Port mulls outsourcing marinas to private company managers

Commissioners seeking public input on whether they should send out requests for qualifications.

BREMERTON — Could management outsourcing be on the horizon for Port of Bremerton’s two marinas?

The port’s commissioners discussed the possibility with the community at their regular meeting Feb. 13. The issue has come to the forefront as the Bremerton Marina continues to lose money, despite increasing its moorage occupancy to near-capacity. Port Orchard’s marina currently is generating a small profit with its operation.

“The idea would be that it might be able to benefit the port in some way,” Jim Rothlin, the port’s CEO, said. “It’s really my responsibility to figure out what is best for the marina, what is best for the taxpayer dollar.”

At the moment, the commissioners are in discussions to approve or deny sending out a request for qualifications (RFQ), not whether to approve actually leasing the management to a private company.

Issuing an RFQ is a pre-screening step to find companies that would be qualified to manage the Port marinas while meeting the stipulations set forth by the commissioners. By doing so, it would enable them to narrow down the pool of possible applicants should it come to it, while also providing information about how these private companies may improve their management.

“Sending out an RFQ, I don’t consider it to be risky,” Commissioner Cary Bozeman said. “It’s a way to gather information. Usually, those kinds of processes help you better understand your operation and bring you new information.”

If they proceed with an RFQ, the port has a set list of objectives that prospective management would need to take into consideration.

Those included zero job reduction; continued support of events and agencies that support the waterfront; and maintaining control of moorage rates.

“[An RFQ] could give us some ideas what we could do in the future if we didn’t go in this direction,” Commissioner Larry Stokes said.

“But I want it understood that no decision [has been] made. We are 100-percent open-minded.

“We want to do what’s best for the people we represent, which are the taxpayers. We want to do the best for the port. So that’s where we’re going to leave it.”

The public was then invited to speak on the issue, to share their concerns or express support or what priorities should be included.

Carlos Jara, a member of the Downtown Bremerton Association, said, “One thing I like about what we currently have with the Port of Bremerton is how much they contribute downtown … if the RFQ is going out, I think one of the key parameters — if it does become a reality — is that there has to be an expectation of whoever’s running the marina to continue that, to be involved.

“We all work together to make Bremerton a better place.”

“I’m not here to speak for or against the ideas of the marina,” Jim McDonald said, “but I am here to speak for proceeding with the RFQ.

“It seems like a lot of times, when you work with partners, you end up with better things than you had.”

Clifford Labelle expressed doubt about how good an idea it is to leasing management to a private company is.

“Any of the places I’ve seen in the past that have done that end up with the private company managing it for about five years, sucking off the cash flow, reducing services and deferring maintenance until it’s no longer got the cash flow they desire for their profit-making operation.”

He added that it was a mistake to think of the Port of Bremerton as a business.

“It’s not a business, it’s a public benefit, in much the same way the library is a public benefit, or a park,” Labelle said.

“It’s the same idea. If you turn that control over to a private company, they don’t have the same interest.”

Ultimately, no decision has yet been made, but the commissioners intend to speak to the public again about issuing an RFQ at their next meeting, 6 p.m. on Feb. 27 at the Bremerton National Airport Administration Building.

“I absolutely believe we always have to do everything we can to try to get better,” Bozeman said.

“We’re a $15 million company. For us to not always seek information to try to get better … we’d be derelict in our duties. I think this process absolutely makes sense.”

Axel Strakeljahn, the third commissioner, and Stokes both expressed support for sending out an RFQ as well.

“Anytime you can do something, if it’s better, it’s good,” Stokes said.

“If it’s not better, you don’t do it.”