My Turn: Put Winslow Way upgrades to a vote

Islander Lin Kamer-Walker writes in this week to argue that the proposed Winslow Way utilities fix will cost the public much and benefit the few.

MY TURN: Who Benefits From Winslow Way Upgrades?

Many of us who live on the island are being affected by rapid cost of living increases for food, gasoline and utilities.

Given this added pressure to our household budgets, one would think that Bainbridge Island’s city administration would promote a capital facilities plan that would take those increases into consideration.

For example, as part of a pragmatic approach to allocating limited revenue dollars to maintain city services, our Public Works Department could repair the two sections of Winslow Way sewer pipes that are leaking, rather than replacing them. Fix the leaking pipes — yes. Buy all new pipes — no.

Our city council presently has four city council members supporting a Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) that places a $9 million dollar burden for new Winslow Way water pipes on just 2,200 core residential water users. These ratepayers, who do not own property on Winslow Way, would be expected to underwrite water pipe improvements for commercial properties.

We’ve been told this is a level of service issue and ratepayers must pay to increase water pipe size to legal standards.

In other cities, it falls to business property owners to make utility improvements and is considered a part of their business investment. Larger water pipes set the stage for building higher buildings that would benefit … well … Winslow Way property owners.

The scenario of residential water rate payers paying for Winslow Way water pipe upgrades is difficult to swallow when, in the last three years, two of the biggest commercial property owners on Winslow Way have bought property or expanded adjacent to their businesses properties.

So, it’s a real slap in the face to those of us who are utility rate payers when the mayor and City Council Members Chris Snow, Kjell Stoknes, Barry Peters and Hillary Franz repeatedly advocate using our money to underwrite utility improvements that benefit Winslow Way property owners, while some of those same owners use their money to increase their commercial property investments.

I don’t have a problem with business expansion and profit; my distress is with using ratepayer dollars to increase the value of commercial property.

One option is to ask Winslow Way property owners to create a Utility Local Improvement District. A $7 million dollar Utility LID is reasonable when you consider that larger water pipes meet the level of safety standard that property owners take on when they purchase commercial property. This isn’t an issue of “community duty” or “level of service” code compliance. It’s an issue of who will benefit and should therefore pay for water pipe upgrades.

We depend on our city staff and electeds to actively reflect the needs of the many, not the few, as they develop and vote on a final capital facilities plan and establish a budget for 2009. Why not place the Winslow Streetscape proposals on the ballot as voter bonds in November? If Bainbridge residents value Winslow Way proposed upgrades as much as we are being told we do, then the bonds will pass overwhelmingly. Include a realistic LID from property owners, and the issue of funding for Winslow Way will be put to rest.

-Lin Kamer-Walker

One thought on “My Turn: Put Winslow Way upgrades to a vote

  1. Lin makes a good point. I think we may sometimes feel a little too entitled to living like brand-new around the island. Now’s a good time to rethink that entitlement.

    Repairs before replacement is a frugal and thoughtful plan during a poor economy. It’s the sewer, for crying out loud. No one’s gonna see what it looks like underground.

    And making those who benefit most pay the lion’s share of repairs etc. seems only fair. How to determine that? A realistic LID makes sense to me.

    Look, I want Winslow Way to have their sewer upgraded as much as anyone—there are too many businesses down there which serve as community centers for all of us, such as T&C and Blackbird Bakery and Eagle Harbor Books. They do need the improvements.

    But let’s make sure we’re not mortgaging our grandchildren to pay for more than we need, and while we’re at it, let’s make sure the bill is paid fairly from only the most appropriate pockets.

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