Archive for March, 2009

Last night Council member Kim Brackett dropped a bombshell during Council deliberations on cuts to community organizations. Explaining that she had not been able to attend the Council retreat in January, she said it was her understanding that at the retreat, City Administrator Mark Dombroski said community organizations were “feeding at the public trough.” She asked if that was a true account of what he said.

Before she received a response, both Mayor Darlene Kordonowy and Councilor Barry Peters intervened to cut off discussion. They should have let Dombroski answer. (more…)

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In response to City Council’s deep cuts to the financial support of the island’s social service and arts organizations last night, Rod Stevens sent this email around:

“Last night the Council made significant funding cuts in programs serving the arts, humanities and the needy.  Council members choked  up and cried before they went ahead and voted for the cuts.  And yet  several weeks ago these same people happily passed a million dollar,  time-and-materials contract with Heery International for design and management of the Winslow Tomorrow streetscape project, despite community protests that there City has been unable to manage very similar contracts such as the one with Tetra Tech on the wastewater treatment plant.  If the City had put half as much time into bidding  and negotiating that work as it spent cutting the arts, humanities  and social services, perhaps it could have paid for those cuts with the savings in the Heery contract.  This tells me that this streetscape project is a higher priority.”

You can read about last night’s cuts here: communityservices. (this is the agenda bill, which contains details about these contracts. For a description of the Council’s final action, read the Review’s article here.) 

Supporters of City administration and the Council majority have pointed out many times that the current phase of the Heery contract is supposed to be paid with funds other than the City’s depleted general fund.  General fund shortfalls are the reason the Council must make brutal cuts in spending.


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Yesterday, the Council wrestled with ways to cut another $3.5 million from its budget, directing staff to reduce labor costs by $1 million, sell $1 million in surplus property and cut another $1.5 million from expenses using a Council-developed set of priorities. But, according to the Review, Council acknowledged that cuts alone cannot stabilize our foundering City. Among other ideas, they talked about the possibility of moving the island’s municipal court to City Hall, out-sourcing police services to Kitsap County and minimizing long-range planning. 

Over the past several years, City Hall has been wracked with conflict and rancorous dissent.  Council members have vehemently disagreed with the administration and with each other. The public has shown up to Council meetings in larger and angrier numbers. Trust in City Hall has been shredded. As citizens have grown frustrated with their government, displays of temper and disrespect have sometimes substituted for true participation in the democratic process. In my 15 years on the island, this is a low point in civic life. (more…)

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Former P-I reporter Gil Bailey sent these reflections to mark today’s final print edition Seattle P-I.

Mourn not for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, whose print edition ceased publication today (Tuesday). It was not a great newspaper. Sometimes it was not even a good newspaper.

Mourn for the 140 plus women and men who lost their jobs. Care for them, help, support and pray for them. They fought the good fight, and lost because of the owner of the P-I, the Hearst Corporation.

Business decisions, some very bad judgments, and the owner’s basic lack of interest in its newspapers killed the P-I, and make its new online operation very questionable.

Only in small part the P-I is a victim of the internet which  destroyed classified advertising, and cut into readership. (more…)

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Next Wednesday, the Council will “review options for trimming the 2009 Budget expenses to match revenues and provide budget policy guidance,” according to the City’s website. Although most of us don’t have enough familiarity with the day to day operations of City Hall to decide which specific cuts should be made, we all have opinions about the general areas of City spending that should be saved or axed. Some people even think we should raise taxes or issue bonds. How do you think the administration and Council should approach its budget problems?

If and when the Council cuts the arts and social services out of its budget, how should we shore up those crucial aspects of our community? Anybody have any ideas–aside from more private donations?


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More new blogs

Councilman Barry Peters has a new blog. In his words, it’s “designed to describe city facts and issues as I understand them, and to express my views and opinions.”  He includes his email address after each post, he says, so you can communicate with him that way, instead of “posting them on the webpage and wondering whether I saw the comment.” Click here to check it out. (Is he running for something?)

Carleen Gosney, of Windermere Real Estate, has a blog about Bainbridge Island real estate, with interesting facts and statistics about the local market. You can read it here.

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Of the many phrases that have  become sad cliches during this global economic crisis, one of the most telling is “moral hazard.” 

The Wikipedia definition says, “Moral hazard arises because an individual or institution does not bear the full consequences of its actions, and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than it otherwise would, leaving another party to bear some responsibility for the consequences of those actions.”

Thus, while the rest of us watch retirement accounts crater and jobs disappear, some fortunate few will not bear the consequences of their own actions but will be able to “socialize” their downside–spread it around to the entire community. The phrase is most often used in the context of the government bailout of private industry.

It may not be the ordinary use of the term, but our City’s multi-million dollar shortfall feels a lot like the fallout from moral hazard. Few of those who reaped the benefits of the City’s real estate-fueled boom years, with its overstaffing, massive consulting bills and pet project indulgence, will feel the true impact of their decisions.

Instead, all of us must share the burden. Everyone has watched as their own favorite municipal programs are cut, whether it’s bike lanes, shoreline restoration or neighborhood road repair. Six City employees have been laid off, with more to come. Yesterday, we saw the first job casualty in the arts community, due to impending City cuts: Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanties Council Director Zon Eastes will leave his post on April 15. There will be more, not only in the arts, but in the social services as well. And that doesn’t begin to reach the impact on all of the islanders served by these agencies. (more…)

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The purpose of tonight’s workshop is, according to Finance Chair Barry Peters, to decide what our comfort level is in the revenue projections for the year. Mark Dombroksi has estimated that the year’s “gap” in the tax supported revenues and expenditures could be as much as $3.4 million. Peters thinks it’s more likely about $2.5  million. The Council then has to decide how much money to put in a rainy day reserve.

Debbie Vancil would like to go with Dombroksi’s forecast, because the downside is simply that we have more cash at the end of the year. She observes that a lot of people in the audience tonight are from the social services sector and are wondering how services will be cut.  (more…)

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Bob Scales has launched a new blog, Bainbridge Island FOG (Form of Government).

Here’s the link:   http://bainbridgefog.wordpress.com/

Scales, who announced his candidacy for mayor last month, wrote in an email that he created the blog in order “to get the community conversation started.” On May 19, islanders will vote on whether to change from a Council-Mayor form of government, to a Council-Manager form. The blog contains summaries of the relevant state statutes, a discussion of the pros and cons, and an opportunity to weigh in on the issues. (more…)

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I received this email, a public document, from several sources over the weekend. It is a statement from Council member Barry Peters, Finance Committee Chair, to a member of an arts organization, concerning the City budget crisis and the near-certainty that the City will cease funding community organizations at the end of April. (I’ve made no changes to the document, other than to delete names of the citizens mentioned in the email). 

Thank you for calling me on Friday to discuss city finances and the challenges we face during this crisis year as we try to figure out what portion of the nearly $900,000 of 2009 budgeted community organization contracts the City can afford.

I want to confirm in writing — and share with my Council colleagues — the gist of the personal opinions I expressed to you during our hour’s conversation.  I very much appreciated your recognition of the hard financial realities that the City is up against during this financial crisis year.   (more…)

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