City (finally) passes 2009 budget

It wasn’t easy, but they finally did it.

The City Council has wrangled for months over the 2009 budget, sometimes subjecting themselves to 12-hour budget meetings to hash out the details.

The budget was contentious up to the last minute, with Councilman Bill Knobloch again proposing a delay for the Winslow Way project. In the end, the budget squeaked by with a 4-3 vote.

City Council narrowly approves 2009 budget

By Tristan Baurick

It took a few extra months, but the City Council on Wednesday night narrowly passed next year’s $42.8 million budget.

It’s a limited compared to budgets in the recent past, with fewer capital projects and less funding for community groups.

“It doesn’t satisfy everyone. It may not satisfy anyone,” Councilman Chris Snow said. “But it does move us forward on some urgent projects.”

The 2010 portion of the biannual budget was endorsed but not officially approved on Wednesday.
About one-third of the 2009 budget went to staff salaries and benefits. Another third was designated for capital projects.

Narrowed in scope by sharply declining revenues, the budget “represents the best we can do,” Snow said.

But other council members said the city could have done better.

“This is the least favorite budget I’ve worked with,” said Council Chairman Bill Knobloch, who has first elected in 2002. “It does not serve the communities priorities.”

Knobloch was joined by council members Kim Brackett and Debbie Vancil in voting against the 2009 budget and its $13.6 million capital spending plan.

A major sticking point was the $1.4 million in spending for reconstructing Winslow Way, a multi-year project with a total cost of $12.3 million. The project would upgrade below-ground utilities, improve stormwater treatment, widen sidewalks and add bicycle lanes.

“This budget is obsessed with Winslow Way,” Knobloch said.

Council members opposed to the project said it uses too many of the city’s scarce dollars and may disrupt downtown commerce during tough economic times.

Knobloch’s proposal to delay the project until city finances are on stronger footing was voted down. A similar proposal postponing the project one year was defeated last week in a 4 to 3 vote.

Councilman Barry Peters defended the project, noting that $7 million had been trimmed from initial estimates and that grants and donations will cover over half of the remaining cost.

He said several downtown business owners urged the city to move forward and end its two decades of discussions on the project.

“They’re asking the council (to) make a decision and stick with it,” Peters said.

Further delays could imperil state and federal grants and bolster the island’s reputation as a city that turns back giveaways, Snow said.

“Trying to change grants is not like changing tickets at Benaroya Hall,” he said.

Council members apologized to the numerous community groups that were granted fewer dollars than they’d hoped for.

Council members disagreed over how much support the budget provided for nonmotorized transportation, affordable housing and road maintenance. While some said no funding was provided for these areas, others pointed to various budget line items indicating funding.

“It’s not balanced,” Vancil said, noting the financial weight given to Winslow Way. “It’s like a teeter-totter with a big heavy stone at one end.”

Councilwoman Hilary Franz countered that the budget meets core needs, reduces staff numbers, and includes elements that foster environmental sustainability and human services.

“I’m very pleased with the work on this,” she said. “There’s a lot to be proud of here that’ll build community.”