Council, city manager talk parks, police car funding

Investing nearly $1.4 million of federal money

john mauro

PORT TOWNSEND — In discussing how to spend American Rescue Plan Act funds over the coming year, Port Townsend City Manager John Mauro focused on recruiting key staff — and keeping them — and on caring for the city’s recreational facilities and parks.

Mauro gave a presentation during Monday night’s City Council workshop meeting on investing nearly $1.4 million of the federal money the city will receive — half of the total — during 2022 and setting aside the rest.

“We don’t really know what ’23 and ’24 are going to look like,” he said, so “we want to play it safe.”

Mauro then started with staffing. The city has a number of positions open: city engineer, facilities and parks manager and finance director among them. The Police Department has for years been under its full complement.

To focus on this, Mauro has added a new position: Director of People and Performance. Pamela Martinez stepped into the post Oct. 4, in what the city manager called “a different take” on the human resources director role.

She’s charged with focusing on “how we invest, retain and develop a team of high-performing staff,” Mauro said in an email after the City Council meeting.

Now a Sequim resident, Martinez comes to her new job after six years with Altra Motion and Fortive, two large technology companies. Her salary at the city is $115,652.

Port Townsend also needs to invest in new police vehicles, Mauro continued.

Officers “are still driving around in 2007 Crown Vics,” he said; “that’s a safety issue.”

In his post-meeting email, Mauro estimated the city would purchase two new police vehicles, each of which could cost $80,000 fully outfitted.

“There has been an internal conversation about hybrid/electric. We’re eager to move that direction,” he added.

In his council presentation, Mauro then projected spending the largest portion of the ARPA funding, $555,000, on the future of parks and recreation.

It’s time for an “integrated, community-backed, health-based vision,” Mauro said.

The future of the municipal golf course, aquatics programs and the Mountain View Center campus could all fall under this plan, as could a community engagement program for parks and recreation and strategic plan for the city’s creative district.

Improvements to the Port Townsend Library, renovation of the Charles Pink House next door and the purchase of heavy equipment to maintain city parks are also possible ARPA expenditures, Mauro noted.

During Monday’s meeting, one member of the public commented via the online hand-raising function. Charles Law of Port Townsend advocated for a municipal composting system, saying it “fits the bill” for ARPA funding.

Composting for all city residents would “create green jobs,” Law said.

Reducing food waste in homes and at the city waste collection site, it would be an essential service that “checks all the boxes.”

Asked later about a citywide composting system, Mauro said “quite a bit more study” is needed on how to proceed, possibly with a regional approach.

“I imagine scale would be an issue, as we’d need a far greater volume of food scraps to make it pencil out locally,” he said. “Municipal composting is a great concept, and I’ve seen it work well in other larger cities,” but here it could be quite expensive.

Mauro said some environmental groups in Auckland, New Zealand, where he was chief sustainability officer from 2014 to 2019, were critical of other communities’ moves to municipal composting. Large-scale systems and the emissions from collection of compost made them less than ideal compared with more localized solutions, he said.

“For now, we are recommending backyard composting and composting as part of local community gardens. I realize this isn’t an option open to everyone, but with a more rural population/lower density compared to larger cities, the option seems far more viable.”

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Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

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