prospects will improve. Then there will be motions to amend the revenue streams up or down.”

Another axing of $290,000 from the Public Works operating budget over 2009 and 2010 was taken to lean that department. It is not known where those cuts will come from within the department.

“I have sympathy for those who get laid off and to groups that need money,” said council member Kjell Stoknes regarding the cuts that have been made. “I guess I am more concerned about the city being a viable entity. We have to have a city that is financially solvent, and I don’t feel we can negotiate that. If we don’t no one will get anything.”

At some points during the meeting, the economic pains of the city hinged on issues that were first debated when the island separated from Kitsap County.

Council chair Bill Knobloch questioned whether the city needed its own police department and whether money could be better spent hiring county sheriff’s deputies.

Police Chief Matt Haney said that action would reduce response time and decrease service to Bainbridge citizens.

The Police Department was successful in securing an additional $12,000 to keep its vehicles maintained in 2009. Requests for new police cruisers in that year had been pushed back to 2010 by the council.

The council also moved to create a separate restricted account for the city’s Rainy Day Fund to deal with speculation that the money could be used without council approval if it remained in the general fund.

“There has been a great deal of uncertainty that the money is actually there when it is commingled in the general fund,” Snow said. “That is not good enough for some people on the council and the public.”

The only major hurdle left for the council is agreement on the capital facilities plan, although a general approval of the plan was the basis for the mayor’s proposed budget.

“I will be looking closely at the CFP to insure that the plan put forth is sustainable cost wise as well as human resource wise,” Franz said. “Do we have the financial and human capacity to do the projects when they are currently scheduled? “

However, some council members were optimistic that the final budget could be approved next Wednesday, feeling confident with the balance currently obtained.

“I think the hope is, dependent on the administration, that the budget will be clear enough on the 10th so we may be able to wave third reading and approve on the 10th,” Stoknes said.

The next budget meeting and chance for public comment will take place on Dec. 10.

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