PORT TOWNSEND — The need for critical infrastructure, including affordable housing, are top priorities for Port Townsend as it begins 2023, officials said Friday in the annual State of the City address.
Speaking to a virtual meeting of The Chamber of Jefferson County, Mayor David Faber and City Manager John Mauro said the city was making progress on many of its goals, but that the demands are far greater than the capital the city has available to address them.
“What’s funded is a small fraction of what our needs are,” Mauro said of the city’s road budget, which was currently set at $908,000; the city’s total need was estimated at more than $91 million.
Officials said the city also is committed to public engagement, and finding solutions with community input.
“If the need is actually $91 million, then what are we going to do?” Mauro asked. “The answer could be from you.
“That’s why we want to engage.”
Faber pointed to the ongoing public engagement process of the future of the city’s golf course, which he said came out of a desire by the city council to determine what the community actually values for the 58-acre space in the center of town.
“We don’t know what that is unless we ask the question,” Faber said.
“Whatever path we go on with the golf course, this is a once-in-a-century opportunity. We want to make sure we get it right,” he said. “That’s what this process is about.”
According to Mauro, several of the challenges the city is experiencing — road maintenance being one of them — were issues that had been largely unaddressed for several years. Faber, who’s served on the city council for seven years, said the $908,000 committed to road maintenance was the largest amount he has seen.
“That is unheard of in my time on council,” Faber said. “Every budget (the Department of Public Works) would request just $100,000 and it would inevitably get stripped out of the budget” by the city council because of other priorities.
The city has been successful in obtaining outside funding streams such as grants from the state and federal governments for many of its projects, but it also has struggled to recruit and retain staff who can manage various city needs. Mauro said.
“We just got a lot of grants but if you don’t have (adequate staff) you kind of get buried by your own success,” he said. “There’s always too much to do.”
City officials aim to expand the stock of affordable housing in the city, something Faber said was a personal priority. He cautioned that too strong a regulatory hand often can have the opposite effect and actually reduce the number of housing units created.
Many cities — Port Townsend included — are trying new approaches to housing policy, Faber said, wit the goal of making their communities more affordable.
“Housing right now is the hot-button issue,” Faber said.
“We’re almost like the wild west.
“There’s a lot of experimentation going on undoing decades of disservice that different rules and regulations have done,” her continued.
“The proverbial chickens are coming home to roost in terms of how unaffordable housing has gotten.”
Officials pointed to recent efforts to bring more affordable housing to the city, which often is tied in with infrastructure.
The city recently secured $2.5 million in federal funding for its Evans Vista project where the city hopes to help build multifamily housing units, including between 100-150 units of workforce housing.
A joint meeting of the Port Townsend City Council and the Planning Commission on Feb. 13 will discuss bringing denser housing to the city, Faber said.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at email@example.com.