BI to set priorities amid budget constraints

The Bainbridge Island City Council has so many wants, but with its limited budget, it needs more than ever to set priorities.

“There are one hundred different initiatives we are working on in some capacity,” city manager Blair King said at the council’s May 14 meeting.

King asked for seven priorities. The last time the council did that exercise, it listed: climate action; Winslow; housing; groundwater; wastewater; the transfer of development rights; and small lot development.

King quickly listed many of the other projects: public transportation shortcomings; $1 million a year is not enough to maintain street maintenance; Winslow water tank; parking solutions; sign regulations; hotel standards; improve city’s website; Senior Center; public art; and a second marine officer were some.

King said he knew it was too big of a task to ask in one night, but the council should start working on it. He said he wouldn’t ask them to put stickers on their top choices, saying with a smile that he knows, “The council hates that.”

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said the choices are “all over the place” and broad so it would be hard to pick the most important ones.

King suggested the council start with generalities and work to specifics—“A bigger bucket to a smaller bucket.” He also suggested they start with ones they have to do because of things like deadlines and legal mandates. “The Comprehensive Plan stands alone. We have to do that,” he said.

Mayor Joe Deets realistically said: “It may be difficult to add things. This list is bulging.”

Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said some of the projects shouldn’t even be on the list because they are on the back burner. Those that are close to being done should be finished and knocked off the list—“the low-hanging fruit.” She would like to see the list organized so they can see how much work has been done and how much is left. “Why look at something we know we’re not ready to do right now?”

Deputy mayor Jon Quitslund said some of the short-term, smaller projects “don’t need the council’s push.” He said they need to identify the items of highest complexity that “require ownership on the part of the council.”

He also said some big issues could be knocked off the list with a little more work.

He mentioned the Housing Action Plan, and how it is done, but “we have not done one thing to act upon the recommendations.” He said affordable housing is a big issue for the council, but there has been little housing planning because there are several flaws in city code. “We don’t have fundamentals in our code to enable planning and permitting different kinds of housing that the market has not been delivering to us,” he said.

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said some jobs could be looked at differently. “To improve the website would be an enormous job and cost a lot,” she said. But instead of “pulling it apart and stitching it all over again,” she said Artificial Intelligence would help manage it.

Budget talks

City Finance director DeWayne Pitts in a PowerPoint presentation went over the 2025-26 budget. The slide show says operating costs will be paid with current revenues; water, sewer and storm funds will be self-supporting through ratepayers; overhead costs will be fairly distributed among funds; and automatic price indexes are used for most fee-based revenues.

Economic drivers include higher-than-normal inflation, which affects labor and construction costs. Interest rates will likely decrease as inflation decreases, which will impact investment revenue. Revenue will be flat while expenses increase up to 4%, the PowerPoint says. Labor costs will go up 6% with contracts for police and machinists coming up. Property and sales taxes will be up a little, while utility taxes will go up 10% each year. Personnel and capital costs will rise 6%.

We will “continue to fine-tune it as information develops,” Pitts said.

King added, “It’s a tighter budget period than we’ve had in the past.”

The council was realistic about the news.

Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki said: “Revenue is flat, costs are up—we can’t do that for long.”

“We have to be really conservative” in our spending, Councilmember Ashley Mathews added.

Deets said, “The bottom line for us is we have to adjust to lower revenue spending.”