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1/31/2012 – The press reported yesterday that some members on Council want to replace our City Manager, Brenda Bauer.  I believe that, if this change gets majority approval at the Council meeting tomorrow (2/1), the 4 Council members (Lester, Ward, Bonkowski and Blossom) who are pushing to replace our City Manager will discover that it will be hard to find a better qualified applicant.  And our City’s reputation for recurring Councilmember clashes with city management will be a barrier to good applicants.

Examples of Prior Lack of Collaboration

For example, City Manager Mark Dombrowski resigned in October 2009 when he perceived that the City and his leadership were being undermined by some, like Councilmember Knobloch.  As Mr. Dombroski left, as reported in the press, he filed a public records request for communications between Mr. Knobloch and the plaintiffs who attacked the City with the Bainbridge Ratepayer Alliance lawsuit (a lawsuit that the plaintiffs have not withdrawn).

Now, three Councilmembers who former Councilmember Knobloch endorsed for election last November (members Ward, Bonkowski and Blossom) are working with Mayor Lester to replace our current highly qualified and experienced City Manager.  (Disclosure: I was a candidate running for re-election against Mr. Bonkowski.)

The City Council has gone through 6 or 7 City leaders since 2003, and several have left because some Council members (with some vocal citizens) have undermined public confidence in the City and its management.  For example, in mid-2011, three Council members (Lester, Knobloch and Brackett) voted against changing Brenda Bauer’s appointment from “interim” to regular.

The City’s reputation for lack of collaboration is easy to find on the internet.  That reputation has hurt us in the past.  Before finding Brenda Bauer, in early 2010, the Council had unanimously favored a very experienced City Manager applicant, but he decided he was unwilling to take the Bainbridge City Council’s offer.

And there are other risks?  Yes.  What else, and who else, might our city lose if Council votes this Wednesday to replace our City Manager?  The City has regained financial sustainability, managerial teamwork, and strategic planning momentum. I can see all three being hurt by a disruption of management at the top.

Our City Manager’s Strong Record

What’s our City Manager’s record?   Very strong.  In May 2010, Brenda Bauer was unanimously selected by the 7-member Council.  No one is perfect.  No one walks on water.  But Ms. Bauer accomplished the key goals that the Council set for her, and more:

  • As requested by Council, she moved quickly to find and hire capable new leadership for City Attorney, Finance Director and Deputy City Manager positions.
  • As requested, she rebuilt the city’s financial sustainability.
  • For the City’s General Fund reserves, which had fallen from $2 million to zero in the first two years of the 2008-09 recession, her team and Council rebuilt reserves to $6 million by the end of 2011 (with $2 million coming from a legal settlement with Ferries, and $4 million from expense reduction, streamlining of operations, a couple of sales of surplus assets, and selective focusing of capital projects). Continue Reading »

[12/20/2011 update]

Happily, on December 14th, 2011, the City Council unanimously approved a 45% reduction of all City water rates, across the board, to take effect with water used after mid-January 2012.  Savings will therefore show up in water bills received by customers in early March.

This Council action reduces rates an additional 11% beyond the 34% reduction previously approved by the Council, which took effect in the water bills mailed to customers at the beginning of November 2011.

Recommendation Pertaining to City Water Utility

A week earlier, a majority of the Council also voted to follow in their entirety the recommendations of the majority vote of the citizen volunteers on the Utility Advisory Committee:

  1. The City should retain the Water Utility for a period of at least two (2) years through the end of 2013;
  2. The City Council should direct that the UAC be given a prominent oversight role in reviewing the operational expenses of the Water Utility to ensure that operating expenses are in line with revenues generated by water rates competitive with the rates quoted by the KPUD;
  3. The City Council should direct the UAC to undertake, either on its own or in conjunction with outside consultants, a comprehensive review of the entire Water Utility rate structure to ensure that water rates are competitive (but not necessarily identical) with the rates quoted by KPUD across the entire spectrum of classes of ratepayers;
  4. The City Council should direct that City Staff work with the UAC to develop the City’s Water System Plan; and
  5. Water Utility rates should be reduced across the board for all classes of ratepayers by a total of 45% (including the 34% rate reduction already passed by the Council), effective January 16, 2012.

The Council also directed that the City water utility be staffed in 2012 by 4.5 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs).  The City has significantly improved the utility’s operating efficiency since 2009, when the utility required about 10 FTEs.  In 2010, the utility operated with 7.5 FTEs, and in 2011 6.5 FTEs.

Sewer Rates Held Down

In other developments relating to City utilities, on December 14th, a nearly unanimous City Council (all but Bill Knobloch, who abstained) agreed to eliminate a 19.5% increase in City sewer rates, which in 2009 had been scheduled to take effect in January 2012.  The citizen volunteers on the UAC, after conferring with City Administration, unanimously recommended that the City’s sewer fund finances were adequate for 2012 and no increase was needed that year, and perhaps none will be needed in 2013.  2012 sewer rates will therefore be unchanged from 2011. Continue Reading »

[Updated 6/12/11]   “Back to basics” — especially as applied to road work — is one of the watchwords of our 2011 City budget.  And finding dollars to repair crumbling infrastructure is a challenge that COBI shares with most of Washington’s 280 cities.

This article is an invitation to you in the community to join us in thinking strategically about what we’d like our City to do about maintaining, preserving, repairing and perhaps improving some or all of our 142 miles of paved city roads.

What should our strategic priorities be for roads, and for the related topic of bikeways and walkways to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe along our roads?  400 citizens told the Council in a 2008 community values survey that the top priority for capital projects would be safe routes for bikes and pedestrians along busy roads. And I expect that a similar survey, if we were to do one this year, would also prioritize road repair, preservation and maintenance.

This article outlines three of the basic types of roadwork that the City will need to find ways to pay for:

  • major reconstruction projects for seriously damaged roads (such as Winslow Way and Rockaway Beach Road) and the building of any new bike lanes, all of which in the future will probably require state or federal grants (if available) and/or voter-approved bonds for such major capital projects;
  • emergency repairs (such as the March 2011 landslide damage on Gertie Johnson Road, as described below), which is a subset of our City’s $2.4 million operating budget for routine road maintenance; and
  • road capital preservation (such as the repairs to Kallgren Road, and the annual chip and seal preservation program, both mentioned below).

Major Reconstruction: Rockaway Beach Road

Rockaway Beach Road needs major reconstruction and structural support.  That road is endangered by several winters of erosion by wave action on the Seattle-facing beach at the foot of the bluff that supports the road. It’s a road that serves about 70 homes along the Eastern shoreline between Eagle Harbor and Blakeley Harbor.  See the slideshow, below, showing the status in recent months.

Continue Reading »

Twenty Bainbridge resident volunteers have just completed an 8-week introduction to the workings of the Bainbridge Island Police Department.

The 10-session course, known as the Citizens’ Police Academy, included 24 hours of instruction on the full array of our city’s police work and responsibilities. It also included guided tours of sites such as the island’s municipal court, the 911 dispatch center (CenCom), the county jail and the coroner’s lab. And each participant was invited to do a 4-hour one-on-one ride-along with an officer on duty.

I was among the 20 citizen volunteers, and I found this 8-week immersion to be full of information of a scope, depth and detail that few of us think about. It was an impressive look at the work our police do in our community.  And I found that police officer responsibilities extend beyond my usual stereotypes of our “police blotter.”

At the Police Academy, we learned that Bainbridge, like most communities, has its share of domestic violence and abuse; DUI incidents; drug use and selling; identity theft; registered sexual offenders; victimization of elders and other vulnerable adults; boating emergencies; paroled former offenders undergoing electronic monitoring; burglaries and thefts. While most drug offenses currently involve marijuana, there is also abuse of prescription drugs and some evidence of increasing use of hard addictive drugs, such as heroin.

Citizen participant Jim Reilly says he found the 8-week Academy quite enlightening.  He says that he and his wife “were surprised to learn the number of different areas covered by our police department, which has only 21 full-time police officers; and this number includes all command personnel and the Chief.  They cover a heck of a lot of bases with limited personnel and should be commended for this.” Continue Reading »

My thanks to voters on Bainbridge Island — and statewide! — for rejecting the 2009 Tim Eyman ballot measure. 

AN EDITORIAL

[Updated] On our general election ballot this month, there’s another Tim Eyman ballot measure that, if passed statewide, will cause debilitating cutbacks in services provided by our cities, counties and state government in Washington.

Please vote “no” on Tim Eyman’s latest ballot measure: I-1033.  It’s on the mail-in ballot that must be postmarked by Tuesday, November 3rd.  It’s opposed by a long list of organizations (see list at the end of this article).

For Bainbridge Island, 1033 would compound our city’s financial challenges caused by the recessionary collapse in revenues that support our City, such as sales taxes and Real Estate Excise Taxes. 1033 would make it harder in 2010 and future years for our City to be able to afford to provide basic services like road maintenance and police protection. Continue Reading »

[2011 Update: After this article was published in 2009, the City Council re-scheduled the Winslow Way reconstruction for 2011 instead of 2010, and the project started slightly ahead of schedule in mid-March. The project budget for the 2011 year of construction is substantially lower than the 2009 estimates described in this 10/8/09 article.  The vast majority of the 2011 construction cost is being paid by Federal and State grants won by COBI, plus $1 million in funding volunteered by Winslow Way property owners. There is virtually no 2011 project expense for the City's general fund tax dollars. Even though the project will repair and replace all utility infrastructure in the street segment, none of the construction cost is being paid by sewer utility ratepayers, and only about $750,000 is being paid by the water utility.]

10/8/2009 — The estimated cost of the Winslow Way infrastructure reconstruction in 2010 has again dropped sharply — by millions.  In my opinion, I cannot imagine the cost of completing the project ever to be lower for our community than, as scheduled, next year.

As announced at a City public meeting on October 5th, the recession has helped drive down the cost of construction materials and contract costs, resulting in another significant drop in estimated project costs for 2010.  This cost decline to the community is in addition to the previously announced awards of $6 million of federal and state grants, plus $1 million in downtown property owner contributions.

The excellent and informative presentation of cost estimates and project status — by Acting City Engineer and Project Manager, Chris Wierzbicki — is on the City’s website, here.

Good news for Winslow utility ratepayers

The good news would especially help Winslow utility ratepayers. The City’s October 5th public meeting announced large reductions in estimated 2010 project costs for the water and sewer utilities. A utility rate study for 2010 is currently underway by the citizen volunteers on the 7-member Utility Advisory Committee; however, the new lower Winslow Way cost estimates have not yet been taken into account in the utility rate study data.

For our Winslow water ratepayers, the utility’s lower share of the 2010 cost is now estimated to be $135,000 less than the $1 million in contributions to the project from about 20 downtown property owners. The Winslow Way project costs for 2010 are expected to require no increase in Winslow water rates for next year.

For our Winslow sewer utility ratepayers, the estimated cost for 2010 has now dropped to $1.0 million — which is much lower than the projected 2010 amount that the City had estimated a year ago. The project plan calls for that $1 million to be financed by a bond (or a bridging loan followed by a bond).

Cost of financing is now relatively low

Coincidentally, other good news surfaced on financial markets recently.  The cost of long-term municipal bond borrowing has fallen dramatically.   Continue Reading »

This is an unusual and important article for me to write, for three reasons.

First, it contains an alert to you, the reader, that a very troubling lawsuit appeal has been filed against the City. That appeal, in my opinion, needlessly risks a financial crisis for our City — and for us as utility ratepayers and taxpayers — with no gain in sight that I can understand. The resulting financial crisis also puts current and future utility infrastructure repair projects in jeopardy.

Simplified summary of BRA lawsuit and appeal against the City

Simplified summary of BRA lawsuit and appeal against the City

Second, if you believe as I do that such an appeal endangers local government finances – please consider expressing your request that the appeal be withdrawn, at a Council meeting, or in writing, or personally to those who are bringing the appeal.

And, third, because I am asking you to consider speaking with the individuals who filed the appeal, I need to refer to them by name – Sally Adams and Dick Allen — the two people who formed a corporation in February called the “Bainbridge Ratepayer Alliance” to sue the City in April. Continue Reading »