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Bainbridge narrows scope on Winslow Way project

The City Council left its second meeting on Winslow Way reconstruction Tuesday night without consensus on whether or not the project will go forward, but it did decide to look at a smaller version of the project that puts less burden on utility ratepayers.

The council expressed desire to seek more local improvement district money from the surrounding property owners to share some of the risk by helping to pay for contingencies.

Deputy Planning Director Chris Wierzbicki presented an option last week that removed a portion of the reconstruction project – from Madison Avenue to Grow Avenue – and eliminated putting power lines underground.

The smaller scope of the project allows funds to be shifted to cover the entire portion for the sewer ($1.1 million in the Capital Improvement Plan), while slashing nearly $200,000 from the water utility’s portion ($780,000 from $946,529). This alternative lowers the remaining project cost from $8 million to approximately $5.5 million. State and federal grants would pay for $3.1 million of that.

This alternative, which the council chose as its working possibility going forward, also forfeits $866,000 in federal grant money for Wing Point Way reconstruction. That money will go back into a federal pot.

By returning the federal money, the city can re-apply for the grant or search for other federal funding for Wing Point Way, something it couldn’t do after tying the previous grants to the Winslow Way project. It would have had to come up with some other way to finance Wing Point.

The council viewed this as a positive for a project that has been on the priority list for years, but remains incomplete. Had the city kept the federal grant, councilors said, a huge pot of money would be inaccessible for Wing Point.

“By returning the money, we’re not slowing down the project. We’re doing quite the opposite, we’re actually speeding it up,” said Mayor Bob Scales.

Wierzbicki said nearly $700,000 of that grant was set to pay for a salary reimbursement and contingency funds not figured into the baseline cost of the Wing Point project, so the loss is not detrimental to Winslow Way.

The option presented by Wierzbicki calls for local improvement district funds to pay for sewer costs, thereby relieving ratepayers of paying for the Winslow Way project, and severing the reconstruction from the Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance lawsuit, which impacted any attempt the city made to secure funding to supplement the sewer fund.

The biggest hole councilors found in Wierzbicki’s alternative was the potential for the city’s general fund to be obligated up to $380,000 of the project cost if contingency funds were used. The majority of council was not interested in seeing general fund money contributed to the remainder of the project.

Scales suggested consulting with the Winslow Way property owners to see if they would agree to an undetermined contingency LID, possibly $500,000 or more, to help assume some of the risk.

Councilor Bill Knobloch advocated asking the property owners for another $1 million in LID funds to pay for putting power lines underground.

Not everyone favored this idea, however. Councilor Barry Peters said if the city continues to put all the burden on the property owners eventually everyone will feel it.

“In the end, we consumers end up paying more and we lose some of that local business we love so much,” he said. “I think just loading more cost on the property owners is a self-defeating strategy.”

The original LID funding, which was volunteered by the property owners, was $1 million, which was meant to pay for moving power lines underground.

The matter will again be discussed by council at its study session next week, where the body will learn of the property owners’ thoughts on the proposals.

The goal continues to be to make a decision on whether or not to go forward with construction in 2011 by the council’s May 12 business meeting. The majority of councilors didn’t tip their hand as to how they would vote on the issue.

The council hopes to make a decision quickly so it can finally put to bed an issue that has splintered the community for the last seven years.

“To push it down the line prolongs the agony,” said Councilor Kirsten Hytopoulos. “I think getting this project done will be a big step towards healing the community.”

But it shouldn’t be done just for the sake of fixing political divides, she said. The money must be there first, and she, and other councilors, want the project to avoid using any more general fund money.

“It’s more than healing,” she said. “All the ducks have to be in a row, but there’s that added benefit of moving on.”

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