Port levy opponents may stall tax plan

Lily Haight and Brennan LaBrie
news@ptleader.com
Posted 7/3/19

A petition drive to force port commissioners to seek voter approval for a new tax may have killed the port’s proposal for now.

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Port levy opponents may stall tax plan

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A petition drive to force port commissioners to seek voter approval for a new tax may have killed the port’s proposal for now.

The port commission’s resolution, adopted on March 27, would not impose any immediate tax, but it is a notice of intent that lets the public know that the port is looking to levy a tax.

Without a petition submitted to the county auditor, the port would be able to impose the levy without asking for a vote. But since a petition signed by more than 2,000 registered voters was submitted to the auditor on June 19, the levy must be put on the ballot in November.

The port’s Industrial Development District was formed in 1966, explained interim executive director Jim Pivarnik, which allows the port to levy a tax that is limited in time and scope. The state statute governing IDDs allows three levy periods. The port’s first six-year levy period was taken in 1966, and the funds generated were used to make improvements to the Point Hudson jetty.

The maximum amount that can be taxed is $15 million over a period of 20 years, Pivarnik said.

The nature of the multiyear levy means that coming up in November, commissioners could impose a tax of up to forty-five cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value.

But it is unlikely that they would tax that much, Pivarnik said.

Instead, they could tax 10 cents per thousand in 2020, and then decide not to tax anything the next year. But because the commission is always changing, it is difficult to know how future commissioners would levy taxes.

Now, the commission is wrestling over the timing of the levy. Since the levy must go to a vote of the public, is there enough public trust for it to pass?

Port commissioner Pete Hanke, District 3, said he wants to keep the levy on the ballot, to let the public decide for themselves.

“I think it’s a mistake to rescind it,” he said at the meeting. “The issue of our funding is critical. It would be a mistake to not let the community have a discussion on this.”

But commissioners Bill Putney and Steve Tucker were not positive the time was right for the levy.

“I’m afraid if we put this on the ballot now, we’ll get a ‘no,’” Tucker said. “An effort needs to be made to convince the public … I don’t think we have the grassroots effort to get this together.”

Members of the public have asked the commission to elaborate what the money will be used for and if the community will have input in the decisions.

“Public comments continue to be made regarding the need for transparency, trust and community involvement,” said Pam Petranek, who is running for port commissioner in District 1, which is currently held by Tucker. “The current reality is, there are too many confusing and outdated plans and no public process.”

But time is of the essence for some port projects, like the Point Hudson jetty, which is deteriorating, and the Quilcene marina, which desperately needs to be dredged.

“If we do it two or three years down the stream, we don’t know what is going to happen to the jetty,” Putney said.

Commissioners will continue to discuss the issue at their next meeting, on July 10 at 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, they are also in discussion about creating a citizen advisory committee to help provide public input in port decisions.

Currently, the port is suffering from a negative public perception, said Ron Hayes, a frequent port user and regular attendee at port commissioner meetings.

“Right now, if you talk to someone about the port, they’re going to say something negative,” Hayes said. “We need to turn this conversation around. We’re not going to be able to do anything unless people trust the port and respect the port.”

He ascribes this issue to the commission having too much on their plate. He said they need a group to help them assess problems to allow them more time to implement solutions.

Commissioners Putney and Tucker acknowledged the perception issue and the “need to rebuild trust and transparency” in a public workshop on June 26. They also agreed with Haye’s notion that a committee would take some of the burden off of the commission.

“An advisory committee might see a problem coming that we don’t see,” said Putney, adding that it would also benefit the commission to be held accountable.

An advisory committee will mostly likely take one of two forms, said Tucker. One is an ad hoc committee, which would be assigned tasks by the port commission and report their findings back. The other form would be a permanent standing committee, perhaps with ad hoc committees branching off from it when necessary, led by standing committee members. Tucker and Putney favor the standing committee, as it could focus on ongoing issues such the Point Hudson jetty, or long term issues such as environmental impact of the port’s operations, giving status updates to the commission. All committee meetings would be subject to the public meetings and records acts.

An advisory committee was formed in 2010 to monitor the port’s strategic planning, ensure that promises were being met, and search for possible amendments. This committee was seated in 2013 by members with staggered terms, but has not met since 2014 and all terms have since expired. Putney blames the failure of this committee on their once-yearly meeting schedule, and he and Tucker agreed that a new committee should meet at least quarterly. The 2013 standing committee is still open, and could be reworked into a new committee, said Port Deputy Director Eric Toews.

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