Bremerton passes 2019 budget, outlines $128 million in spending

Councilors differed over affordable housing, street maintenance.

The Bremerton City Council passed a $128 million budget on Tuesday night.

The 2019 financial blueprint, drafted by the mayor last month and amended by the city council during workshops and public hearings since, earned the support of five out of seven city councilors, with Richard Huddy and Leslie Daugs dissenting.

It projects a five percent decrease in total spending from the current year due mainly to construction projects being completed, city finance director DeWayne Pitts said, and the timing of city grants.

The largest increase comes in the personnel category, where spending will jump 4.84 percent from about $43.9 million this year to just over $46.1 million in 2019.

The city is adding six employees plus one part-time worker, to include three firefighters, two maintenance workers, one human resource analyst and a seasonal/part-time employee, to bring total city staff up to 363 full-time employees.

The budget was adopted with the support of the majority of the council. Some lawmakers took issue with specific line items, even as they voted to codify the spending plan.

Councilor Pat Sullivan opposed a 6.5 percent cut to the city’s residential streets and sidewalks fund, and rejected a $100,000 spending proposal for a rental assistance program supported by affordable housing advocates.

“Our general fund should be used for all the residents – meaning government core services,” she said. “Fire, police, parks, streets.”

Despite her misgivings, Sullivan, who represents East Bremerton’s District 1, said she “would not vote against the budget specifically for this one item,” and voted to pass it.

Councilor Richard Huddy, representing District 6 in northwest Bremerton, was less pliable. He voted against the budget for some of the reasons Sullivan listed.

“The greatest unmet need in this city is the repair and maintenance of our residential streets and sidewalks,” he said. “Frankly, rental assistance, eviction prevention and weatherization of private homes is not a core service of the city.”

Other councilors sang the praises of the new rental assistance program proposed by the mayor. It’s meant to curb evictions by providing “gap” funding to low-income renters and landlords. The $100,000 will be administered by the Bremerton Housing Authority.

“One of the things I was happy to see put on our goals was affordable housing,” councilor Tony Hillman said.

Hillman mentioned the cost of police officers and “navigators,” social workers who help law enforcement deal with the mentally ill, as downstream costs of a citywide homelessness problem.

“If we’re going to continue to sit back and say we don’t have any role in this matter …” he said. “Those things continue to add to our budget.”

Council President Eric Younger said he was not “initially” supportive of the new rental assistance program and still had “a conflict” with it. But, he noted that the majority of the council wanted it to give it a try.

“When you look at the $100,000 amount, and we have a majority of the council that want it,” he said. “I’m not going to vote ‘no’ on a budget because of that one item.”

“When you get down at the local level,” he added, “there’s no more passing the buck. We have to pass a budget. It’s somewhat of a compromise, but hey, that’s life. A lot of good things come from compromises.”

Mayor Greg Wheeler celebrated the budget’s passage on Wednesday, highlighting, among other things, $8.7 million budgeted for improving city streets.

“This money will ensure street maintenance, public safety, and it will increase the walkability of our community,” he wrote.

“Running the city requires a collaborative effort between the city council, my staff and me,” he continued. “I would like to express my gratitude to the city council for being thoughtful in their deliberations and for supporting the programs that I wanted to accomplish.”