Opinion

Budget reflects city’s responsibility

The City of Bainbridge Island has and will continue to respond to changing economic forecasts.

As the city concludes the 2009-2010 budget process, some clarification of what we have accomplished is in order. The total operating budget for 2009 is $1.7 million lower than the final 2008 budget and the 2010 operating budget is lower by a further $453 thousand. The number of FTEs (full-time equivalent employees) is down from 152 in 2008 to 140 in 2009 and forecast to be 135 in 2010.

We learned Wednesday that employees had approved a furlough agreement that will further reduce the effective number of FTEs to 135.5 FTEs in 2009 and forecast 130.5 FTEs in 2010. Each employee will take two weeks of unpaid leave during the year. This is a stunning demonstration of their commitment to our city and represents a real personal sacrifice that we greatly appreciate.

In its first budget workshop, council reduced the already conservative revenue predictions in the two-year preliminary budget, based on projections by the Puget Sound Economic Forecaster, by an additional $1.5 million in 2009 and $2.5 million in 2010. In the five budget workshops that followed, the council worked with the administration to make the painful but necessary reductions necessary to balance the budget. The result is a realistic and sustainable budget.

That budget includes fully funded reserves, including a rainy-day fund of $860,000 in 2009. Any revenue realized from the sale of surplus city properties can be used to further increase those reserves.

The budget does not include any taxpayer funds for the Winslow Way project. The recently awarded $3.5 million Transportation Improvement Board, on top of $3.5 million from previously awarded grants and private contributions, eliminated the need to use any taxpayer funds for the project. That grant will also reduce the cost of the project to utility customers by roughly $1.2 million.

Since all of these funding sources are time limited and project specific – they can only be used for the Winslow Way project – nothing would be gained by postponing the project as some have suggested. Indeed, it would be irresponsible to delay the Winslow Way project. Rather than saving money, delay would only increase the cost of the project by at least $1,000,000 a year. Delaying the project would also mean returning $6 million of state and federal grant money. Our chances of securing grant money of that size from the state and federal government after returning it just years before would be minimal to none.

For over 10 years, Winslow Way’s utilities have needed replacing and the sidewalks are badly in need of repair. The project as proposed would replace the leaking sewer and storm-water pipes, improve fire flow, expand sidewalks to make them ADA accessible, add bicycle lanes, and add rain garden and bioswales to capture the storm water that presently pours untreated into Puget Sound.

The completion of the budget process is only the beginning. With staff help, council will continue to monitor closely city finances and economic developments that impact city revenue. The administration is already at work to find efficiencies and new ways to delivering services to the community more cost effectively. Options for running our utilizes and other essential services differently are being actively explored. Much remains to be done and we look forward to suggestions and comments from the public as we get down to work in the New Year.

Chris Snow is a member of the Bainbridge Island City Council and chair of the council’s Finance Committee.

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