The City of Port Townsend’s $38.7 million 2017 budget reflects better financial health, although the city is unable to provide needed infrastructure improvements.
“The budget process was productive,” said City Manager David Timmons. “The departments are more engaged than they’ve ever been. We are still not funding everything, but that’s life.”
The City Council unanimously approved the budget at a Dec. 5 meeting with five votes, as council members Michelle Sandoval and Catharine Robinson were not in attendance.
“There will be no change on a day-to-day basis,” Timmons said of the budget’s effect on city residents, “but the community will be healthier.”
Noticeable improvements would be the implementation of the new water filtration system, scheduled to go on line Jan. 15, and a roundabout at Discovery Road and Howard Street, slated to open in late spring.
The public has already taken note of the deteriorating condition of some side streets, for which there are no solid repair plans.
The capital budget allocates $3.9 million for several street projects – such as the Howard Street Extension and Sims Way frontage improvements – but there are still 80 miles of road within the city limits that are in varying states of disrepair.
The budget allocates a total of $10.7 million in capital expenditures.
The cost of street rehabilitation, Timmons said, is $1 million per mile. This expense is at least partially funded by grants.
“We will have to address this long term,” he said. “Many streets are failing. It’s not just the pavement, but what’s underneath. The road is only as good as what’s underneath and if the subsurface wasn’t put in correctly, then it will deteriorate.”
City Council member David Faber underscored the problem, stating, “The new surface lasts about 25 years, so as soon as we do all the streets, we’ll have to start all over again.”
Faber said the sales tax generated by large projects, such as the new Jefferson Healthcare building and Peninsula College’s renovated building at Fort Worden, helped the city. Faber and Timmons expect this trend to continue with other projects, including a surge in housing construction and a new Grant Street Elementary School, slated to open in 2018.
“Our challenge will be to not get in the way with process requests while keeping up with mandatory regulations and critical areas,” Timmons said.
The 2017 budget projects $4.8 million in property tax revenues and $2.3 million in sales tax revenues.
The operating budget projects $25.7 million in revenues against $25.3 million in expenditures for a $400,000 surplus.
Timmons said that no utility rate increases are scheduled, although the city expects to conduct a rate study in 2017.
He hopes that the use of personnel would be “more strategic,” wherein new hires would take on duties that can free existing personnel. An example is an executive assistant to Port Townsend Police Chief Michael Evans, who would assume some of the civic duties now performed by sergeants.
The police department provides the greatest personnel challenge. The optimum amount of officers is 15 – the department’s current level – but an additional three officers are needed to compensate for injury, illness and vacation.
“Finding qualified recruits is painfully difficult,” Timmons said. “I don’t want to lower hiring standards. And it can take a year to get someone into place.”
Faber said he was pleased with the budget process.
“I was concerned that we wouldn’t take on any more annualized costs,” he said. “Even if we don’t see the growth we are predicting in 2017, we will still be OK.”