Numbers, numbers and more numbers

Every so often, the city council gets to spend a few weeks performing its most important task: nitpicking, dissecting and deciding the city’s $27.6 million dollar budget.

On the surface, the Council’s conversation with Mayor Cary Bozeman’s office and the finance director revolves around a bunch of dollar signs, but in the bigger picture, the council has the right to hire new positions or limit people’s salaries.

Sometimes they can decide to create a new department as well.

After Finance Director Michael Wilson presented the final budget recommendations of all the department heads to the city council in the last two weeks, the city council countered on Tuesday with a list of 18 changes it would like to make.

The suggestions include freezing salaries on employees, reducing the marketing budget from the mayor’s office and decreasing the technology department’s budget for equipment.

On Wednesday, at a study session meeting, Wilson, Bozeman and other department directors such as Fire Chief Al Duke spent about three hours responding to the city council’s recommendations.

Bozeman said he wanted to negotiate several of the council recommendations.

“I am not happy with the budget process this year,” he said. “We haven’t been as collaborative as we could have been. It was a little bit like pulling teeth.”

Eric Younger, the vocal director of the council’s fiscal and operations committee, agrees. Last year, he, Cecil McConnell and Mike Short sat on the group to work with department heads to decide the budget. This year, the administration did the legwork, and then the council had to spend more time asking questions and mulling over the recommendations.

Bozeman said he did not agree with the idea of freezing salaries for all employees on the management salary plan, which Wilson said could save the city $25,000.

“I think it will create more problems than it will solve” Bozeman said. “I think it will cause moral issues with the managers. Most of our managers go way beyond the call of duty on their job.”

However, Younger believes it is necessary.

“There’s a bigger message in freezing those salaries. One, we feel the city’s salaries are more than in the public sector. Second, we are facing escalating health care costs at a rate the city can no longer afford.”

Bozeman also did not agree with the council’s recommendation to eliminate the project administrator position from the Economic Development Department (currently held by Kathy McCluskey), and hire an employee with a lower salary in her place.

“With the loss of Kathy McCluskey I worry that Gary Sexton will be incredibly overloaded with projects,” he said. Bozeman sited 12 projects that are currently underway at the city, from the conference center to the Westpark redevelopment that Sexton oversees. McCluskey has watched over the police station remodel plans, fire station construction and the purchase of police and fire equipment.

During a recess in the study session, Duke said there has to be someone with technical knowledge to oversee the projects like McCluskey has.

“An architect can draw really nice plans but you have to stay on top of the contractor,” he said. “If you make a mistake there it can cost you thousands of bucks.”

Duke has spent two days out of his five-day work week lately working on the planning of the new fire station. He works with the architects and McCluskey to decide the exact dimensions of rooms, materials pricing, and details such as what voltage to wire the rooms with.

Additionally, Bozeman disagreed with the council’s recommendation to trim his supplies and services budget by $65,000.

Wilson said about $50,000 of that is used as marketing tools for the city. McConnell asked the mayor why he needs marketing money when the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce and the Kitsap Visitors Convention Bureau are designed to advertise for the city.

Bozeman said those two groups have traditionally not advertised for the city. Added assistant Sherrill Huff Menees, “The chamber and the VCB don’t do any marketing for the city of Bremerton. They (market) for every part of Kitsap County, but not Bremerton.”

Bozeman said his office sends out about 400 fliers a month to potential investors throughout the Northwest.

“Anthony’s (restaurant) is reconsidering coming to Bremerton because of the advertising and marketing materials we have sent,” Bozeman said.

The other $15,000 from his services budget he spends on a lobbyist to go down to Olympia and garner state funds for the city’s projects. Last year, the lobbyist brought more than $1.4 million in work, he said.

Wilson continued to review the council’s recommendations, which also included the following:

l switching all the money from the hotel motel tax fund to pay for the conference center beginning in 2005. According to Ruth Enderle, director of the Admiral Theatre, they get about 10 percent, or $90,000 of their budget from that fund.

l raise Ivy Greens cemetery — a city-owned facility — plot fees by 20 percent.

l decrease information systems capital budget by $150,000.

l hire two firefighters instead of an assistant fire chief and a fire safety officer, to save about $30,000.

l raise parks and recreation fees by 10 percent.

l eliminate the public access manager position from the executive budget, to save over $18,000.

Bozeman admits the budget process is very difficult but he appreciates the work the council has done.

“Every city in the state is having a difficult time balancing their budget right now,” he said before the meeting.

The council should have its first reading of the budget at its weekly council meeting next Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m.

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