Bainbridge Island is saving too much money.
That is basically what city manager Blair King said as the City Council began deliberating its biennial budget for 2023-24 Sept. 27. The beginning General Fund balance at the start of 2023 will be almost $19.97 million. The ending balance after 2024 will be a little over $14.7 million.
Some councilmembers questioned why the city would spend that $5 million. King said savings of about $7 million is good policy. “We’re sitting on too much cash unnecessarily,” he said, adding that it’s better to spend the money now than later as prices only increase.
Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said if the city is going to draw down that money she would like to see it spent on a big project for affordable housing or sustainable transportation. “It needs to be intentional,” she said. “It’s rare to have a large chunk of money.” She said it needs to benefit the community. She wants to be able to tell the public why they did it and what they got for it.
Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson agreed. She doesn’t want to start building something new if other city properties are deteriorating.
Deputy Mayor Clarence Moriwaki said the city can’t forget about inflation. “Everything will cost more,” he said, adding no one knows what’s going to happen in the future. “No one has fiscal prognostication ability. If they did they wouldn’t be here, they’d be sitting on a beach in Bermuda.”
Regarding the budget, city finance director DeWayne Pitts’s presentation showed that the city will spend a total of $137.7 million over 2023-24. Revenue is expected to grow 5% the first year and 1% in 2024. Spending expects to rise 8% in 2023 and 7% the second year. However, he said both the water and sewer funds will be operating in the red without corrective action. “It’s not sustainable in the long term,” he said.
Councilmembers expressed concern over the city’s water tank project costing $750,000 for each of 20 years, or a total of $11.1 million. King said his priority would be to construct a rate schedule that would build up reserves to pay for such a project. But that was not done. So the other option was to borrow money, and they got a great interest rate at 1.75%, which is below inflation, Moriwaki added.
Some councilmembers pushed their favorite agendas.
Councilmember Leslie Schneider asked why more isn’t being done with sustainable transportation. King then read off a list of projects in the budget. “We do have a full package,” he said, adding more could be done if Transportation Benefit District costs are increased, which city staff is preparing to ask the council for.
Schneider said she’d like the city manager to find a way to fund an expert on sustainable transportation. “We need public engagement and best practices. We need an expert,” she said.
King said while the budget does add some staff he’s reluctant to add more because revenue is projected to decrease in a few years. So if a position is added, having it for two years would be one idea that could work. “That would give us more flexibility,” and the city could reassess the position at that time.
Councilmember Jon Quitslund said he’s glad an equity officer is in the budget. “That’s expertise we don’t have yet,” he said.
Fantroy-Johnson said they need to be fair with whoever is hired. We can’t think “we’re going to solve the whole world’s problems now that we have an equity officer.”
Councilmember Michael Pollock said he’d like to see what’s being done with race equity spelled out more in the budget. He’d also like to see more on climate change resiliency. His dream is to have steps taken to see how the community is decarbonizing overall.
Quitslund asked why the budget does not have a housing and human resources manager in it. “We’re building momentum in that direction, but we’re not quite there yet,” King said.
Mayor Joe Deets said the city can’t forget the challenges of the labor market. BI recently lost a hydrogeologist. “It’s indicative of the market we’re in,” he said, adding maybe they should consider giving a bonus to anyone who finishes the work they were hired to do.
Lack of workers can “burn a hole in transportation projects,” he said, adding that’s why the state’s Highway 305 roundabouts on BI have been delayed.
King said the budget includes “under the line” projects that are not funded, but could still happen if there are things like rate or fee increases or grants obtained.
Hytopoulos said she wants the public to know what “little discretionary spending we have” as many of the costs are mandatory.
The most significant additions since previous budget discussions include: $408,000 for facilities maintenance projects; $350,000 for pavement repair; $250,000 for consultant for Winslow Subarea Plan; $152,000 for equity and inclusion officer; $138,000 for facilities operations project manager; and $125,000 for a consultant for the Comprehensive Plan.
Moriwaki said the city shouldn’t downplay that only one in five cities statewide has a AAA bond rating and an accredited police department, which only 25% in the state have.
“You guys bury the lead a lot,” he said. “These are indicative of a well-run city.” Moriwaki said the city has turned it around since being in the red just a few years ago. “Our house is in order. I’m going to make sure we stay on that path.”
Department heads talked about their individual budgets.
Deputy city manager Ellen Schroer, speaking for the executive branch, said along with the new equity officer their budget includes $100,000 for the climate action plan.
Pitts said a major cost in his finance budget is $2 million in professional services for a contract with Housing Resources Bainbridge.
Planning director Patty Charnas said her department has paperless online permitting, which is a major accomplishment. She also said it received grants for the Housing Action Plan, Comp Plan and sea level rise research.
Police Chief Joe Clark said that department hired seven officers and its first full-time community health navigator. Officers provided security as events returned to BI after COVID-19 restrictions eased, and he hopes to do more with marine patrol as BI has 53 miles of shoreline and a lot of recreational boaters.
Four new employees are asked for in Public Works, two each for streets and utilities. King said the city would then have a total of 138 personnel.
Two public hearings on the budget will be Oct. 11 and the final one Nov. 8.
In other news at the meeting, the council renamed the waterfront trail in honor of Charles Schmid and appointed Michele Bombardier as the city’s first poet laureate.
This 20-person department implements policy and manages city operations. Its budget would be $6.3 million next year and $6.5 million the following one.
As for accomplishments, it hired King in 2020, led the city’s response against COVID, found a site for a police-court facility, responded to over 1,000 public information requests, and in 2021 hired 36 new employees and allocated $7 million in ARPA (pandemic response) federal funds.
New spending includes hiring an equity officer and purchasing electric vehicles and tools.
This 11-person department would have a budget of $9.4 million in 2023 and $13.6 million the following year.
New spending includes supporting funding options for affordable housing and a water-sewer rate study.
This 21-employee department would have a budget of $3.4 million next year and $3.2 million on 2024.
New spending includes: enhance staff training, improve customer service, and complete Shoreline Management, Housing Action, Winslow Subarea and Comprehensive plans.
This department of 30 employees would have a budget of $6.4 million in 2023 and $6.7 million in 2024.
Goals include: develop a comprehensive strategic plan with measurable results; proceed with a traffic speed emphasis that includes education, enforcement and high visibility; make the marine patrol more visible; and support a Kitsap County-wide records system.
This budget would drastically fall from $39 million next year to $23.2 million in 2024 for these 52 employees.
Major accomplishments include 2.5 miles of paved road, 280 million gallons of water delivered and 210 million gallons of wastewater treated; and 1.4 miles of non-motorized improvements.
Goals include: deliver the police-court facility; finish the Madison sidewalk and bike lane; deliver the Eagle Harbor-Wyatt nonmotorized improvements; and upgrade the wastewater treatment plant.
Transportation: Manitou Beach Road and bulkhead repair; Country Club Road and bulkhead reconstruction; Springbrook fish passage; and new Fort Street extension.
Nonmotorized transportation: Madison Avenue sidewalk improvements Wyatt to High School; Eagle Harbor drive from Wyatt to past Bucklin Hill, which is new; as is providing traffic calming on Grow.
Facilities: Finish improvements to senior center and police-court facility; and new is invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Fleet: Purchase some electric vehicles.
Water: Winslow Water tank delivery; fire flow and pipeline improvements; emergency generator; new is booster pump upgrade.
Sewer: Treatment plant upgrades; Lovell-Wood sewer replacement; pump stations; and rehabilitate some pumps.
Storm and surface water: Eagle Harbor and Springbrook Creek culverts and fish passages.
Some of these are not funded, and are more like on a wish list if money becomes available.