New councilors have many issues to solve
July 27, 2009 · Updated 2:42 PM
In November, at least two – and possibly three – new members will be elected to the seven-person Bainbridge Island City Council. As the neophytes prepare to join the council next year, they will have a bevy of issues both in the community and within the framework of city government to face, said sitting councilors Bill Knobloch, Barry Peters and Kim Brackett.
The No. 1 issue on everyone’s collective mind is finance. Peters hopes new councilors will work with sitting members in order to diversify the city’s revenue sources.
“With wonderful resources like IslandWood, Bloedel gardens, bikeways, hiking trails, parks and road-end access to shorelines, we should strengthen our economic base by inviting more visitors to come enjoy what we love about this island,” Peters said.
Knobloch said the city hasn’t invested enough money in reserves.
“Presently we have a budget deficit that includes no money for contingency or emergency reserves, and also has no allocation to the street fund for maintaining and improving our roads,” he said.
The councilors agreed that the city has a problem with managing revenue versus expenditures. Brackett would also like to see an interactive financial database to make transactions more accessible.
The city has improved its fiscal responsibility in the last two years, trimming the budget by a combined $9 million in 2008 and 2009, Peters said.
Several councilors pointed to the necessity to regain the trust of the community as one of the new council’s most essential missions. Peters and Knobloch suggested increased transparency of government as one of the best ways to achieve that aim.
Parts of the community don’t have total faith in the council, Peters said. Altering that relationship remains an immediate issue.
“Council needs to constantly earn the community’s trust,” he said.
With the new form of government, Knobloch said, more responsibility falls on the council.
“The incoming council must show the leadership required to change the existing culture at City Hall, that the old way of doing business with the community has changed with the change of government,” he said.
The structure of government, Knobloch said, should begin with the people. The council’s job is to fight for the things the community deems the most pressing issues. Then, he said, the city manager has the responsibility of implementing council direction.
Peters added that if a less than friendly relationship continues to exist between city government and some members of the community, a new discourse needs to emerge.
“If the city is to creatively solve its problems, it’s essential to have the help and positive input of citizens, and not a confrontational or litigious approach to deciding local issues,” Peters said.
Councilors also indicated the importance of ironing out the wrinkles in the new government structure.
“The new form of government enables the council to be a collaborator and overseer of city staff rather than being distrustful and therefore dismissing the professional advice of the city executive and administrative staff,” Peters said.
The new council will be faced with the challenge of implementing these ideas of government on some of the major policy issues. Brackett pointed to dealing with aging infrastructure and water issues as some of the policies that need the most work.
“At the end of the day we have finite environmental resources and we have finite monetary resources, and we need to do a much better job managing both of them,” she said.
Peters has a long list of issues within the community that council needs to deal with.
Environmentally, he said, replenishing the aquifers, which are supplied by rain water, and fixing inefficient septic tanks and sewer lines that spill into shoreline waters are the biggest priorities.
Peters also listed bolstering the police force, making the roads safer for pedestrians and reducing the amount of resources used by island residents as issues to be inspected by incoming council.
Various community members also identified projects on Winslow Way, historic preservation and the establishment of more affordable housing as things to be tackled by the incoming councilors.