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Bremerton City Council approves ’09 budget with a few minor tweaks

Bremerton City Council unanimously approved the 2009 city budget Wednesday night, but with a few additional changes.

The nine city council members spent four hours mulling over the budget and the proposed amendments, which included eliminating Bremerton Fire Department Assistant Chief Mick McKinley’s position and hiring a permanent legal technician for Bremerton Municipal Court.

The council made several cuts to account for the $4.4 million deficit. Cuts included laying off four city employees and closing city hall public service counters on Fridays.

“It’s never easy to make significant changes,” said former financial services director Laura Lyon. “A no-impact to our citizens is not going to be possible.”

Before the council could vote on the budget, they voted on several proposed amendments to the finance plan.

Councilman Mike Shepherd proposed the first amendment to eliminate the fire department’s assistant fire chief position.

Fire Chief Al Duke said the assistant fire chief handles the day-to-day operations of the department and works on facility and staffing issues. He went on to say that should the position be eliminated, he would be forced to take on the assistant fire chief responsibilities, on top of his regular duties.

“It’d be very damaging (to eliminate the position),” Duke said.

The amendment failed 7-2.

Shepherd later proposed to eliminate Economic Redevelopment Projects Administrator Gary Sexton’s position as well.

“The fact is that we don’t have enough money to pay for everything,” he said.

Several people stepped forward to show their support of Sexton and his efforts to make downtown Bremerton a pedestrian-friendly area.

“This man has done more individually for Bremerton than anyone,” said Mayor Cary Bozeman. “It just isn’t fair and doesn’t make any economic sense.”

Some city council members said economic development and Sexton’s role is vital to Bremerton’s growth.

“Economic development is the engine that moves this city,” said Councilman Brad Gehring.

The amendment failed 6-3; Sexton retained his position with the city.

The council also rejected an amendment to redirect real estate excise tax money from construction projects to street paving. The budget does not provide money to pave any roads in 2009.

The council did pass two budget amendments at the meeting. City council voted to add a permanent legal technician to the Bremerton Municipal Court, costing nearly $36,000, and authorized $12,000 to sustain the city’s summer playground program at several city parks.

Bremerton Municipal Court Judge James Docter said court filings have greatly increased in recent years, making it difficult for its part-time staff to keep up.

The additional dollars needed to fund the permanent legal technician and playground program will come from the city’s reserve fund.

Gehring said Wednesday’s decisions are just a few pieces of the budget-balancing puzzle.

“Tonight is just the beginning,” he said. “We have to do a lot more in the coming fiscal year to keep our finger on the pulse.”

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