By MIKE DIAMANTI
The Port of Coupeville district taxpayers are watching a junior taxing district buckle under the weight of its frenzied ambition. Port Commissioners Mishasek and Day have been trying to buy the A. J. Eisenberg airport for almost two years. During an April 4 Oak Harbor City Council meeting, the port made a presentation trumpeting their airport purchase option, capped by a request for money. The Oak Harbor City Council obliged by pledging $200,000, but only after the port actually closes on the airport. Island County Commissioners made verbal comments that suggested they might provide money to finance the purchase, but nothing in writing.
As reported in this newspaper, during the May 24 port meeting, Commissioner Day repeatedly stated that he doesn’t know where the money is coming from to run the airport, that the board is ready to sign a $1.1 million bond to buy the airport, and that many regional airports not only operate at a loss, but they pull revenues from other port operations to pay their airport bills.
Didn’t the Port of Coupeville recently create an Industrial Development District (IDD) in order to gather additional tax dollars, with the stated purpose to pay for the deferred maintenance on the wharf and Greenbank Farm? Property tax bills now show IDD monies collected this year at five to six times the amount paid compared with the regular Port of Coupeville tax levy.
Isn’t there a pending lawsuit challenging the legality of the purchase agreement the port entered into? The person bringing the lawsuit, Robert DeLaurentis, spoke during the May 24 port meeting. He raised a lot of concerns about safety, damage, financing, due diligence, legality and the rushed nature of this endeavor. He’s raised his concerns several times, starting at the April 4 Oak Harbor City Council meeting.
The port wants to embark on a project that could put the port district on the hook for debt that would stretch out for decades. It would be a much larger drain than the debt the port entered into after the Greenbank Farm purchase in 1997. That debt took roughly $100,000 per year of port income for 20 years before that one was retired. Through the new IDD levy we are paying for the deferred maintenance resulting from that particular port misstep. Port district voters need to be able to vote on such a purchase as large as an airport.
But here’s the kicker – Mr. DeLaurentis has repeatedly made overtures to the port seeking discussions about eventually turning the airport over to the port, after he buys it and makes safety improvements. No Island County money would be lost, the City of Oak Harbor can keep their $200,000 and collaboration with all the interested parties would make public ownership the outcome.
Our IDD tax money could go to restore the wharf and Greenbank Farm. The 8,000 voters in the Port of Coupeville district David Day is sweating over, won’t lose their minds as a result of the commissioners spending money they didn’t have on a purchase that may be illegal and that they are completely unprepared to handle or manage.
Mike Diamanti is a former commissioner with the Port of Coupeville and author of the Island County Concerns blog.