Opinion

Council makes good move with budget

The city council’s plan to restructure its budget process, to increase participation both by the public and the council, itself was greeted with optimistic caution in these quarters.

Our optimism arises from the basic concept. While the council is the policy-making arm of our government, the budget is where the rubber meets the road. Abstract objectives are well and good, but what the city actually does in a given year is what finds its way into the budget.

Our caution comes from the admission by council veterans that, to the degree the budget has not always reflected council priorities, the fault has lain with the council’s failure to articulate its objectives in a coherent and timely fashion. While the council has in recent years developed “goals and objectives,” those have sometimes been laundry lists of ideas from individual council members, we are told.

Because wishes always outrun resources, guidance to do everything is little guidance at all. So when the administration picks priorities from a wish list, it is, as a practical matter, establishing its own set of priorities.

Key to the new plan, in our view, is the requirement that the council (after a public hearing) formally establish a set of goals and objectives during the first half of the year.

The city’s departments will then have the summer to develop budget proposals to carry out those objectives. Once that’s done, a multi-step process will match resources to objectives, so the budget corresponds both to the money available and – at least in theory – to council priorities.

It’s an ambitious scheme – we count 20 separate required steps. And it will take a lot of work on the council’s part. But if the council really wants to fulfill its responsibilities to set policy, there don’t appear to be any shorter cuts.

Yay, WAMU

Some months ago, Ross Thomas and the folks at the Bainbridge branch of Washington Mutual decided that since they make much of their money in the housing business – WAMU has grown to be the nation’s largest mortgage lender – they’d plow a little back into the housing needs of this community.

Particularly, they wanted to do something to tackle the problem of affordable housing on an island where the cost of land has pushed prices out of reach for too many.

The initial concept was to set aside dollars from each transaction to go towards affordable housing, “something based on our own level of activity,” Thomas said. For various reasons, though, that didn’t work out.

So last month, Thomas, Bill Reddy of the Housing Resources Board and long-time island housing advocate Garnie Quitslund made their pitch to WAMU’s corporate foundation, which promotes community re-investment. Result: a $30,000 check from WAMU to the HRB, which, with a city match, will be a big step towards building West Home, a nine-unit affordable-housing complex in downtown Winslow. The check was presented at Wednesday’s city council meeting.

Thanks, Ross and WAMU, for being among those on Bainbridge who really care and really help.

You’ve done well, and you’ve used it to do good. Can’t ask for anything more.

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