Bainbridge Island considering $15 million bond for bike paths, trail projects

Council may pay for new police station with non-voted bonds.

Bainbridge Island council members are planning to put a $15 million bond measure on the ballot next year to pay for bike lanes, sidewalks and other non-motorized improvements.

Voters likely won’t be asked, however, to cast a ballot to approve the construction of a new police station. Instead, the council is now considering issuing councilmanic, or non-voted, bonds to pay for the new facility.

Bainbridge voters rejected a $15 million request last November from city hall to buy land and build a new public safety facility on Madison Avenue north of city hall.

At the Bainbridge city council’s meeting this week, City Manager Doug Schulze set out the financing options — and the city’s current debt load — that should be considered as the council sets out its big infrastructure projects for the coming years.

Also on the horizon: a remake of Town Square next to city hall that some say could include a multi-level parking garage and the potential move of the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. Winslow merchants have long clamored for a new parking structure that would free up parking spaces for shoppers on Winslow Way.

Schulze said the longstanding citizen task force on parking, which is made up of mostly downtown business representatives, would bring forward a recommendation in the coming months after the community has had a chance to weigh in on what’s wanted.

A price tag has yet to be fixed for such a structure, but Schulze also cautioned the council that it was unlikely the project could gain approval by voters at the ballot box if they were asked to increase taxes to pay for it.

All three of the projects — bike routes, the police station and Town Square makeover — could not be financed in a “pay as you go” approach by the city, Schulze said.

Schulze also noted the number of property tax increases that have already been put before the voters in recent years.

There was the police station bond measure that lost in a landslide, but voters did overwhelmingly approve a $5.9 million bond measure to pay for the purchase of the 23-acre Sakai property for a public park, and a $16 million bond measure to finance new and improved fire stations on Bainbridge, early last year.

Islanders also said “yes” earlier this year to an $81.2 million bond measure to replace  Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary and Bainbridge High School’s 100 Building.

“Taxpayers have been hit pretty hard the last couple of years,” Schulze said.

Schulze said a new public safety building (which would include a new police headquarters and a municipal court) would be a good candidate for non-voted bonds because the city will have a declining debt load in the coming years.

Bainbridge currently is paying a little more than $2 million a year to service its existing debt, which include the bonds that paid for city hall, but those payments are expected to drop to below $500,000 annually by 2020.

If the city didn’t send the police station proposal back to voters, Schulze said it would be possible to start construction next year, after a site is chosen, an architect is selected and permits are obtained.

Construction could start as soon as August 2017.

“And that’s if things move on a pretty quick pace,” Schulze said.

City officials estimate they would need bonds that would finance a public safety facility project in the range of $10 million to $12 million. The debt service payments for $10 million in non-voted bonds would run about $800,000 a year, he said.

Some on the council were more enthusiastic about the proposal for bike lanes and other non-motorized improvements.

The city’s Non-Motorized Transportation Advisory Committee has developed a list of projects for bicyclists and pedestrians that total more than $30 million, but officials think that half of that amount could be gathered through grants or other funding sources.

A voter-approved bond would bring in enough money to pay for the projects within three to five years, Schulze said, rather than the 20 years it would take if the city took a pay-as-you-go approach.

Speaking strategically, Schulze said citizens would need months to put together a campaign, and the ballot approval requirements —

60 percent “yes” vote, plus enough ballots that would represent 40 percent of the voters who participate in this fall’s election — means that bond measure should probably wait until the November 2017 ballot.

The list of potential projects for the biking bond would include roadside shoulder improvements along Bucklin, Eagle Harbor, New Brooklyn and North Madison roads. Inter-island trails to be financed would include three trails that connect to the Sound to Olympics Trail, plus one along Shephard Way, connecting trails for Kallgren, Knechtel and Cave trails, the waterfront trail by Olympic Drive, and the replacement of the Waterfront Park Bridge. Financing would also cover Phases 5 and 6 of the Sound to Olympics Trail.

Also included: sidewalk improvements on Grow and Madison avenues, and on Sportsman’s Club Road; LED signs for crosswalks on Winslow Way and Wyatt Way; greenways along Sheppard Way and Grow Avenue; and other connecting pathways.

The biking bonds found much support from the council and members of the city’s Non-Motorized Transportation Advisory Committee at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Councilman Roger Townsend.

Councilman Ron Peltier asked why the non-motorized project list couldn’t be funded with non-voted bonds. It should be a priority, he said.

Schulze said the city lacked non-voted bonding capacity to take on both that and the public safety building, however.

Councilman Kol Medina then suggested that the parking garage structure and non-motorized bond could be combined together for a public vote, since both are transportation-related projects.

That idea got a cool reception.

“I think there’s going to be some resistance for paying for a parking facility downtown,” Peltier said, adding that some islanders wouldn’t see a personal benefit from such a project.

Councilwoman Sarah Blossom agreed.

“I think you’ll find a lot of resistance,” she said.

No final decision was made on funding mechanisms for any of the three projects outlined by the city manager, as the council is expected to address each in depth in the coming months.

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