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Despite objections, port hikes rates for moorage

The Port of Bremerton’s decision to raise moorage rates — despite Port Orchard Marina’s banner year — has at least one marina resident steamed.

Tenant Gary Hunter, who lives at the port-owned marina, was bothered that the port planned to raise moorage rates 5.5 percent despite the fact the marina broke even this year for the first time in years.

“I have not seen any hard data that shows it’s needed,” he said.

Last year, the port held a series of meetings between marina tenants and port staff to determine ways for the marina to stop operating in the red. The compromise reached called for an initial 3 percent increase in rates, combined with the port’s pledge to hold down expenses. The tentative six-year outlook for the compromise also called for the port to raise rates up to an additional 5.5 percent a year as needed.

Hunter commended the port for reaching its break-even goal in one year, but said any additional increases above the Consumer Price Index limit are absolutely not necessary.

The port disagrees.

Port finance director Lynn Hills pointed out the marina this year sold approximately $122,000 more in fuel than usual. Although cost-control measures definitely did help the marina’s finances, she said, the effect of such a large and unexpected boost in income could not be ignored.

“We sold something like 29,000 gallons of fuel more than we did the year before,” Hills said. “That made a significant impact on the budget for 2003.”

The problem with windfalls, Hills continued, is that you can’t count on them when planning future budgets. She said the extended good weather over the summer could have encouraged people to stay out on their boats more and, therefore, burn more fuel. If so, a rainy summer next year could not only wipe out the chances of another big year of fuel sales, it could even drop sales below average levels.

“You can’t go and anticipate receiving those same revenues next year,” Hills said.

Hunter, on the other hand, sees the previous years’ poor fuel sales as the anomaly, and this year’s spectacular sales as the start of a new norm. He said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused a sudden drop in recreational spending, a situation that is only now beginning to correct itself. Hunter also pointed out the next-nearest fueling station, in Gig Harbor, is now closed — an event guaranteed to improve the port’s marine fuel sales.

Hunter said it would be premature for the port to hike up rates now, when the outlook is good. He asked the port Board of Commissioners to hold off approving any above-CPI increases until it became clear whether the marina’s financial trend aimed toward the black or toward the red.

“We’re still under (average fuel costs),” Hunter said. “People will still come to buy fuel at Port Orchard.”

Port Commissioner Bill Mahan appeared concerned by Hunter’s take on the situation. He suggested compromising by implementing an increase somewhere between 3 percent and 5.5 percent. Mahan said there was reason to believe a 5.5 percent increase would push the marina’s revenues way beyond the amounts anticipated under the six-year plan.

“It seems we’re being aggressive,” he said.

Hills, however, said if the board eliminated the assumption of above-average fuel sales, a 5.5 percent increase was still absolutely necessary to keep the marina operating in the black. Port Chief Operations Officer Tim Thomson reminded the commissioners that the budget is subject to changes annually — if Hunter is proved right, the board doesn’t need to any increases, even a CPI increase, for 2005.

“If we see an upward trend, we can readjust for the remaining years,” Hills said.

In the end, the board unanimously approved the proposed 5.5 percent increase to moorage rates.

The other major proposed rate change — the hangar and tie-down rates at Bremerton National Airport, passed without a murmur from local airmen. Hills credited the port’s work 10 years ago that made the establishment of future rates a collaboration between the port and the aviators. Typically, she said, rates go up annually and are calculated using the consumer index.

The port uses a survey of other local airports’ rates to determine its rates, taking an average of the group and matching the port’s rates to that average. As a good-faith effort, the port typically excludes two high-priced local airfields — Auburn’s and Boeing’s — from its calculations.

“It makes it predictable — (the pilots) know what to expect,” Hills said.

Currently, the only port facility that is not self-sustaining is the airport. Hills said the hangars do cover their own costs through hangar rates, but couldn’t be expected to cover the expense of running the whole airport. The port’s industrial park, located across State Route 3 from the airport, has actually realized a profit for the last few years — a feat the other facilities have yet to match.

Hills said the port’s goal is to one day make all its facilities as successful as the industrial park.

“Our focus is on making our facilities self-sustaining,” she said.

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