Port of Manchester mulls IDD, annexation to purchase property

The Port of Manchester commissioners on Monday set in motion a process by which the district could create an Industrial Development District (IDD) for the purposes of raising revenues they would use, in part, to purchase a $500,000 property adjacent to the Manchester Library.

The board, at its regular monthly meeting, voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing on the IDD question for Aug. 10.

The commissioners also voted to approve spending $2,000 to have the property appraised.

“Different community groups are looking into ways to raise revenue for the port in order to expand the services it provides,” said Alan Fletcher, a spokesman for the port. “At this point nothing has been decided, but the commissioners are leaving no stone unturned.”

Fletcher explained that forming an IDD, should the port decide to do so, would not require a vote of the district residents — whose property taxes would be raised around 19 to 21 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, according to preliminary estimates.

Consequently, Fletcher said the commissioners want to give the public ample opportunity to weigh in on the plan.

“You saw what happened a couple of years ago when the Port of Bremerton commissioners decided to raise property taxes without a vote and without much public debate,” he said. “Obviously that generated a lot of hard feelings, and they’re still paying a price for that.

“We don’t want something similar to happen here,” Fletcher said. “If we decide to go ahead with this, people are going to have a chance to have their say.”

One way the port could defray at least a portion of those costs would be by annexing more households into the district — an idea the commissioners debated on Monday night.

According to a petition already in circulation, the Port of Manchester would annex Kitsap County precincts 222 (Woodbridge), 246 (Locker) and 247 (Ebbert) into the district.

“Those precincts are adjacent to the Port of Manchester district,” Fletcher said, “but they’re not part of the district, nor are they part of the Port of Bremerton district. At the moment, they’re not paying into any port district.”

In order for the annexation to be approved, the port would need to obtain signatures from more than 50 percent of the property owners in those precincts — a total of about 340 petitions.

Assuming all three bought in to the plan, the addition could generate $50,000 to $60,000 a year in new revenues for the port.

It’s unclear why residents in those communities would agree to join the port district and subject themselves to a tax they’re not currently paying, but Commissioner Daniel Fallstrom noted on Monday that the last time the Port of Manchester annexed property — in 1993 – the measure was approved by more than 60 percent of the voters.

At this point, however, he emphasized that annexation is not imminent.

“To make it onto the November ballot, we’d need to gather enough signatures by Aug. 11 — and that probably isn’t going to happen,” Fallstrom said. “We haven’t even really started trying yet. It’s more of a long-range goal.”

In the short term, however, one revenue-generating strategy the commissioners seem likely to adopt is charging fees to those using its boat launch.

According to a study conducted by the Manchester Advisory Committee, a fee of $5 per launch — still modest compared to those charged at other marinas — would generate $15,000 or more annually.

Even better, since 97 percent of those using the launch don’t live in Manchester, it would be virtually all outside money.

“I don’t know if we’re the only port around that doesn’t charge to launch,” Fletcher said, “but we’re certainly the only one with facilities this nice that doesn’t charge. It’s not my decision to make, but this one sounds like a no-brainer to me.”

Creating an IDD and purchasing the property next door to the library, on the other hand, could prove a tougher sell.

“What are you going to do with the property if you do buy it?” asked Manchester resident Bob Parks, himself a former port commissioner. “Build more condominiums you can’t sell?”

“My feeling is that we should at least explore the possibility of forming the IDD and buying the property,” countered Port Commissioner Steve Pederson. “If we don’t, and someone else comes along and buys it, we won’t have anything to say.”

“Our job is to look to the future,” concluded Commissioner Jim Strode, “even when you have people screaming at you.”

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