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Commissioner shakes up Port of Coupeville

Port of Coupeville officials were surprised by the statements made Wednesday by a new commissioner regarding how the budget has been handled.

Laura Blankenship, who took office in January after winning election in November to the three member board, was critical of the current budget situation that forced the port to cut staff costs by 50 percent.

“I was puzzled and dismayed by her antagonistic behavior,” said Port of Coupeville Executive Director Jim Patton after the Wednesday afternoon meeting.

He said Blankenship’s comments weren’t fair, especially for long-serving Commissioner Benye Weber. Blankenship gave a 15-minute lecture about the port’s operation of two 100-year-old structures, the Coupeville Wharf and the Greenbank Farm, with a levy that was originally set up to fund only one.

The commissioners decided Wednesday to eliminate the hours for the dock man and handyman, reduce the hours for the harbormaster and reduce the hours of operation for the Port of Coupeville office. Those reductions will remain in effect through March.

Patton said during the meeting the reductions will basically reduce staff costs by 50 percent.

Blankenship pored through the past six years of financial statements and voiced some concerns about the port’s budget process.

She noticed that revenue has increased by 17 percent over those years but expenses have increased by 25 percent.

“It’s very disconcerting to see that fact,” Blankenship said, claiming  that staff also under-budgeted by 7 percent, which left the port with a deficit.

She also noted that the port has been moving expenses forward. She called for further reductions to help restore the budget. She recommended extending the reduction to Patton’s hours and eliminating the service the port pays to transcribe meeting minutes. She also suggested holding off on further development of the solar project and implementation of the Greenbank Farm master site plan.

“I just think we need to cut,” Blankenship told commissioners Weber and Marshall Bronson.

The port has been delaying maintenance projects over the years as its reserves have depleted.

The port is holding off on repairs on the south wall of the Coupeville Wharf and is not following a recommendation by the Washington Public Ports Association that the commissioners purchase a laptop computer.

The Port of Coupeville is budgeted to bring in $396,720 in revenue for 2012. More than $100,000 of its revenue goes toward paying off bonds on the Greenbank Farm.

Generally, port officials want to have $100,000 in reserves at the beginning of the year to ensure money is available until the large disbursement of tax dollars, which doesn’t take place until April. However, because of some unexpected expenses that took place in 2011, the port came up $39,000 short of its reserve goal.

“As you all know, we have moved from very little money to no money,”  Bronson said.

Patton said the port usually receives only a small percentage of its levy dollars in January, February and March, before receiving a hefty 30 percent in April.

Patton said the port’s financial situation will improve when the large disbursement of levy dollars comes through.

The port had to pay a share of a primary election in August 2011, make emergency repairs to the fuel float at the wharf and to fund higher-than-expected costs for its share of the solar array project at the Greenbank Farm. The Port’s investment in 2011 for the Greenbank solar project was $37,500.

While taken aback by Blankenship’s budget criticism, Patton said that she did provide a service by renewing focus on the port’s difficult financial situation.

 

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