Split Port of Port Angeles Commission Opts Not to Raise Property Tax; Moorage Rates Another Matter

By Paul Gottlieb, October 28, 2013, Peninsula Daily News

Port of Port Angeles commissioners will forego a 1 percent property tax increase for 2014, they decided Monday in a split vote.

But over the objections of boat owners at the meeting, commissioners will move forward with linear-foot moorage rate increases next year for Port Angeles Boat Haven.

The lone commissioner who favored imposing the 1 percent tax increase for 2014 was Paul McHugh of Sequim, who failed to advance from the general election primary and will be replaced by either port Business Development Director Colleen McAleer or event services co-owner Del DelaBarre.

The tax increase, which would have raised about $14,000 in 2014, was not imposed by the board in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

So, port taxpayers will continue paying 19 cents for each $1,000 of property valuation, or $38 a year on a $200,000 home.

“This establishes a precedent that will result in future commissions not ever taking this again,” McHugh predicted.

But Commissioner John Calhoun said in the current economic climate that it would not be fair to increase the rate, even by 1 percent.

“It’s as much symbolism as anything else, when people’s property taxes are going down and we are still increasing their tax payments, and it’s a matter of fairness to a lot of people.”

The moorage-rate hikes, which were delayed for 2013, will be imposed on owners of boats ranging in length from 20 feet to 60 feet and longer and will be combined with a 1.6 percent hike based on the Consumer Price Index.

John Wayne Marina boat owners in Sequim will see just the CPI increase.

The moorage increases — the biggest hike is 97 cents a linear foot for boats 60 feet and longer — were criticized by marine surveyor Tom Pope and boat owners Penney Sanders and William Spring, all from the group, People for the Responsible Operation of the Port.

Spring, whose objections were similar to those he raised last year, criticized a 2012 survey of Northwest Washington marinas, on which the rate increase is based.

The Boat Haven’s new rate will be 85 percent of the average of the 20 marinas surveyed, which included the Boat Haven and marinas at Elliott Bay and Bremerton.

Spring said the survey was weighted toward boaters along the Interstate 5 corridor and that a rate hike was ill-advised at a time that the Boat Haven is experiencing a low level of occupancy that he described as “alarming.”

The demographics of the survey bear little to no resemblance to the demographics on the North Olympic Peninsula, Spring added.

He said port commissioners should have confined their survey to marinas closer to home.

Pope, Sanders and Spring said consideration of the increase should be delayed until a new port executive director is hired and a new port commissioner seated in January.

“It’s only fair to the citizens of this county, given the gravity of what’s being proposed and the effect on local citizens,” said Spring, who

But port commissioners did not object to commission President Calhoun’s urgings that it was time to move forward.

Calhoun also advised against Commissioner Jim Hallett’s suggestion that Hallett meet with moorage-rate-increase opponents and come back with a proposed rate by the end of March.

Calhoun said taxpayers countywide, including those in Calhoun’s own West End, have paid for Boat Haven improvements without benefiting directly from those improvements or voting on them.

“They need to be at the table somehow,” Calhoun said.

He added that the new rates also still will be less than the Port of Port Towsend’s linear-foot rate for boats of 20 to 60 feet and above, which in 2012 ranged from $6.23-$7.72.

In addition, the 85 percent adjustment makes the rates fair, Calhoun asserted.

“I’m not so convinced our rates are so far out of line,” he added.

After the vote, Spring continued to insist that was not the case.

“We lost a big one, and it’s disappointing,” he said.

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