Port Townsend’s upcoming priorities include mill lease, property tax

City Council members examine tasks sent to committees

PORT TOWNSEND — The City Council has many decisions to make this year, from an expiring water lease with the Port Townsend Paper Corp., to how it should spend property tax — if it chooses to collect at all — since annexation into fire service territory is complete.

Council members reviewed committee priorities during a workshop Monday night, and City Manager John Mauro encouraged them to think about how each task affects others.

The city’s four standing committees — budget and finance, transportation, housing, and rules — are delegated tasks from the full council to work on solutions and then provide a recommendation back to council for consideration.

Several other resident appointed boards, including the planning and arts commissions, the parks, recreation and tree advisory board and the lodging tax advisory committee, go through a similar process.

“We have a multiple set of things all at once here,” Mauro said.

“I want us to think about how it connects to the broader vision, how it connects together.”

The mill and annexation are just two priorities for this year, said Nora Mitchell, the city’s director of finance and administration.

Also on the list is a potential request from Homeward Bound for additional funds toward its Cherry Street housing project, the National Golf Foundation’s recommendations for the city-operated golf course and potential funding for a construction project on Seventh Street, she said.

The city also wants to negotiate a new agreement with its police bargaining unit, which has an expiring contract in December, Mitchell said.

The lease agreement with the mill, which expires March 15, has been in place since 1956. It allows the mill to use all the water except for what the city needs for drinking requirements from the system that starts at the Big and Little Quilcene rivers through City Lake and Lords Lake to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Mitchell told council members the city has expressed a willingness to extend the agreement while they work to finalize a new contract.

Post annexation

The city’s post-annexation agreement with East Jefferson Fire-Rescue includes not collecting the portion of property tax within city limits this year that previously paid for fire and emergency medical services.

Voters in both areas approved the annexation last February.

Council members must decide by June whether they will begin to phase back in the property tax collection — one-third at a time from 2021-23 — and, if so, how those funds will be spent.

One of those areas would be in transportation, where a pavement-management plan presented in October showed the city has nearly $18 million in possible street improvements, said Dave Peterson, interim public works director.

Peterson showed council members a chart that assumed pavement has a 20-year life. He pointed to a 20-year plan that includes a requirement to examine all modes of transportation for all users and all abilities and also said the city wants to incorporate new technologies, such as electric vehicles.

“The big priorities that came out of the transportation committee are on-street parking management and off-street parking regulations for development,” said council member David Faber, who was the chair of the committee last year.

“What we likely need to take up in the near-term is parking, parking, parking and funding, funding, funding.”

Planning manager Judy Surber said the city’s housing challenge is not unique.

“It’s definitely a national problem,” she said. “Some of it is from some of the funding that was cut during the Reagan Administration.”

Jefferson County declared a housing emergency in 2017, Surber said, and the county’s for-rent vacancy is below 1 percent.

“To be healthy, it would be 5 percent,” she said.

The challenge is that it’s not unique to vulnerable populations, Surber said. The city is receiving feedback from other agencies that it’s difficult to hire teachers, police officers and health care workers due to a lack of available and workforce housing.

Surber cited a study that says 1,369 new units will be needed in Jefferson County in the next 20 years.

“We normally process 30 to 35 units per year,” she said of the city’s Development Services department. “You can see we need to accelerate the process to meet the need.”

Mauro said council members will need to be courageous to prioritize as they connect to the city’s “larger strategic vision,” and that they’ll need creativity to solve “some nutty problems.”

“If we don’t think creatively on how to get solutions, then I don’t think we’re going to get there,” he said.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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