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Port proponents believe new revenue is needed; others say no more taxes

The impetus leading to the potential creation of a Port of Bainbridge Island materialized from Washington State Ferries’ decision last year to rid itself of a decades-long encumbrance it had with the city.

When the state agency offered the city either an acre of land adjacent to the WSF Maintenance Yard or $2 million to be used for a water-related project to forget a promise it had made many years ago, both payoff proposals stirred Eagle Harbor boating enthusiasts.

Some wanted to put a boatyard on the waterfront land, while others saw the money as seed for construction of a new dock and marina off Waterfront Park.

The city, of course, decided in late December to take the cash and stick it in a special reserve fund after WSF granted an 11th-hour reprieve on the water-related condition.

“That sort of started people who were involved in the proposals to thinking that there was another way,” said Wini Jones,. She has been one of the driving forces behind the petition and resolution that the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners put on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

“It rallied the community, and organizations like the park district and city’s Harbor Commission, primarily because there have been so many things involving the island’s waterways that the city has dropped the ball on,” Jones said. “Two council members (Debbi Lester and Barry Peters) became involved, but the city needed the money so ferries decided at the last minute to give it to them.”

Aided by the Washington Public Ports Association (WPPA), the coordinating agency under RCW 53.06.030, Jones and a nucleus of organizers have been working long hours to get information out to the public before ballots are sent out on Oct. 19.

Organizers include several islanders who are among the 12 candidates for the five-position commission that will also be on the Nov. 8 ballot. (Visit  portofbainbridgeisland.org and see the process sidebar on page A3).

“We’re trying to get the word out and one of the problems we are running into is that people are asking, ‘Where is the business plan?’ That will happen after voters elect five commissioners, who, through their ideas and proposals, will give the port direction going forward,” Jones said.

There is organized opposition to the proposition, including Sharon Gilpin, Gary Tripp and Louise Mooney, all of whom were involved in the statement and rebuttal of the proposal. (Contact: 780-9115 or sharon@sounddsl.com).

Gilpin said she understands the process involved, but believes the timing is all wrong.

“The people who have put this together have a lot of projects, like road ends and a new waterfront dock and many other ideas. But those generally are things the city should do but can’t because they don’t have any money,” she said.

“So do we want to establish another taxing agency to do those things the city can’t do? It’s simple,” she said, “in that they are asking voters to approve more taxes when we already are paying plenty for our parks, fire and library districts. Do we really need this? Do we really another taxing agency when we already have several of them?”

Jones argues that a Port of Bainbridge Island would be an economic engine that the island desperately needs at this time because new sources of income are necessary to keep the island afloat economically.

“We need a port to look after our harbors and waterfront, with the added bonus that only a port can bring – the ability to stimulate the economy and create jobs,” she said.

A good start, she said, would be to build a new waterfront public dock and marina in order to jump-start the island’s tourism, which would in turn help pump needed dollars into the Winslow economy.

“To begin with, tourism is a big thing for us and the port could be really helpful to stimulate business,” she said. “The economies of both Poulsbo and Kingston depend quite a bit on their ports bringing people into town, and there’s no reason that can’t happen here.”

The new commissioners would create a comprehensive plan through a detailed process that will include long-term strategies. The port district would then involve the community to develop the authority required to create the plan.

“Through discussions with many of the candidates,” Jones said, “it is our desire to be as transparent and as open to public input as possible. With that in mind, we decided to have five at-large commissioners (all but four of current 75 port authorities have three commissioners) and a four-term limit.”

The proponents will suggest to the newly elected commissioner to set a tax rate of 11 cents per $1,000 assessed, or $55 per year for the average ($500,000) home on the island.

Citing other county port districts as successful examples, Jones said it’s possible that a Port of Bainbridge Island could be self-sufficient in 10 years.

She pointed out the myriad revenue sources besides taxes, including grants, gifts, bonds, property income, lease income from DNR properties alternative financing and other mechanisms.

“I think the port could generate enough revenue to no longer need tax revenues,” Jones said. “Remember, like any taxing agency, there’s a 1 percent limit on increasing taxes. This is going to be similar to Kingston in that we will grow slowly and responsibly, and have a small, efficient staff of only two or three people.”

Councilor Peters, who wanted the city to spend the WSF money on a new public waterfront dock and marina, said he sees the attempt to form a port district as important to the community because it provides a healthy discussion and voters will make the ultimate decision on the proposal.

“Voting for a port would mean putting tax money to work fixing things,” he said. “If that’s what people want, then they should vote for it.”

PORT OF BAINBRIDGE ISLAND PROCESS

• Nov. 8, 2011 – Simple majority vote for the measure to form a Port of Bainbridge Island. Voters will also cast ballots for the five commission positions. All five positions are at-large and for four-year terms.

• Dec. 6, 2011 – New commissioners would attend Washington Public Ports Association (WPPA) conference for indoctrination.

• Jan.  1, 2012 – Port of Bainbridge Island (POBI) becomes an entity, beginning with no income and no assets. The estimated $20,000 cost of the election is charged to POBI; Kitsap County pays if measure fails.

• January – Commissioners appoint members of a Port Advisory Committee (PAC) to assist in the formation and community outreach process.

• January-August – Commissioners develop a Comprehensive Plan that includes: 53.20.010 adoption of harbor improvement plan; establishing a vision, mission, goals and objectives; and plan to incorporate existing studies, environmental reviews and public involvement.

Through the PAC, a community priority list is established and budget developed; the WPPA will assist in this process; research on grant-funding options will occur.

• Early 2012 – POBI may apply to Kitsap County for an operating loan.

• Fall 2012 – In accordance with county requirements, POBI will submit necessary budget and levy request. (Proponents of POBI suggest 11 cents per $1,000 assessed, or $55 per year for the average Island home – assessed value of $500,000; island’s assessed valuation total of $5,642,373,993 would generate $620,660). POBI final beget may require less.

• January 2013 – POBI tax would be applied to Bainbridge Island properties.

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