Port Townsend City Council OKs budget of $45.3 M

Staffing, infrastructure priorities

PORT TOWNSEND — Before voting unanimously to adopt the city’s $45.3 million budget for 2022, the Port Townsend City Council received one comment from the public.

Investigator Lily Haight of Jefferson Associated Counsel, which describes itself as a social-justice law firm, sent a letter about spending on police.

In addition to the $160,000 already spent on new police vehicles and $52,000 spent on 16 new stun guns, the letter noted, the city plans to spend tens of thousands more on recruitment, training, office furniture and equipment.

At the same time, Haight wrote, the draft budget doesn’t reflect previously discussed expansion of the police department mental health navigator program.

The 2022 budget merely continues the one full-time navigator position, she noted.

In response, Deputy Mayor David Faber said it was “late in the game for us to change track on the budget,” and then moved to approve it.

“I hope we’ll strategize in 2022” about the navigator position, he added.

Council member Owen Rowe also responded, saying the additions to the police budget are “filling in some vacancies” on the force.

The police, with 20.1 full-time-equivalent positions, and the city’s public works department, with 33 positions, are part of the city budget’s largest chunk of operating costs.

The police budget in 2022 includes $633,382 for administration plus $3,108,413 for operations and $33,646 for training, all of which are slight increases over this year’s spending.

“Police staffing increases by 1.5 officers if fully staffed,” City Manager John Mauro noted in his introduction to the 2022 budget book.

In all, the city is budgeting for a total of 95.6 positions next year. These workers’ wages and benefits — projected at $10,934,203 — represent 30.7 percent of the city’s operating costs.

Staff support and training are high priorities, Mauro has said in recent weeks.

In his budget memo, he called the city “understaffed and a bit depleted … the team needs an injection of investment.”

To that end, $65,000 is projected for “enhanced recruitment of police and key positions,” while the 2022 budget also increases spending on staff training, restoring it to pre-pandemic levels.

Port Townsend’s infrastructure is likewise “a bit depleted,” Mauro said.

So the 2022 big-ticket expenditures will include capital projects: a well for the golf course, utility work on Discovery Road and Mill Road and replacement of elderly water lines.

Then there is a need to address the community’s affordable housing shortage, a key priority in 2022 and beyond, according to the budget document.

Improvements to the Cherry Street property designated for the construction of such housing, fee deferrals to providers such as Habitat for Humanity and Bayside Housing & Services, and planning for the acquisition of more land are all on the agenda.

Water pact

Not long after adopting the 2022 budget, all seven City Council members approved the city’s new water agreement.

The pact, many months in the making, will have the city of Port Townsend and Port Townsend Paper Corp. sharing the costs for maintenance, repair and capital improvements to the Olympic Gravity Water System, the provider of the city’s water supply.

The new contract, to go into effect next year, includes the installation of water meters to monitor all consumption and the establishment of a fund for capital improvements.

City residents can expect their water bills to rise $8 to $14 monthly starting in April.

The City Council will discuss that topic during its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 13.

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Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsuladailynews.com.

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