Marine Trades Center figures in Port of Port Angeles 2021 budget

Revenue focus is to bring in new tenants

PORT ANGELES — Port of Port Angeles commissioners will discuss a 2021 proposed budget today largely untouched by a COVID-19 pandemic that has wracked the North Olympic Peninsula’s economy.

Status-quo operating expenditures of $8.4 million projected for the Port of Port Angeles in 2021 are based on $8.9 million in revenue and include a focus on bringing tenants to the Marine Trades Center site, formerly known as the Marine Trades Industrial Park, on Marine Drive.

Operating expenses are $1.4 million lower than the projected year-end expenses for 2020, mainly because of $1.5 million spent for ongoing dredging at the cargo terminal, according to the 2021 budget message.

The port’s workforce of just under 50 employees will receive a 1.8 percent wage increase costing about $49,000.

“Overall, we fared through COVID pretty well,” port commission President Steven Burke said Friday.

“It did not dramatically affect our revenue or expenses.”

The $2.3 million new-capital-project budget includes Marine Trades Center infrastructure development, which will be facilitated by hiring a replacement for maritime business development director Mike Nimmo.

Nimmo has been spearheading efforts to bring tenants to the site and is retiring.

The annual salary for the director-level position will start in the $90,000 range, port Deputy Executive Director John Nutter said Friday. He expected to post a short-term job opening by Friday afternoon for an approximately $50,000-a-year consultant to assist with marketing to attract tenants.

The port fund balance is budgeted at $11 million, a decrease of $1.5 million, and based in part on $1.59 million in property tax revenue.

Commissioners also must decide on whether to levy a 1 percent property tax increase to fund the budget.

Burke said Friday he is reluctant to authorize the levy.

Commissioner Connie Beauvais said Friday she is opposed to a tax increase without a specific project to justify it, “especially this year with COVID and everything that has happened with our economy.”

Commissioner Colleen McAleer said before deciding on the tax increase, she wanted to wait for word on a federal Economic Development Administration grant that would fund Marine Trades Center development.

The port applied for a $14 million EDA grant with an 80-20 split that included $11 million for site development and $3 million for constructing a sandblasting-painting building that the EDA was unwilling to fund.

The EDA then said it would consider funding $7.2 million for site development, leaving the port to cover the rest of the cost for site improvements.

“It’s more out of our pocket, but at the end of the day, I would be thrilled if we get $7.2 million to develop our Marine Trade Center, because anything is better than nothing,” Nutter said.

Port officials say they expect to hear any day now if the grant has been approved.

“It will very likely change our capital budget because we have very limited dollars to work with, and where are we to deploy those dollars to best meet the needs of the community?” Nutter said.

“The Marine Trades Center is something we would very much like to do because it produces a significant number of family-wage-living jobs.”

The Port of Port Townsend also had applied for an EDA grant of $11.3 million from the same program to help fund reconstruction of the Point Hudson Breakwater jetty.

The EDA deferred its decision on the grant, then said it was open to reconsidering funding the project with about $9.3 million.

Port revenue in 2020 was boosted by log ships from China that could not go to Europe because of COVID-19 and by a healthy topside repair activity.

“Leadership did very well paring down and not filling positions to try to be bare bones in terms of the amount of employees we have in the office now,” Burke said.

The port’s John Wayne Marina in Sequim and Port Angeles Boat Haven have been busy as well, Nutter said.

“Boating has increased in popularity because it is a socially distant activity and our airport continues to be as busy as ever,” he said.

He said incentives and revenue guarantees are not part of the budget as a way to bring commercial passenger air service back to the port’s William R. Fairchild International Airport, which has been lacking for six years, since November 2014.

“We can’t afford to budget money for an unknown,” he said, adding that bringing back air service remains a top strategic goal.

Nutter added that Airport Manager Dan Gase “is sending emails and making phone calls every week trying to find someone to provide commercial air service.”

To listen to or participate in the 1 p.m. budget hearing, go to us02web.zoom.us/j/8416663017. The webinar ID is 841 6667 3017.

Port commissioners are expected to approve the 2021 budget Nov. 17.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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