PORT TOWNSEND — A multi-year levy to raise money for projects inside the Port of Port Townsend’s industrial development district will move forward, and it will go to the public for a binding vote in November.
The three port commissioners considered a resolution during a special meeting Thursday night to rescind an action they took in March to collect a second levy for up to 20 years because of a petition against it.
But commissioner Steve Tucker’s motion to rescind the March resolution died without a second, paving the way to a Jefferson County-wide vote.
“I have been the one on the fence about this,” port commission Chair Bill Putney said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing has gotten the public’s attention like this tax issue has.”
The proposed levy could have been assessed without going to voters based on state law and how ports work with industrial development districts.
However, a group of residents called the Committee for Port Accountability circulated a petition, and the county auditor’s office verified the number of signatures surpassed the state requirement to put the measure on the general election ballot.
The maximum rate would be $0.45 per $1,000 of assessed property value, with a cap of $2.70 per $1,000 for the life of the levy.
Putney was animated as he discussed the port’s lack of funds to address infrastructure.
“It’s not a secret the port is strapped,” he said. “It’s not a secret that the port has a lot of projects, and a lot of them are critical.”
Putney cited the top two projects as the replacement of the failing Point Hudson jetty and dredging at the Quilcene marina.
“There’s nowhere to get the money unless we go back to the marine trades or the merchants and say we’ve got to pay the bill,” he said. “I don’t think that’s reasonable.
“I understand people don’t want to pay an additional tax, but you have to understand, too, that public institutions need money to operate.”
Putney pointed to a recent economic development study that showed the port receives about $1 million annually through property taxes and returns $6 million to the community, including 2,200 living-wage jobs.
“If we start raising the rates on marine trades, that’s an end to that, and it’s an end to this community, and it won’t happen on my watch,” he said.
Tucker responded by telling Putney they need to let the rest of the county know how he feels.
“If we go to the community without them knowing that, we’re going to lose,” Tucker said.
Tucker said Putney is “preaching to the choir” and emphasized the need for a school bond-type push.
“We need a big campaign that takes money and people and volunteers, not just so the choir knows about it but the community knows about it, too.”
Tucker moved to rescind the March resolution because he said the port needs more time for public education.
“Right now, it’s just a guaranteed loss, and I don’t want a guaranteed loss staring at us in the face when we go to the public,” he said.
By not voting, Putney and commissioner Pete Hanke allowed the November measure to be a binding public vote.
“We can’t wait four years, and we can’t try three more times,” Putney said. “We’ve got to work on this agenda today, and we don’t have the money
“We should be doing economic development in this county, and we don’t have the marginal funds to make those investments.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].