Scales: ‘The mayor is building a budgetary house of cards’

Former City Councilman Bob Scales says the mayor’s proposed budget would spend too much and cut too little. Read his column below.

Despite a global economic crisis and declining city revenues, Mayor Darlene Kordonowy has proposed yet another unsustainable budget. Over the next two years she plans to add more than $30 million to city coffers by raising taxes, rates and fees, and by going even further into debt.

The mayor needs this extra cash so she can launch the most aggressive capital spending program in the city’s history – $50 million for a handful of mega-projects. This spending program will leave the city with crippling debt, homeowners with higher property taxes and utility customers with massive rate increases, including a 42 percent increase in storm water fees and a 44 percent increase in sewer rates.

The mayor wants to maintain city bureaucracy at a time when other cities are slashing operating expenses and laying off employees. If the City Council approves the mayor’s reckless agenda, they will likely condemn the city to years of financial turmoil.

Even if the council were to approve the mayor’s massive capital spending program, only a small fraction of the projects would ever be completed. According to the 2007 benchmarking study, the city has never successfully finished even a modest annual capital program on time and on budget.

The city’s public works department completes at most 30 percent of the projects that are funded each year. Yet the mayor wants to quadruple the size of the capital program, wasting even more taxpayer dollars on the city’s inefficient and unproductive bureaucracy.

The mayor promises dramatic cuts in operating expenses to help offset declining revenues, yet her proposed budget maintains the existing structure, function and operation of city government and fails to take real steps to improve efficiency, productivity or performance.

The benchmarking study found that Bainbridge Island is overstaffed, under performing and less efficient than comparable cities. The report presented a series of recommendations for improving productivity and reducing costs including staffing cuts.

In the past, the mayor has stubbornly refused to cut any staff positions. Now she claims that the 2009-2010 budget will cut 13.5 FTEs (full time employees) over the next two years. However, most of these staff cuts are illusory including temporary positions already scheduled to expire, positions that will remain on the books but be temporarily unfunded, and unidentified positions to be cut through unspecified efficiency improvements.

In fact, while the mayor claims to cut 13.5 FTEs in the next two years, the actual number of new cuts that will produce real savings over the long term is only 3.5 FTEs

The benchmarking study found that the only city department that was understaffed was the police department and recommended that more patrol officers be added to the force. Last year, the council did just that. Now the mayor is proposing to cut two patrol officers saving $120,000 a year. This would result in a 15 percent reduction in the number of officers on the street and would increase response times to 911 calls.

Instead of cutting patrol officers, the council should cut the vacant deputy chief position. This administrative position was added just two years ago at the request of the chief of police. The cost of the deputy chief is the same as two patrol officers so both of those patrol positions could be saved.

Non-motorized transportation has consistently ranked at the top of the Island ’s Community Values surveys. In 2005, the City Council adopted budget guidelines to increase city support for non-motorized projects. These guidelines, which appear in the mayor’s 2009-2010 proposed budget, require the city to spend at least $800,000 of general fund revenues each year on these projects.

One would therefore expect the mayor’s budget to contain general fund support for non-motorized projects and yet the mayor does not allocate a single dollar of city money for such improvements. Instead, the mayor wants to ask voters to approve a $6 million non-Motorized transportation bond. Voters would be forced to raise their own property taxes in order to realize one of their highest priorities while city money is spent on projects with much less community support.

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to spend existing city revenues on projects the people want and send the lower priority projects out for a vote instead?

Every year during the budget process, the public has an opportunity to comment on the mayor’s proposed budget. Like all public hearings at the city, this is a one-way communication where the mayor, council and staff listen but do not respond to comments and questions from the community.

Perhaps it’s time for that process to change. Why not allow members of the public to ask questions that the mayor and her staff will respond to? Questions could be submitted in advance and then be discussed at the public hearing. This kind of Q&A would help the public understand the mayor’s priorities and plans for the city. It would also help the council ask better questions of their own and to ultimately make better decisions.

This is the second year in a row that the mayor and her staff have presented the council with an inflated and unrealistic budget. It is unfortunate that the mayor’s vision of a sustainable future is not based in financial reality. Once again the council will be forced to cut millions of dollars from the mayor’s budget in order to bring it back down to earth.

The mayor won’t come down willingly and her staff will throw up many obstacles. I hope the council has the fortitude to do what is needed. The future of our community is at stake.

-Bob Scales, former Bainbridge City Council member

7 thoughts on “Scales: ‘The mayor is building a budgetary house of cards’

  1. Hey, Bob, when are you going to “officially” announce your run for the Mayor’s spot? I have asked you this many times and can’t remember your last dodge.

    See the call for recall of Mayor K. Search DECEIT DECEPTION RECALL MAYOR BAINBRIDGE.

    When will we see the announcement. Start early and smoke some other candidates like Bill K.

  2. Its time for our city government to cut expenses and get back to providing just basic and essential services. The Mayor’s style of leadership has provided us with expensive special projects that pander to a handful of Islanders that have their own special interests.

    We once were an affordable community focused on families and our youth. Now only elite families can afford to move here and the Island has become unfriendly to youth.

    We keep spending our tax dollars on consultants that our city officials ignore and even more tax dollars to defend lawsuits brought by citizens that have been wronged by the city. With strong leadership and simple common sense, we don’t need consultants. If the city employees were directed to serve the citizens then we wont spend huge sums of money on lawsuits filed by citizens that were dis-served. The city should only enforce laws and ordinances where there is clearly established authority. The city has a horrible record of losing lawsuits brought on by wrongful city enforcement, restrictions, or actions.

    Instead of listening to consultants, disgruntled city employees, and special interest lobbyists, the Mayor should poll all the taxpayers… the silent majority. I suspect we’d learn that the taxpayers don’t want Winslow Tomorrow, do want the best play fields for our youth, do want the potholes in our streets filled, don’t want more police, don’t want to pay for more open space, and would love to have the old restroom and picnic shelter back at Waterfront Park.

    Why are the opinions of off-Island consultants valued more than the wants, needs and desires of our resident taxpayers? Who is the city trying to please… the consultants or we, the taxpayers. There is more to be learned about what taxpayers want by spending time at Town and Country, rather than paying consultants to compare Bainbridge to the staffing in other “similar” cities. Even more could be learned by listening to the shoppers at Safeway, because the majority of our hardworking families shop there.

    Twenty years ago, this community was poorly represented, but better served when our services were provided by Kitsap County. We wouldn’t need as many city directors and employees if we governed ourselves, but contracted for most of our municipal services from the county. Twenty years later, we are, once again, poorly represented (and governed), but now we are also poorly served. We need to elect better governance and hire (or contract for) better service. But what do I know, I’m not a consultant, I’m just a hardworking taxpayer that shops at Safeway.

  3. I see the City of Sultan has decided to save money by disbanding their city police department and contracting with their county sheriff for police services. The Sultan police officers will transfer to the sheriff’s office, the sheriff’s office will provide the same level of service to the citizens of Sultan, and the city will save significant tax dollars. Sounds like a win for all concerned. If the City of Sultan’s savings are extrapolated to the Bainbridge budget, our savings would be over $400,000.00. Time to think out of the box and consider all alternatives. I’d love to hear opinions on the upside and downside of such a plan.

  4. I’m confused. I tried looking at the basic math of police staffing and ended up scratching my head. I have to admit that I only have a simple calculator and not one of those fancy ones like they use at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or AIG (or like the one our city must have used to calculate how much to pay Gale Cool for his land).

    My simple calculator tells me that the staff hours required in order to protect our town 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, with 3 patrol officers always on duty, plus 1 sergeant always on duty, equals 672 staff hours per week. When I divide this by 40 hours per week for an FTE, my calculator tells me we can always have 4 cops on duty with only 17 FTE police officers. So I’m confused as to why the city has 22 FTE police officers yet warns us that they can’t provide more than 2 or 3 on duty at a time? It doesn’t seem to add up. Maybe I should invest in a government issued calculator.

  5. JP, Yes, you are confused. I suggest you actually take the time to inquire with someone that knows about scheduling, contractual obligations, the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and the necessary work beyond driving around in a police car on patrol. If you were to ask the police chief or someone else that knows the reality of the business, I think you would do just fine with the calculator you already own.

    As for contracting police services out, I would also suggest that you look into that with people that have dealt with it, including the sheriff (who, I am told, is not in the slightest interested in handling island police services). There are many things in a basic services contract that do not cover what our city police do for us. For instances, vacation house checks, unlocking cars for those that lock themselves out, a guarantee of 2 officer minimum on the island at a time, in-depth follow-up investigations (especially for misdemeanor crimes), accident investigations on private properties like Safeway lot & the ferry terminal lots, and the list goes on. I believe that you either foregoe those services or pay dearly for them on a contract.

  6. Hunter, I concede that I am no expert on the details of policing.

    It seems logical that scheduling challenges can be more efficiently mitigated when you have a staff the size of the county sheriff to pull from as opposed to the significantly smaller staff of our city police force. I hear our police department saying they can barely guarantee two officers on duty at any given time with 22 FTE officers on staff. My point was that it appears the county sheriff could guarantee 3-4 officers on the island at any given time with an incremental increase in their staff of only 17 FTE officers. Contracting for 17 officers might cost less than employing 22 officers and the the 17 officer contract could guarantee potentially twice as many officers on duty at any given time.

    And can’t the contractual obligations be satisfied by negotiating between the police department, the city, and the county? The contractual obligations could also be addressed before a new contract is signed for next year.

    I am totally ignorant as to how the Fair Labor Standards Act is an issue. I would welcome your insight, wisdom and knowledge.

    You say we would “pay dearly” if we were to contract for services such as “vacation house checks”, unlocking cars for people that have locked themselves out, in-depth follow-up investigations (especially for misdemeanor crimes), accident investigations on private property, etc. My concern is that we are paying dearly for those services now and that there are private companies that provide house sitting services and there are locksmiths and AAA that unlock cars. If someone wants those extra services, then only that person, not all of us tax payers, should pay for the cost of those extra services. And in-depth follow-up investigations, particularly of misdemeanors crimes, may be a luxury we can no longer afford in this age of declining municipal revenues.

    Hunter, I question whether additional police officers are necessary or a luxury. And if they are necessary, is adding expensive FTE officers to our city staff the most cost-effective way to deliver those police services the taxpayers want and are willing to pay for?

  7. JP,
    According to state law, even if the city were to contract for police services with the sheriff, every single officer that is currently working for the city would automatically become deputies. The sheriff would have no choice but to inherit every officer. They cannot be fired or layed off. You would still be paying taxes and having to cover the sheriff’s budget as an island tax payer for every officer that is currently employed by the city. Also, it would violate labor laws to attempt to get a contract for partial police services with the sheriff’s office. It is an all or nothing deal. If history is a gauge for the future, I am willing to bet that although the sheriff would be forced to hire the 22 bainbridge cops, you would only see 1 or possibly 2 on the island at any given time. You would likely lose your manned police station on the island. Citizens would be doing a lot of filing of reports over the phone for a lot of crimes. And so on.

    You are right, all of the city’s concerns and wants coud be addressed in a contract for services. But every item you add beyond “basic law enforcement response” is gonna cost you. ALthough I only go to Vegas occasionally, I am willing to bet that by the time you add on what island citizens have come to expect & deserve, the contract would be costing you a pretty penny. In fact, I sincerely doubt that you would get the savings you are thinking, if any. I sincerely doubt that the sheriff would devote all of his new 22 island officers he was obligated to hire to actually serve the island. You would get 1 or 2 at best with minimum services. You are right that we are paying for the services we get, but it is my understanding that is what the citizens as a whole want. If the island locals only want a minimum police response with little proactive law enforcement or community involvement, we could probably do fine with what the city has or even less.

    Thanks JP for a good conversations! I appreciate your way of talking about issues.

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