Bainbridge city budget, capital plan pass; talk bullish

It was an ambitious goal on Wednesday to finalize the city’s budget during the hour that was scheduled for it, especially when some City Council members came prepared to oppose its passage.

In rhetoric that was often heated, councilors exchanged jabs for and against the city’s 2009 budget and the Capital Facilities Plan.

Comments made early in the meeitng by council chair Bill Knobloch seemed to turn the session into a candid debate on the city’s financial priorities.

“I don’t want to say this is the worst budget I have been a part of,” he said. “But I am going to have to.”

While addressing the city’s facilities plan, Knobloch again tried to delay the Winslow Way repair project – a wedge issue that has solidified the usual 4-3 split between council members during the budget process.

He made a motion to postpone the project for two years or until the country experienced a three-fourths of a percent economic growth rate.

Council member Chris Snow admitted they were at the pivotal descision-making point regarding the Winslow project, but urged it was no time to slow down.

“What that sounds like to me is a proposal to delay for two years,” Snow said. “I think we’ve planned a long time and now that it’s at the point to make the decsion, now we’re thinking about slowing down.”

He said that the funding for Winslow Way, comprised mostly of grants and utility bonds, was not siphoning resources away from other road-repair projects as was insinuated by Knobloch.

“This does not represent an expenditure of money that can be used for anything else,” Snow said. “It can only used for the purposes specified.”

The motion was rejected by a 4-3 vote.

Perhaps the most abrasive comments of the evening came from Kim Brackett. She was critical of the city administration, claiming that line items relating to the Point Monroe sewer project were overstated by $2.2 million and that those estimates constituted malfeasance. She refused to support the budget, saying it was “not an accurate document.”

Concerns were also expressed that the council had not done enough to cut back on city operating expenditures and that another downturn in revenue would endanger the city’s financial security.

City Administrator Mark Dombroski tried to ameiliorate those concerns by stating that all city departments were organizing their work plans with the goal of structuring the majority of their spending during the second half of 2009.

“It will allow us to monitor those revenues, and if we have to adjust we’ll have head room to do that,” Dombroski said.

Another motion by Knobloch would have blocked the inclusion of bond funding as part of the budget’s projected revenue. He suggested the city should wait to commit those bonds until after they were approved by the council. The motion was defeated in a 4-3 vote.

Anticipating the verbal tug-of-war, council members Barry Peters and Hilary Franz both brought prepared statements that listed their reasons for supporting the budget and dressing down arguments made by Knobloch, Brackett and Debbie Vancil.

Franz said that many community priorities had been saved in innovative ways. She cited the continued funding for the arts, the saving of the city’s USGS ground-water survey and continued contributions to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund.

“I don’t want this community to think nothing is being done. There is a lot to be proud of here,” Franz said. “The discussion is not over, but we should look at the value and positive things that are happening.”

Peters also chimed in that the council had re-allocated funding to Health Housing and Human Services, citing the need to help out the island’s most needy residents. He also disagreed with comments that said the budget was not balanced with a mind to the entire island and didn’t include funding for road projects. Peters reitterated his desire to establish a transportation improvement district that would allow the city to annually collect $20 per vehicle to fund capital road repairs, which are unfunded in 2009 and 2010.

“This budget was built collaboratively over a series of months. To me that is an open and honorable process,” he said.

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