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Port votes to include SEED in ’09 budget

The Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners approved a preliminary budget for next year that issues bonds to match a $2.58 million grant from the federal government to start building its Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project.

“This will not increase property taxes, but change how those taxes are used,” said Becky Swanson, Chief Financial Officer for the port, referring to $6.87 million worth of spending on capital projects that she said will require issuing general obligation(GO) bonds.

All in all, Swanson described the $27.8 million budget as “balanced,” and lacking any “fluff or stuff,” despite “placeholders” that would allow the port to hire more staff members.

“I think you’ve done a great job,” said Commissioner Bill Mahan. “This is a balanced budget that doesn’t cut and slash, but lets us go forward with lots of projects that will benefit the community.”

Commissioner Larry Stokes also commended Swanson for her work, but strongly disagreed with some aspects of the budget.

“This is a balanced budget because we’re issuing GO bonds,” Stokes said. “In my world, that’s borrowing money and and putting a mortgage against my property and the property of every taxpayer in the port district. I think it’s time we live within our means.”

Stokes said the amount of bonds should be “cut in half,” and the 1 percent increase in property tax collection removed.

Swanson said the increase, which was allowed by state law, totaled $76,000 and represented a “very, very nominal amount of money from each individual. I never want to say that money is not important, but the impact on the taxpayers is relatively small.”

To illustrate, Swanson said that with the average home value in the port’s district being $242,070, if the port applied the tax rate without any increase, the average taxpayer would pay $71.43 a year. With the 1 percent increase, she said the rate would be 70 cents more at $72.14.

Stokes said it was not the amount of the increase, but the principle.

“The port’s reputation is not good, and anything we can do to help it is good,” he said. “The port has a tax and spend attitude.”

Board president Cheryl Kincer then asked Swanson what might be trimmed from the budget to remove the increase, but the CFO declined to point to any expenditures and said that was a decision for the commissioners to make.

“Just because it is in the budget, that doesn’t mean you have to spend it,” she said, adding though that it was much easier to approve expenditures now that you don’t spend than to amend the budget later.

Currently, the added money would allow the port hire at least one additional administrative staff member, which Commissioner Kincer said was “critical for the direction of the port.” She suggested hiring a communications officer.

“We need a media contact,” she said. “Someone to write press releases, and to organize the upcoming town hall meeting.”

Stokes said he would prefer to hire a marketing director.

“We need someone who can go out and lease our property,” he said. “The empty building we have just bugs me to no end. We’re paying $25,000 a month for an empty building.”

Stokes also asked Swanson why port facilities continue to spend more money than they generate, and pointed to the Port Orchard Marina as an example.

“Their expenses are $1.3 million, but their income is only $1 million,” Stokes said. “When are we going to catch up?”

“Next year we will be close to caught-up, or caught-up,” Swanson said, explaining that she is “aggressively” moving the port away from collecting half of its funds from taxes and half from revenues, and toward having “60, 70, and eventually 80 percent come from facilities revenue.”

The commissioners then voted 2-1 to accept the budget, with Stokes the only nay vote.

“I say we keep the budget the way it is, then the first of the year, we can hold a study session or retreat to discuss how to get to the point where we don’t collect any property taxes,” Mahan said.

The port has scheduled a public hearing Nov. 13 at the Bremerton National Airport’s terminal building to collect public comments regarding its proposed 2009 budget. Adoption of the final budget will follow.

In the meantime, copies of the budget can be requested via e-mail or in person at the port’s office at 8850 SW Highway 3. The document is also posted on the port’s website at www.portofbremerton.org.

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