Budget proposal cuts into the meat of municipal matters

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy wants to trim more than the fat.

Her combined $135.5 million budget proposal for 2009 and 2010 would cut into the meat of emergency services, city staff and several core city functions to offset a continuing trend of falling revenues, largely because of the island’s slowing housing market.

“We’ll have to do more with less,” Kordonowy said during her presentation of the biennial budget to the City Council on Wednesday night.

City staffing levels, under her proposal, would take a 10 percent hit, knocking the city’s 152 full-time positions down to 140 in 2009 and 138 in 2010.

While the city is authorized for 152 employees, the current level is 144.

About a half-dozen positions have remained unfilled to reduce costs after the city’s revenues slipped by about $2.5 million this year. Rather than hand out pink slips, the city will likely not fill some current and expected vacancies to reduce staffing levels to 138.

The City Council praised the budget’s leanness.

Councilman Barry Peters called it a “back-to-basics” budget that helps Bainbridge “resist the temptation of being a city that’s all things to all people.”

Kordonowy’s proposal is an improvement on past draft budgets, said Councilwoman Debbie Vancil.

“I feel like the council’s been listened to,” she told Kordonowy. “You’ve begun the painful reductions in operations (expenses).”

The city public works department would lose the most staff from the reductions, with six positions likely to fall from the payroll list.

Cuts to public works staff and projects would defer many road maintenance projects and reduce the department’s counter service time by 20 hours a week.

The Bainbridge Island Police Department would lose one patrol officer position and a contracted emergency service coordinator.

According to Chief Matt Haney, eliminating a patrol position will limit his department’s ability to respond to emergencies. The loss of emergency service coordinator Ed Call’s position will push many of his duties on to the deputy police chief, a position that was recently vacated.

The department will also receive about 40 percent fewer dollars than it received in 2007 for the purchase of new police vehicles.

The planning department will lose three positions, including a downtown project manager, and will cut counter service hours by eight hours a week.

Staff reductions will mean that the city’s nearly two-dozen citizen committees, commissions and task forces will have less administrative support, and may have to cut back on meetings.

Staff training in the proposed budget would be reduced and limited to the highest priority areas.

City Administrator Mark Dombroski said staff and training reductions will likely affect morale at City Hall.

“We’re concerned that when you reduce training opportunities and advancement opportunities and you increase the employee workload, you sometimes lose your best employees, and that’s not good for us,” he said.

The mayor’s budget proposal is the first developed under the city’s new biennial budget process.

While the 2009 component shows a reduction from $67.3 million this year to $53.5 next year, the 2010 component is expected to swell to $82 million, largely because of three large capital projects: an expansion of the senior center, a new police and court facility and Winslow Way utility improvements.

More than $2 million in council-approved bonds will fund roads-related capital projects over the next two years.

The proposed budget also shows greater reliance on voter-approved bonds to fund $9 million worth of capital projects, including the senior center and several non-motorized transportation improvements, between 2010 and 2012.

The council will hold a workshop on the mayor’s preliminary budget on Oct. 15 at City Hall.