Port Townsend finances discussed at town meet
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Port Townsend Mayor David King, left, and Deputy Mayor Kris Nelson address the town meeting Thursday night. The city’s financial condition was the evening’s topic. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A rise in city revenue that has accompanied a decline in services is hopefully now better understood by the public after a town meeting last week, the city’s mayor said.

“I’m glad we had this opportunity,” David King said after the Thursday night meeting.

“Those of us on the council are so familiar with the issues, and we have lived through them,” King said.

“We need to be reminded that these facts aren’t necessarily well-known.”

About 40 people attended the 2˝-hour meeting, which included presentations by King and City Manager David Timmons, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The city expects budget issues to continue and could approach the voters with tax increase proposals on upcoming ballots: a library bond issue as soon as August, the creation of a metropolitan park district as soon as November and an East Jefferson Fire-Rescue district annexation as soon as 2014.

“We need to engage the community in conversation because the answer is in the hands of the public and not the council anymore,” Timmons said.

“We’re doing everything we can do,” he added.

“If we want to do more, we will have to have a conversation with the voters as to what are the priorities, what are the things that matter most and how we begin to address those issues as we move on.”

A meeting about city finances had been planned as a follow-up to the last town meeting in September, but it was postponed several times because staff wanted to resolve yearly budget issues before making a presentation.

While there are some follow-up questions that need answering, King said, he doesn’t expect another meeting on the same topic to take place anytime soon.

“I’m glad that we were able to answer some of these questions,” King said.

“But this was a ‘check box’ meeting,” he added.

“We presented this to the public, and there are other public meetings on other topics that are taking place.”

King presented numbers over a 10-year period that directly showed the increase of both revenue and expenditures, from $7,190,030 in expenses with $5,832,392 in revenues in 2003 up to the projected $11,759,964 in projected 2013 expenses with $10,106,240 in projected revenues.

Budget cuts have decreased the amount of money allocated for planning and community services, with layoffs in the planning department extending the time necessary to acquire permits.

The highest expenditures for the planning department was $899,213 in 2007, while the 2013 projected total is $572,900.

Community services also have taken a hit, with the city withdrawing or reducing funding to support the YMCA, Main Street, Dove House and The Boiler Room, among other programs.

The most support for community services came in 2011 with $1,922,203, while the 2013 budget allocates $1,678,204.

Funds for street repair also have decreased.

Since the purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to demonstrate the escalation of both expenses and revenues, King omitted several sources of revenue, including utilities.

“I was looking to show what the numbers are and how they interact,” he said.

“If you look at these numbers without the other sources of revenue, it looks like we are losing $1 million a year, and that’s not the case.”

King said the numbers presented were “compound but not comprehensive.”

“To get the whole picture, you need to look at the complete budget documents,” he said.

During the meeting, King told those who sought more comprehensive explanations to contact him directly through City Hall at 360-379-5047.

The largest expenses in 2013 are law and justice at $2,963,462 and fire and emergency medical services at $2,286,266.

Costs for law and justice have risen because of increased calls for service, mandates and internal costs, Timmons said.

Emergency medical service costs are high because the Port Townsend hospital, Jefferson Healthcare, does not have a trauma center and does not deal with serious injuries, Timmons said.

This means that seriously injured patients are taken to Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton or airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, which increases the cost of the call for local emergency medical personnel, Timmons said.

Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval said a large emergency medical service presence is needed because of a high number of visitors.

“We’re a town of 9,500 that has a million visitors a year,” Sandoval said.

“We come to the aid of people who aren’t community members.”

Gene Farr of Port Townsend asked about grant funding.

“I see so much in terms of grant funding that we’ve relied upon,” Farr said.

“That’s nothing but our tax dollars being filtered back to us, and it’s very dangerous for us to rely on that.”

Answered Timmons: “Our policy is that we do not accept grants for operating purposes.

“We only seek them for capital projects to help us address the deficit in our infrastructure,” he added.

“In the absence of those grants, it would fall upon the city taxpayers to fund that.”

Sandoval said she favors continued grant acquisition.

“What are we paying state and federal taxes for if we don’t get something back, and why aren’t the states and feds investing in our community?” she said.

“I don’t understand why we would turn down our money that would benefit us.

“That is what grants are for: to invest in the upgrades in our infrastructure without them.”

King said Port Townsend’s ability to foster the growth of the local marine trades business has benefited the region.

“Other seaports are dealing with things that we have dealt with very constructively over time, such as balancing public access with environmental concerns on the shoreline and maintaining the commercial and industrial uses of their waterfront.” King said.

“I talked to a man from Edmonds who was bemoaning the fact that they booted out several robust marine trades from their waterfront to build condos and residences, and now with the collapse of the residential market, they are wishing they hadn’t done that.

“I am quite proud of our community, as we have spent many years protecting our shoreline,” King said.

________

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 30. 2013 5:52PM
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