Port Townsend Council looks at 2022 spending

PORT TOWNSEND — With tax revenue — from sales, lodging, property and real estate excise taxes — on the rise, city officials pronounced themselves “cautiously optimistic” in a 2022 budget hearing this week.

Monday night’s Port Townsend City Council meeting brought Finance Director Nora Mitchell’s presentation of next year’s revenue and spending plans, and the council’s first formal look at the 2022 budget.

There will be two more “touches,” Mitchell said: a second public hearing during the 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15 council meeting and final adoption of the budget expected during the Dec. 6 session.

Mitchell began with some positive reports.

• Retail sales taxes in 2021 are projected to come in at 6.3 percent above this year’s budget. The 2022 budget projects a 2.5 increase in sales tax revenue.

• “A robust housing market” has favorably impacted real estate excise taxes (REET), now projected to be $610,000, or 19.7 percent greater than the 2021 budget forecast.

• Lodging taxes are projected at $420,000 for 2021, which is 29.6 percent higher than the 2021 adopted budget of $324,0000.

A hulking influx of money comes through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $350 billion in federal COVID-19 relief provided to state and local governments.

Port Townsend was awarded just less than $2.747 million; City Manager John Mauro has advocated spending just half of it in 2022. That’s $1,373,493 in ARPA funds.

Added to the city’s proposed spending, it constitutes $45,184,399 in total expenditures for 2022.

Staff wages and benefits, projected at nearly $10.852 million for about a hundred workers, represent nearly one-third of the city’s operating costs, according to Mitchell’s report.

The largest staffing groups are police — 18.6 full-time-equivalent positions this year and 20.1 FTEs proposed next year — and public works and utilities, with 28.7 FTEs this year and 29.3 next year.

The city also will hire seasonal parks maintenance workers who will be affected by the increase in the state minimum wage, Mitchell said. In 2022, it will grow by 80 cents to $14.49 per hour, a 5.9 percent increase.

Mitchell listed a number of other proposed additions to the 2022 budget as compared with this year’s spending. They include $5,000 added to the Port Townsend Arts Commission’s $20,000.

Jason Victor Serinus, chairman of the Arts Commission, was the one member of the public to speak during the public hearing. He started by saying, however, that he spoke for himself and not for the commission.

“I really believe there’s going to be a resurgence of the arts with the lifting of the pandemic,” Serinus said, while calling for an increase in funding for the arts in general.

He added he didn’t want to sound crass, but the council should “put its money where its mouth is” — and appropriate funds in line with the sign at the city’s entrance, which calls Port Townsend “a Victorian Seaport & arts community.”

Council member Owen Rowe sought to respond.

One of the expenditures on the list of proposed ARPA-funded items, he said, is a “Creative District Strategic Plan.” Port Townsend has been designated a Creative District by the Washington State Arts Commission, aka ArtsWA.

Rowe believes supporting the district, which encompasses the city’s art and cultural businesses, supports economic recovery in turn. And as the city recovers from the effects of the pandemic, “the work plan comes first,” he added.

“Based on the work plan, we create the budget.”

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Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] news.com.

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