Port of Kennewick Candidates Differ on Managing Finances

By Kristi Pihl, October 23, 2013, Tri-City Herald

Incumbent Port of Kennewick commissioner Don Barnes and challenger John Givens have different ideas about how the organization should manage its finances.

Givens, 67, senior vice president of credit administration at Yakima National Bank, says the port should use operational revenue only to pay for operational expenses.

But Barnes, 61, a commercial broker who was appointed to the commission in May 2012, says that would put the port in competition with private business and at risk of not fulfilling its mission to foster economic development and job creation.

In the mission of the port, “nowhere do I see thou shalt make a profit,” Barnes said. The two are competing for the remaining two years in a six-year term as the Port of Kennewick commissioner for District 1.

The port is in excellent financial condition, with virtually no debt, a 90 percent increase in capital assets in the past decade and a declining property tax levy rate, Barnes said.

The port isn’t operating in the red, Givens said, but the gap between operating income and expenses has widened so property taxes also help cover operational expenses instead of only capital projects.

“I’m not saying the port is bad financial shape,” Givens said. I’m just saying the port is not using its operating revenues to the fullest extent.”

In the 2013 budget, a little more than $1 million is operating revenue from leases, and property taxes represent about $3.4 million, according to port documents. Total operations and maintenance expenses are budgeted for $3.3 million this year. That gap between operating income and expenses is huge, Givens said. The only port property making money is the marina.

But Barnes said the port has already taken steps to increase operating revenue, including remodeling the Oak Street Industrial Park incubator buildings so that space can be leased to new tenants and closing Vista Field Airport for redevelopment.

Barnes said the decision he and the rest of the commission made to close the airport will result in significant savings, since the airport was costing the port $390,000 a year on average. Plus, Barnes said, land sale revenue is not included in operating revenues. If that regular port activity is included, the port’s annual cash profit before tax revenues has been an average of $562,000 in the last decade.

And the port still has land at Vista Field, Columbia Drive and the Tri-City Raceway that will eventually be sold to private developers, Barnes said.

Givens doesn’t discount efforts the port has already made to cut down on the operating gap, he said. But it is an area that he has an expertise in, considering his 37 years of experience in the banking industry and his time on the Kennewick Public Facilities District.

Givens has 20 years of port experience, including as a former Port of Clarkston commissioner and the Port of Kennewick’s executive director. He was chosen to represent the state ports with the State Department of Ecology, he said.

In the months prior to his resignation from the Port of Kennewick in 2003, Givens was the subject of several complaints about his behavior toward employees and was accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a female employee at port offices, according to documents obtained by the Herald. The separation agreement between Givens and the port stated his resignation was not from a past or present disciplinary action.

Givens said if he can’t make a difference in the way he thinks he can in the two years remaining to the term, he won’t run for re-election.

“I am going to try to be the best commissioner I can for the people,” Givens said.

Barnes brings a fresh perspective to the port, with no past history or relations and no agenda, he said. He has experience in commercial property sales, as well as 16 months serving on the commission.

Barnes’s goals are to make sure the port is effectively balancing economic development with sound fiscal responsibility and stewardship, he said.

And, “I hold myself and the port to the highest standards of accountability, with honesty, integrity and transparency in all that we do,” he said.

Port commissioners will earn $1,075 monthly starting next year, plus $104 for each meeting they attend.

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