Eight-hour retreat session bonds City Council in advance of major challenges

PORT TOWNSEND — After spending an entire Saturday redefining roles, financial goals and working relationships, the City Council received a kudo from its hired facilitator:

The sometimes contentious council is actually a pretty capable group.

The positive evaluation came after eight hours of lively discussion and arguments about the council’s policies and general philosophy.

The assessment followed several members’ assessment that their group has a city-wide reputation in Port Townsend of being unable to agree on any issue.

Besides debating political philosophy Saturday, the council also heard a 2005 financial forecast presentation from City Manager David Timmons, and attempted to identify priorities for this year.

While city’s short-term revenues appear to be rising, the city might face a budgetary crisis by 2007, Timmons warned.

“What we are seeing is a trend on a downward spiral,” said Timmons.

“Our revenue growth is steady, we are seeing a lot of real estate growth, but we have to be careful.

“Historically, the city had deferred maintenance on its capital facility and streets.”

The city collects about $170,000 in transportation revenue, while its expenditures on street maintenance are about $300,000, he added.

Council members did not directly respond to Timmons’ suggestion that passage of a levy might improve the financial balance.

Required water system

Timmons also reminded the council that the city will soon need to start thinking about a water system disinfection and filtration project, which is mandated by the state.

“We probably have the last unfiltered water system in the state — maybe even the nation,” Timmons said.

The cost of the project could be as great as $7 million, he added.

Timmons also caused a stir among some council members after passing out a proposed work plan.

Timmons’ priorities document contained 373 items of various importance which need to be addressed either by the council or city staff.

“The biggest issue that we need to keep our focus on is our general operations plan,” he said.

Timmons identified such projects as the 2006 budget, labor agreements and a housing needs assessment.

“This is overwhelming and most of this has nothing to do with the City Council,” Councilwoman Frieda Fenn said as other council members flipped through their copies of the booklet of more than 20 pages.

After an hour of deliberations, council members agreed to hold a three-hour workshop to readdress the priorities.

Each member would bring five items to be prioritized by the rest of the council, they decided.

The date of that workshop is yet to be set.

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