Opinion

City should repair only the sewer line

Much has been said lately in the media, letters and community blogs about what is going on with our city’s decreased revenue and constricted finances. For the last two months, Bainbridge Island Television (BITV) has been broadcasting City Council meetings and workshops as councilors debate the pros and cons of how to renovate Winslow Way. Part of that debate concerns two questions: 1) who is going to pay? and 2) for what?

Before any further comment can be made about cost and payment, an identification of what the work entails and how it will be accomplished is primary. In engineering speak this is called “scope of work.” The scope of work continues to be a confusing factor of both council meetings and the community debate. What has been cut from the original Winslow Tomorrow plan and what remains? What part of Winslow Way could be repaired at a bare bones minimum? The storm drains? What about laying new water lines and undergrounding electric lines?

Our city government is tasked with maintaining the infrastructure of the entire island. Our city’s Comprehensive Plan shows a clear responsibility to meet state mandates in the Revised Code of Washington and the Growth Management Act. That means utility replacement when necessary and/or repairing infrastructure when broken. Four years ago the “Winslow Tomorrow” Congress overturned the Winslow Way sewer line repair project. This was followed by a series of public meetings, consultant recommendations and various study sessions that gave us a vision without a funding plan. What we have now is a result of Winslow Tomorrow that morphed into Streetscape that eventually was renamed the Winslow Utility Project. Presently, Streetscape amenities (and costs) remain in the Winslow Utility Project. Council is still attempting to define the scope of work that the city (taxpayers and utility rate payers) will underwrite.

City Council is also challenged to find a way to support the debt that is required for any major capital project. The options are few and may include: 1) increasing utility ratepayer taxes with revenue bonds; 2) indebting the taxpayer through councilmanic bonds; or 3) taxpayer debt through new taxes. Federal and state grants may be applied for to offset costs, but they are not guaranteed. Also, some council members are floating a $20 motor vehicle tax surcharge per licensed vehicle (MVET) as another revenue source for the Winslow Utility Project.

For the last two years, a contract between the city and Heery International Inc. resulted in a 30 percent design that estimates approximately $12 million as a cost total for the project. Significantly, $7.5 million of that cost rests with the utility ratepayers by imposing a revenue bond on the three utility funds: water, sewer and storm water management. Also significantly, the approximate customer base for that payment is limited to approximately 2,300 for city water service, 1,800 for city sewer service and 9,200 customers islandwide for the storm water service that is listed on your property tax bill as an assessment.

Proponents of Winslow Tomorrow and Streetscape described Winslow Way as “our community bedroom,” an ideal capital project serving the whole island. So why are only a small number of residents paying for a major portion of the project instead of all islanders? Why are utility ratepayers and taxpayers who stand to see no benefit to their own residential utilities being asked to shoulder the burden of infrastructure improvements on Winslow Way? These are questions I continue to ask as the debate continues in City Hall.

So where are we? It appears the answer to that question lies within our pocketbooks. This includes the city pocketbook (budget) as well. It also appears that when we consider the overall economic condition of the region, state and global economies we might be very well served to plan on just doing what is required of us by the state: Repair the Winslow Way sewer. Period. We should not burden our budget with long-term payments that are questionably sustainable. We need to take a deep breath, slow down and not rush into debt that taxpayers and ratepayers cannot sustain over the next 20 years.

Bill Knobloch is a City Council member. He can be reached at 855-8888 or

billknobloch@aol.com

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