Port rate proposal merits more feedback

Patrick J. Sullivan psullivan@ptleader.com
Posted 1/31/17

The first in a series of proposed rate increases drew enough public attention last week for the Port of Port Townsend Commission to schedule a workshop to hear more.

The commission’s regular …

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Port rate proposal merits more feedback

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The first in a series of proposed rate increases drew enough public attention last week for the Port of Port Townsend Commission to schedule a workshop to hear more.

The commission’s regular meeting Jan. 25 included discussion of proposed moorage, ramp and recreational vehicle camping rates of 10-16 percent. About 60 people attended the meeting, with 18 people offering comment: pro, con or resigned to accept whatever happens.

The discussion is to be continued with a public workshop at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 1 at the administrative building on Benedict Street on the subject of capital projects, and proposed moorage, ramp and recreational vehicle (RV) rates and fees.

The next regular commission meeting when action may be taken is 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 8. Sam Gibboney, port executive director, has proposed that rate increases become effective April 1, with a 30-day customer notice required. The unveiling of suggested shipyard/boatyard and airport rates is expected soon.

The rate increases are being driven by capital project needs of about $12 million, Gibboney explained, including the Point Hudson jetty replacement, Quilcene marina entrance dredging and dock repair, and at the PT Boat Haven, breakwater replacement, C/D Dock renovation and net float replacement.

Greg Englin, director of port operations and business development, said the port’s goal is to increase net operating incomes by $3 million a year, and “no one source of revenue” is expected to make all the difference.

Along with rates and fees, the port is exploring the creation, by commission vote, of an industrial development district, which could be used to implement a property tax levy to fund capital projects.

In terms of port cash reserve on hand, the port’s account was $5.3 million in 2010 and $2.8 million in 2016, reported Abigail Berg, port director of finance and auditor. That’s a loss of about 50 percent in six years, due to debt service obligations, capital projects and insufficient revenue increases, she noted.

“Our new administration is not leaving any stone unturned” in the quest for savings or revenue, Commissioner Brad Clinefelter noted.

Public comments included questions on multiyear rate increases, market surveys and property taxes.

Bertram Levy, a longtime moorage tenant, said he supports Gibboney and he won’t saddle her with the “terrible mistakes” of the previous administration. “Sam’s obligation is to the port, and your obligation is to the community and when you make massive rate changes, it affects the community,” Levy told the commissioners.

Doug Boling, who has been around the waterfront here since 1976, was one of several people who suggested the port could do a better job of maximizing income, questioning why there are empty slips at the same time there is a list of people waiting for permanent moorage.

Liz Kanieski, who with her husband, Charley, pays moorage on a 42-foot boat, suggested the rate increase takes a “shortsighted approach.” She cited a 2014 study that indicates age demographics show a continued decline in moorage customers and the port’s limited ability to influence moorage demand. She suggested a more transparent rate-setting process and advocated for an industrial development district to raise property taxes to pay for capital project needs.

Melinda Bryden, a District 2 resident, said port operations are losing money and property tax is subsidizing operations. Bryden suggested a 25 percent rate increase. In a separate conversation with The Leader, Bryden noted that the previous administration suggested rate increases that were lowered or blocked by the elected commissioners. She opposes the use of an industrial development district to subsidize operations by raising property taxes for people who gain nothing from port services.

Gordon Nielson, a liveaboard who relies on Social Security income, told the commissioner that “a rate increase is significant for me.” Still, he supports the increase because the port needs to resolve deferred maintenance, even if it is likely to be followed by more rate increases.

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