Port commission votes for property tax hike

rboone@theolympian.comNovember 27, 2012 

The Port of Olympia Commission voted Monday to approve a property tax levy increase for 2013, with commissioners urging passage to address critical port spending needs next year.

The port uses its property tax revenue for environmental cleanup, capital projects and to pay down bonds.

As a result of the increase, the total amount of property tax revenue collected by the port will grow by $100,000 to $4.8 million in 2013 from $4.7 million this year. For the homeowner, the levy rate rises to 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation from 18 cents this year. The owner of a $260,000 home would pay about $53 to the port, according to an example shared by port finance director Jeff Smith during Monday’s commission meeting.

The levy increase was approved on the same night that the commission also approved its budget for 2013. The decision to increase the levy wasn’t unanimous at first.

Commissioner George Barner raised concerns about public reaction to the increase but was later swayed by arguments made by commissioners Jeff Davis and Bill McGregor.

“We need to set up the port (financially) — whether we’re here or not — for the future,” Davis told Barner. McGregor added that it was needed because the port will be picking up a larger share of the costs associated with the cleanup of Cascade Pole, the former wood-treatment plant on the north end of the port peninsula.

Smith added that the levy increase also was driven higher by a decline in the assessed valuation of property in the county.

All three commissioners eventually voted to approve the levy as well as the budget for 2013.

The budget for next year projects revenue of $10 million for the port, a new high.

Revenue is projected to be higher because of increased activity at the marine terminal due to imports of ceramic proppants from China, a product that is then shipped to the upper Midwest to aid in oil exploration.

Higher revenue at the marine terminal also means higher expenses in the form of wages paid to dock workers, but the port has trimmed expenses elsewhere for 2013, such as administrative costs, lowering them by about $300,000, said finance director Smith before the meeting.

The port has yet to become an organization that can operate without the need for property taxes once expenses and depreciation costs are included, something the port’s critics are quick to point out.

But the port continues to whittle away at its operating loss, projecting a loss of about $1 million next year, down from $1.4 million forecast this year. Once $4.8 million in tax revenue and another $3.8 million in state and federal grant funding is included, the port projects net income of $1.5 million next year.

State law allows port districts to levy up to 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Before the meeting started, the commission and the port staff shared a moment of silence for Tony Silva, a longtime port employee who died Sunday from cancer. He was 63.

Silva had worked as marine services manager for the port’s boatworks division, responsible for more than 9,000 boat haulouts during his time at the port. Port executive director Ed Galligan said Silva was a fixture to the local boating community and an expert in boat repairs.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com theolympian.com/bizblog @rolf_boone

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