The Bainbridge Island City Council talked at length about adding a sustainable transportation czar during budget talks Oct. 11, then decided against it.
Councilmember Leslie Schneider made the motion to add the position, but if a permanent funding source wasn’t found by the end of the year the job could be limited to two years.
City manager Blair King said he is concerned about funding starting in 2025 so he wanted to limit adding staff.
But Schneider was adamant about taking a vote. She backed off after hearing from other councilmembers.
Councilmember Jon Quitslund was worried about the timing, considering the council is taking on many other projects. “Is this the right two years?” he asked. “When do we need the staff person the most?”
“Two years ago,” Schneider chimed in. She added that the Comprehensive Plan calls for a transportation advisory committee that still isn’t in place. “We need a subject-matter expert who has time to focus on this.”
Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said, “We needed this a long time ago.”
King recommended that if the council is leaning that way that it wait until this year’s final financial numbers are available in early 2023.
Deputy mayor Clarence Moriwaki liked that idea. Approving the position now would be like “spending your money before you get your paycheck.” He said they don’t even know if they are going to be able to afford the position, so he’d rather wait until they have “real money on hand.”
Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said she likes the idea of the position to be an advocate for transportation. She sees a lot of momentum but the need to build more. But she wanted to see King come up with a plan with city staff on how to accomplish progress in transportation.
Councilmember Michael Pollock agreed that King should take the reins. He said he understands the sentiment of “wanting to get this going,” but the city manager knows best how to get the resources to get where they want to go.
King mentioned that a consultant may be the best route to go because that would keep costs down. The consultant could develop a funding plan. Someone mentioned applying for grants but King said BI doesn’t score well on those because it’s an “affluent community.”
“I love that idea to fill in the gap,” Schneider said of hiring a consultant, adding she’d be happy to table the motion.
King also addressed a couple of concerns the council had about the budget last meeting. One concerned a petition to build shoulders on Valley Road. Again, he recommended waiting until year-end finances are available. The other concern was about $11.3 million in loans to pay for a new water tank. King reiterated both loans are very low interest—the city is actually saving $142,000 a year compared with if a bond funded it. However, he said with inflation the water tank could end up costing much more so a third loan could be needed.
In general, the budget is $137.7 million over the two years. Revenue is expected to grow 5% the first year but only 1% the second. Spending is expected to increase 8% the first year but 7% the second.
The general fund would go from almost $20 million to $14.7 million from 2023-24 as King advises there is too much money in that fund. Water and sewer funds are in need of increases, the budget presentation says.
In capital improvements, the biggest cost is for the new water tank. A new equity and inclusion officer budgeted at $152,000 would be among new positions to city staff. Electric vehicles and tools also are among the expenditures. Finishing the police-court facility and senior center are among the goals.
During public comments, three people spoke in favor of adding an equity officer that is already in the proposed budget. Two are on the Racial Equity Advisory Committee, and Deanna Martinez just left that panel. Martinez said adding the position would lead to a ripple effect of good things. “Whiteness isn’t a color; it’s a culture,” she said.
Francis Jacobson said many locals say there isn’t a problem with racism, but they just aren’t hearing about the incidents of intimidation that still go on today. “You have to make everybody feel welcome and make a commitment to anti-racism.”
Renni Bispham said REAC was a good first step in addressing equity, but committee members get frustrated by “how slowly things move” in city government. He said adding the position would show “your committment to the words you have spoken.”
A final public hearing on the budget will take place Nov. 8.
No one spoke at a public hearing on property tax collections for 2023. The previous year’s levy was $8.138 million. This year’s estimate is $8.32 million. An increase without a public vote is limited by the state to 1%. The total assessed value on BI is almost $12.835 billion, making the projected levy rate a little more than 64.6 cents per $1,000 valuation. On a $1 million home that would be $6,463.43 a year. A final decision will be made by the council Oct. 25.
Also at the meeting, King talked about priorities and a work plan for city projects. Documents show of the 120 projects listed, at the top are the Comprehensive Plan, Winslow Subarea Plan, affordable housing, Housing Action Plan, Island Center Subarea Plan, rules for tiny-home villages and more.
He talked about the Climate Action Plan. Documents show there are 165 households taking part in the Climate Smart Challenge, and their new actions are cutting 58 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is 250 households and 100 tons of carbon dioxide by the end of the year. The Challenge makes it easy to identify which actions can reduce pollution, save money and prepare folks for climate change. Those include shorter showers, turning off lights and electronics when not in use, driving less, and eating less meat and more plant-based foods. For more go to www.ClimateSmartBainbridge.org.
The police report for August shows crimes against property are down for the month compared with last year but still almost double for the year at 394. King mentioned a memo on the Farm Trail from city attorney Joe Levan that says Mike Lempriere, a neighbor of the trail, was incorrect as the city does have a right of way for public use.
In regular business, the council discussed redistricting the council wards and set Nov. 8 for a public hearing. The Central Ward has 8,730 people, the North 7,687 and the South 8,408. The redistricting proposal puts the Central at 8,313, the North at 8,268 and the South at 8,265.
In the consent agenda, almost $212,000 was asked for to help plan and design the Sound to Olympics Trail. When completed, the 40-mile STO will link the BI ferry to the Olympic Discovery Trail in Jefferson County. BI has completed 1.1 miles of the 6.6 miles of trail on the island. It will connect neighborhoods, parks and public facilities. Another high-cost item on that agenda is almost $360,000 for an update on the Winslow Subarea Plan, with a related $110,000 budget amendment. The plan was last updated in 2006 and is a priority for the council.