BI mayor: Video on police-court facility ‘propaganda’

  • Friday, September 24, 2021 9:32am
  • News
Rasham Nassar

Mayor Rasham Nassar called it “propaganda.”

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said Bainbridge Islanders are “tired of it” and ready to move on.

They were talking Tuesday night at their City Council study session about a new BI police station and courthouse. The topic has been an issue here for about two decades.

City leaders hoped once city manager Blair King came on board as an outsider that he could play mediator and help solicit a solution. But it looks like the divide continues.

King said city staff put together a video to reintroduce the issue to the public. In it, he says the current police station “is the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Police Chief Joe Clark adds that space is limited for prisoners, victims, witnesses and staff. He said if there is more than one person in the lobby there “really is no privacy” when they are “talking about the most intimate moments in their lives.”

As for the courthouse, city Judge Sara McCulloch also talked about the lack of space. For example, she mentioned that when people seek a protection order they are within feet of the accused. Also, she said she’s “embarrassed” that when someone in a walker or wheelchair is in court officials have to move furniture around to provide them access. Attorney Paul Cullen says in the video that he’s been in hundreds of courtrooms, and the one in BI is “in the bottom three.”

Nassar said the video sends the wrong message. She pointed out that nationwide the trend is for cities to spend less on law enforcement and more on social services in an effort to stop crimes before they happen. Even though crime rates are low here, about 36% of the city budget is spent on police. “What do we want the future of policing to look like on Bainbridge Island?” she asked.

Before anything else happens, she said the city needs to have a police needs assessment done. “What are our policing needs?” she asked. “What level of spending should be allocated?” Those numbers should serve as the basis of what’s done next.

Nassar said everyone on the council agrees new police and court facilities are needed, but the questions remain how big, how much and where? She still has issues with the huge Harrison Medical Center being used for the site. She still alleges that millions of dollars were overspent in buying Harrison, and wondered why King and city staff had not investigated that.

Hytopoulos agreed that there are “years of inaction behind us. Most of us were not involved in setting this path, but we’re on this path, and it’s time to move forward.”

King said he was trying to spotlight that the police station and courthouse are inadequate. He said he understands the desire for a police needs assessment — “What the problem is before we find a solution.” For next steps, he said city staff will look at the three sites still in the running for the facility and list the pros and cons of each.

Issue’s history

In April, city staff postponed construction bid advertising for the retrofit of the 8804 Madison Ave. N building, purchased for $8.975 million in 2020, until King came on board. The city has already spent $759,000 on a redesign for that building. The current buildings are a seismic risk, lack security and are outdated for conducting effective and essential civic services, a study done in 2014 says. The city also has spent $415,000 on studies to determine the best sites and $222,000 on administrative costs.

Over the years, the city has analyzed 18 potential sites and spent roughly $11 million. The city’s three potential sites left are:

• Existing police station at 625 Winslow Way E. Built in 1945, became police station in 2001, includes 7,546 square feet on .89 acres;

• Suzuki property, 13.83 acres at the intersection of Sportsman Club and New Brooklyn Road, bought in 2000 for $500,000;

• Former Harrison building. Has 3.13 acres. Two-story building with 18,000 square feet. Total cost including renovations will be $20 million. In 2020, the city decided to use $12 million in existing funds and to issue $8 million in tax-exempt limited tax general obligation bonds to pay for the building. If the bonds are not used correctly, that could affect the city’s Aaa credit rating.

Problems with the current police station include:Existing building, originally built in 1945 for fire department, made of unreinforced masonry and likely to collapse during an earthquake

No generator for power outages, and electrical circuits inadequate to power technology and equipment

No secure areas for moving suspects between police vehicles and building, and inadequate privacy for victims and the public

Workstations and evidence room lack space, and the department has to go off-site for staff meetings.

Courtroom deficiencies include:

• Does not meet ADA requirements

• Small courtroom puts victims and perpetrators in close proximity

• Jury uses staff workroom/break area for deliberation; restroom doubles as hallway from break room/jury room to court office

• No witness stand

• Lacks private areas for client-attorney meetings and thin walls do not ensure privacy

Huge fee hikes

The council also had a long discussion on increasing development fees so the work pays for itself, rather than needing to be subsidized by the general fund to the tune of about $900,000 a year.

“You should not wait fifteen years” to hike those fees. “It’s a shock to the system,” King said, adding it should be done every few years.

City staff studied actual costs in 2019 and found building permits only paid for 89% of the actual work involved while planning permits only paid for 32% and engineering just 3%. The overall average was 59% with $954 charged at a cost of $1,810.

A presentation showed BI was charging hundreds if not thousands of dollars less for certain fees than the actual cost of service. Compared to other cities, BI would go from charging among the lowest to among the highest if changes were made to reflect costs.

Planning director Heather Wright said if the charges were to start Jan. 1, 2022, there would be a rush of permit applications in the next few months to avoid the higher rates.

King was concerned if prices went up that much some people might do work without getting permits. “We don’t want to add to that with excessive fees,” he said, adding he’d like to see costs go up annually with inflation. To start, he mentioned raising costs gradually over three years.

Nassar said she has no problems with developers paying higher fees, but doesn’t want individual homeowners to have to. “That just pushes people off the island,” she said. Nassar specifically mentioned what could have been $1,210 to get rid of a single tree when homeowners are just trying to maintain their property. She’d like to see a tiered system based on the number of trees cut down.

Also, she objected to a fee for mobile homes. That says, “Bainbridge Island doesn’t want mobile homes; Bainbridge Island doesn’t want affordable housing.” For any fee for homeowners, she’d like those who can’t afford it to be able to get a waiver. “A cost-burdened family should not have any additional burdens” for permits, she said.

Councilmember Christy Carr said she’d like to see the fees reflect community values. Councilmember Joe Deets agreed, mentioning a solar permit as an example – “things we’d like them to do.” Deets also supported an increase in fees over time. “A flood of applications would put a lot of stress on staff,” he said.

Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said the most complaints she hears about permits is they take too long to get. She said if the process is improved it would save staff time and reduce costs.

King said city staff will review the costs and council comments and come up with a plan for the public to review, but emphasized, “Those who see the benefit pay the fee.”

Tribal relations

Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman spoke to the council about an agreement signed in 2001 to strengthen the relationship between the two governments and to resolve specific issues. Once those issues were resolved the process went by the wayside, and he’d like to start it up again. Forsman said he could see the committee meeting at least annually, and also when the need arises.

Councilmembers, many of whom have been on the board for years, said they didn’t even know about the agreement. “Did we drift away?” Hytopoulos asked. “How can we avoid that happening again?”

Forsman didn’t place blame. But councilmembers agreed they want to get that intergovernmental committee going again. It is supposed to contain three elected officials from both bodies. The council said it would pick them after council elections in November.

All agreed they share concerns on specific issues, especially the environment and managing growth. Deets mentioned the roundabouts on Highway 305. “Our issues are your issues” on that project, he said.

Deputy mayor Michael Pollock agreed with Forsman that treaty rights are supposed to be the “Supreme law of the land.” He added he is looking forward to working with the tribe on the problem of “environmental degradation.”

Joe Clark

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