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Port’s broke, seeks taxes to pay for farm

Without any fund reserves and struggling to pay its bills, the Port of Coupeville is looking to property owners to approve a tax increase to prevent future shortfalls.

The port commissioners are planning to ask voters to approve an increase of 6 cents per $1,000 assessed property value that will last until 2017. Voters will consider the proposal during the Nov. 4 general election. Property owners within the port district currently pay 15 cents per $1,000.

If approved, the increase will bring in an additional $150,000 per year.

The commissioners approved asking for the tax increase during their Wednesday morning meeting. Commissioners Benye Weber and Marshall Bronson voted yes. Commissioner Ann McDonald was absent.

Jim Patton, port executive director, said the port’s operational reserves are exhausted.

He placed the budget problem on the bond the Port of Coupeville is paying for the Greenbank Farm. That bond, which cost $1.3 million, is scheduled to be paid off in 2017.

“When the port purchased the Greenbank Farm without a commensurate increase in the levy to offset the annual payment on the purchase bonds, it should have been predictable that there would not be sufficient resources to support indefinitely two 100-year-old properties with vulnerable wooden buildings and insufficient aging infrastructure,” Patton said from a statement he read during the meeting. He was referring to the Greenbank Farm and the Coupeville Wharf.

The port pays $100,000 annually on the bond, which eats up 22 percent of its annual revenue.

The 6-cent levy increase would pay for the bond payments along with the annual fee the Greenbank Farm Management Group receives to manage the property.

Commissioner Bronson, who was appointed to the three-member board in January, said the port should have requested a levy increase a long time ago. He formerly served on the Coupeville Town Council for many years.

“It’s been surprising to me that the port’s finances are as bad as they are,” Bronson said, adding that the proposal is only a 6 cent tax increase.

He advocated for putting a time limit on the levy increase, which would be in 2017.

As an example of the port’s money problems, the port keeps 300 gallons of diesel fuel and 100 gallons of unleaded for fueling boats. Patton said regular users have to call the port in advance if they are planning to use more fuel than that.

“We can’t have money tied up in inventory,” Patton said.

When the port assumed the Greenbank Farm bond more than 10 years ago, it had approximately $350,000 in operational reserves. That amount has fallen over the years to where there is only $1,700 left.

The port was able to undertake several essential maintenance projects in recent years. A new potable water system was installed at the Greenbank Farm and the sanitation system was replaced at the Coupeville Wharf. The commissioners also approved increasing the Greenbank Farm management fee from $45,000 to $49,950. Patton said that increase was justified through negotiations between the port and the management group.

Patton added that the port can’t go and chase grants to bring in more funding. Grants would typically require the port to chip in some kind of matching money, which it doesn’t have.

The port chose the November 4 election date for several reasons. It will allow enough time to inform the community about the port’s need for the tax increase. Being on a ballot during the general election, it will save the port money and the port won’t receive a bill for the election until 2009, when it should have money available to pay the bill. Assuming, of course, that the levy increase passes.

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