Port commission candidates divided on financial priorities

Posted 10/9/19
Should the Port of Port Townsend focus more on maintaining and repairing its existing infrastructure, or on expanding its field of investments?

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Port commission candidates divided on financial priorities

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Should the Port of Port Townsend focus more on maintaining and repairing its existing infrastructure, or on expanding its field of investments? This was perhaps the key question that drove the disagreements between port commissioner candidates Chuck Fauls and Pam Petranek during the Oct. 1 forum jointly presented by the local chapters of the American Association of University Women and League of Women Voters at the Port Townsend Community Center. While commercial fisher and longtime port customer Petranek cited economic studies to characterize the port as “an economic powerhouse,” longtime port employee Fauls asserted the port’s revenues are not enough to sustain it. While Petranek sees the port as a source of living-wage jobs that she predicted could help keep young people employed within Jefferson County, Fauls credited the port with supplying a far smaller percentage of the county’s jobs, many of which he argued are not family-wage. Likewise, Fauls called for the port to purchase other lands in the county, as a safeguard against rising sea levels caused by climate change, whereas Petranek deemed it the port’s duty to take care of its existing tenants. The candidates’ contrasting views about the degree to which the port sustains itself were thrown into sharp relief by their positions on the proposed $15 million industrial development district (IDD) levy, which Fauls described as a subsidy from taxpayers that he believed would not generate any new revenue, while Petranek sees it as important to foster “a welcoming environment” for the port’s “world-class group of businesses” by “being a good landlord.” A rare area of accord between Fauls and Petranek came when the candidates were asked about expanding the port’s marina moorage, which led Petranek to reiterate her prioritization of maintaining existing infrastructure, while Fauls against declared the port’s finances to be insufficient for such a move. “I can’t imagine adding any more,” Petranek said. “I agree with Pam,” Fauls said, who also accused the county’s “onerous permitting” of contributing to the expense of such additions. Petranek was more ambitious in her goals for the port’s capital projects, expressing confidence that a combination of existing funds and loans could cover the remaining jetty renovations and the dredging of the Quilcene marina, while Fauls argued that the port needs to be looking for ways to retire more of its existing debts. With the port commission set to hire a new executive director next year, the candidates were asked what traits they would look for to fill the position. Fauls would prioritize port or marine experience and seek out candidates with “serious financial acumen” and the ability to ”unify different user groups,” while Petranek would prefer a financial background, “a transparency with finances and a clear vision of who we are.” The candidates differed again in how they would alter their existing relationships with the port, if they were elected as commissioners, with Fauls pledging to resign from his job as a port employee if he’s elected, while Petranek defended her status as a port customer, renting a $25-a-month storage unit and serving as secretary on the board of the Port Townsend Marine Trades Association, citing other port commissioners at other ports have have retained similar positions. When asked about port commissioners’ levels of accessibility to the public, Fauls suggested shifting the times of the port commission meetings to make them easier for working people to attend, as well as instituting additional “office hours” for each commissioner, while Petranek noted her perfect attendance at port commission meetings over the past four years.

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