City lacks economic resources for urban-style services | Guest Viewpoint

Brent Shirley
Posted 7/17/23

The Leader had a front-page story about spending $5-plus million to destroy the character of our sweet little golf course to create a “central park.”  

Two points: PT is not a …

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City lacks economic resources for urban-style services | Guest Viewpoint


The Leader had a front-page story about spending $5-plus million to destroy the character of our sweet little golf course to create a “central park.” 

Two points: PT is not a big city. We already have a plethora of many, many parks available to all.

Last week a story about building a new pool/wellness center for $38 million or $53 million. Operating costs? About $1.2 million to $2.4 million annually. 

This in a small rural city that cannot afford to maintain existing streets?  

These great ideas come to you courtesy of outside consultants paid thousands of dollars by aforesaid city. In other words, your tax dollars. How soon we forget.

A very few years ago the city of Port Townsend was unable to secure the funding to complete four (I think it was) affordable housing units in a structure they barged in from Victoria.

Here’s a history lesson. When Brent Shirley moved to PT in 1976 it was a sleepy little town about to wake up to its financial reality: old and crumbling infrastructure, pot-holed streets, a gravity water system nearing its estimated lifespan, and a wastewater treatment plant that was required by the state to be replaced. This was at a time when residents paid no more than $8 a month for utilities and had a police department that was lucky to field two officers per shift.

When Shirley was sworn in as mayor in 1983, he discovered there was not enough money in the city budget to cover payroll. As one of the last elected chief officials to serve PT under the mayor/city council form of government, Shirley and the city council got to work.

During the 1980s and ‘90s we saved and rebuilt our working waterfront; new shoreline rules protecting marine trades, rebuilding City Dock, Union Wharf, and the NW Maritime Center. We founded the Main Street program. We refurbished the balloon hanger at Fort Worden to a performing arts center. We built a new wastewater treatment plant, established the curbside recycling program, including a compost facility (first in the state) and banned Styrofoam food containers (first in the state).

We did all this with a handful of dedicated, hardworking employees and an elected city council, forming citizen committees that addressed water/sewer, streets, parks, and other issues. 

At the same time, we created an inclusive city-wide process that allowed our planners to create a comprehensive plan that has provided our city’s roadmap for development and growth over the past 20 years. The plan has served us well.

Please listen. We are facing pressures from a lot of new people moving into PT that desire and expect us to be more than a little, rural town. But our reality is that we don’t have the economic resources to provide these types of urban services. We do not need outside consultants bringing us unrealistic dreams of new projects that we cannot afford. We will be hard pressed to meet the future demands of funding the basics: water, sewer, streets, police, and fire — all required services of a city government. Not to mention grappling with the elephant in the room. A changing demographic that is pricing out affordable housing for all.

(Brent Shirley has been a resident of Port Townsend nearly 50 years. He served two years on the Port Townsend City Council then another eight years as mayor. He has been a part of business community, including serving on the board of directors for First Federal for a decade. He made the initial offer to purchase the Thomas Oil property, now the Northwest Maritime Center, and was board chairman the first eight years.)