Port of Poulsbo expansion failing; fast-ferries proposal leading

POULSBO — The proposal to enlarge the Poulsbo Port District’s boundaries to match those of the City of Poulsbo was losing by a vote of 536 opposed to 417 in support, in early results posted at 8:10 p.m. Nov. 8.

Kitsap Transit’s passenger-only ferry investment plan was heading toward passage, with a vote of 42,234 in support to 40,842 opposed.

It was the Port of Poulsbo’s second attempt in two years to enlarge its boundaries. Proponents said enlarging the boundaries — the current port district is roughly half the size of the city — would generate an additional $147,000 a year in property tax revenue to help pay for improvements in the marina area, primarily replacing the aging breakwater and its 1,100 creosoted pilings with a new floating breakwater. An engineer is scheduled to present proposed plans for the new breakwater at the Nov. 17 Poulsbo Port Commission meeting. Port Commissioner Steve Swann expects the cost to be in the $4.5 million to $5 million range.

“We know the breakwater is coming out, either by man or by nature,” Swann told the Herald on Nov. 7. “The breakwater is on its last legs. Two or three years and it has to go.”

On the eve of the election, Swann said he didn’t have a clue as to whether the proposed port district expansion would pass. “We can’t spend any money to convince people; we’re prohibited by law to take out ads and stuff.”

He found it ironic that some people living in the port district told him they opposed the expansion. He pointed out there are only a certain number of ways the port district can raise the necessary funds for the improvements. “Loans, bonding, grants, increasing moorage, raising the price of fuel, or asking the port district taxpayers to kick in by increasing the tax rates,” he said.

The port district, which has an annual budget of roughly $1.2 million, currently levies a property tax of 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. That equates to $75 a year for a home with an assessed valuation of $250,000.

As important as the additional revenue was, what it would have meant/is what it will mean to the port’s ability to secure bond financing at better rates. “A bigger tax base helps our bonding … if we increase the size of our tax base, we can borrow more to do the job, and hold down other increases,” Swann said.

The port district was established by local voters in 1951, but in the ensuing years, its boundaries remained unchanged as the city, which is a separate entity, grew. As a result, about half of the city is outside the port district. Advocates of annexation have said that it’s inequitable because it means half the city supports a port district that benefits the entire city.

The port district’s last annexation effort, in February 2014, failed by a margin of 534 votes. That measure was more ambitious; the port district had proposed annexing communities on both sides of Liberty Bay. But among voters within the Poulsbo city limits, the measure only failed by about 56 votes.

Port districts were created by state law — RCW 53.04.010 — as economic development engines. The law states:

“Port districts are hereby authorized to be established in the various counties of the state for the purposes of acquisition, construction, maintenance, operation, development and regulation within the district of harbor improvements, rail or motor vehicle transfer and terminal facilities, water transfer and terminal facilities, air transfer and terminal facilities, or any combination of such transfer and terminal facilities, and other commercial transportation, transfer, handling, storage and terminal facilities, and industrial improvements.”

The port district owns and operates Poulsbo Marina; an FAA-designated seaplane base at the north end of the marina; and a public parking lot on Jensen Way, with 56 parking stalls, four electric-car charging stations, and 12 stalls for RVs and vehicles with trailers.

The marina has guest moorage, permanent moorage and transient moorage. Among the marina’s amenities is one of the last remaining tidal grids in Puget Sound, which can be used for vessel inspections and light-duty maintenance. The port also owns the only public boat launch in Poulsbo.