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Tax hike for farm support questioned

Just weeks before the November election Port of Coupeville commissioners were still explaining why they need a tax increase to support the Greenbank Farm, an entity that was billed as being able to pay for itself when the port took out bonds to buy the historic site.

Things didn’t work out that way. Port officials have been using fund reserves to pay the farm’s $100,000 a year mortgage since the 1997 purchase. Now its reserves are exhausted and leaders are looking to voters to approve a 6 cent per $1,000 assessed property value increase. If approved, the $150,000 in new revenue would pay for the bonds for the Greenbank Farm and the fee paid to the Greenbank Farm Management Group.

Local resident Larry Ogle was one of about a dozen people who attended a Tuesday public meeting called by the port concerning public money being used at the Greenbank Farm, which he sees as a poor investment.

“The farm has been nothing but an albatross,” Ogle said, claiming that the port is a losing proposition all the way around. He added there are too many fingers in the pie at the farm.

Ogle said it’s best to bring in money by selling off portions of the farm.

“You’re obligated to make it run without additional levies,” Ogle said.

However, Commissioner Benye Weber reiterated her support for the farm. She said that the port probably couldn’t sell the farm because it might affect the bonds that other entities have on the farm. Island County and the Nature Conservancy own non-commercial portions of the 522-acre farm.

Board members during the meeting highlighted the work that has been done at the farm to help make it more economically sustainable.

Marshall Bronson said the farm has to eventually become self sustaining. He described the farm as an “amorphous blob” and said the work being done developing a master site plan will attract a full spectrum of economic activities.

“It should be entirely economically independent,” Weber said in agreement.

Volunteer groups are currently putting together components of the Greenbank Farm’s master site plan.

Others attending the meeting were also apprehensive about the levy increase and the chances for election success.

“$150,000 from the citizens is a lot and you should have had a backup plan,” said Gary Wray during the meeting. He said the port needs to concentrate on economic development at the Greenbank Farm.

Another person noted the number of tax measures that are on the ballot.

“I’m just overwhelmed by what I see on the ballots this year,” said Julie Lauderdale. “I’m very concerned about my tax dollars and whether I can afford to live on this island five years from now.”

Ogle suggested finding a new revenue source by installing a marina at the Coupeville Wharf. However, board members said the port couldn’t get the permits to build a marina.

Beyond just paying the mortgage and management fee, the Port of Coupeville has also invested money in capital improvements at the Greenbank Farm.

Weber said the port spent $293,000 on repairs and capital improvements at the farm from 2003 to 2007. Meanwhile, the port paid an additional $35,000 for infrastructure improvements at the Coupeville Wharf.

The value of the farm to the community makes another 6 cent per $1,000 assessed property value tax increase a good deal, as some see it.

“That seems like not much money,” Rob Harbour said while holding up his tax bill. “The only thing less is the cemetery district.”

He added he would pay $24 a year for the next nine years if voters approve the tax increase.

Several people pressed board members about a backup plan should the levy fail. The answer appears to be simple. Commissioners said that if the levy doesn’t pass, the port will continue with its current funding.

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