“You want how much, and why?”

"If someone gave an award for Bainbridge Island’s most assiduous citizen – Most Likely to Read Something Boring in the Public Interest – we’d probably nominate Vince Mattson.By our observation over these many years, Vince is in a class by himself. He seems to be the only private citizen on the island who actually reads the city budget cover to cover – every single year."

  • Wednesday, December 8, 1999 8:00am
  • News

“If someone gave an award for Bainbridge Island’s most assiduous citizen – Most Likely to Read Something Boring in the Public Interest – we’d probably nominate Vince Mattson.By our observation over these many years, Vince is in a class by himself. He seems to be the only private citizen on the island who actually reads the city budget cover to cover – every single year.“It wouldn’t be a budget hearing without a presentation by Vince,” one city council member said Monday, as Mattson took to the microphone at a public meeting on the 2000 document.“The old curmudgeon is back,” Mattson rejoined.Unfortunately, the hearing was entirely unremarkable both in terms of comment and likely impact. A parade of local human-services representatives made their annual pitch for public dollars, and a few stray citizens called for a tightening of the city belt in the wake of I-695. (For the record, 10 of the 13 folks who spoke Monday actually wanted more city spending, and only three asked for less; several wanted some of both.)What the council will take away from the hearing is anybody’s guess. But it did raise a few questions about the presentation of the document itself.Over the past several years, the city’s printed budget has earned several awards for clarity of presentation, thanks to some welcome annotation of what’s being spent where. Unfortunately, as several folks pointed out Monday, there is still a serious disconnect between new spending requests and the real question the city must answer each year:Why?Monday, the topic of discussion was the 12 new positions proposed by the mayor and department heads, so we’ll consider them here.We read the papers, so we know where the request for a second code enforcement officer and third building inspector come from. After all, we’re in a building boom, and islanders have been clamoring for two years for more staff to look out for neighbors’ interests as new homes spring up around them.So much for the easy one. What about Bainbridge Police, which hopes to add two commissioned officers to the force?If you make some phone calls, you might determine that the hires would keep the city in line with its goal of having one patrol officer for every 1,000 island residents. But you can’t find that in the budget document itself.What about the new hearing examiner in the municipal court budget? There is an answer – essentially it’s quality control, after contracting out for the service resulted in litigation. But again, you can’t tell that from reading the document.Brief, off-the-cuff presentations Monday by the city’s department heads were illustrative, and we suspect most folks went away happy – including Vince Mattson, who unfurled his usual detailed critique of some of the finer line items. But next year, we challenge the mayor and city administrator to include in the budget document the one item it needs most – an itemized summary, a matrix, something – that charts significant new spending requests against actual city goals and policies. Up front, clear, concise – where the average person can find it.As citizens, we should have some understanding of where all the money’s going when the city council adopts a budget. Half of that responsibility resides with us, to actually sit down and read the document. But a clear justification for new expenditures – one not hidden between the lines – would make it easier on Vince, and the rest of us.”

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