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South Whidbey Port changes tack on levy and marina design

FREELAND — South End residents hoping to find out what the new Langley marina will look like and how it much it will cost went away empty-handed Wednesday night.

With less than two months left before the filing deadline to make the Nov. 4 ballot, the Port of South Whidbey has not finalized a design, can’t say what the marina will cost to build and isn’t sure what the levy rate should be.

At the port’s meeting Wednesday, port commissioners faced a crowd critical of the marina’s new design and the port’s plan to pay for it.

Langley Chamber of Commerce president Fred Lundahl said the business community supports the marina but wanted the port to get the biggest bang for the buck.

“It seems foolish to go for a design that won’t maximize income,” he said.

“What is the annual income from each of these options? How do we finance and where will the money come from?” Lundahl asked.

Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle said that, based on 40 slips, the port will get $65,000 annually from moorage fees. He also touted the economic impact the rebuilt marina is expected to create.

“The best numbers from our financial consulting firm indicate income to South Whidbey would be $1.9 million and 14 jobs would be created,” Seitle said.

When Marianne Edain asked what kind of jobs, Seitle said several permanent positions would be created while the others would come from marina income spin-off effects.

Edain did not seem convinced.

“Why should we support this at all and why should we pay for it?” she asked.

Seitle said, however, that it was a given that the public would pay for improvements at the marina.

“The city began this process back in 2004 and there was never any doubt by anyone that we would not have to go to the taxpayers,” Seitle said.

Port officials have stressed in recent months that a property tax increase is needed to finance improvements to the Langley Marina. At this week’s meeting, officials reviewed five new options for increasing the number of slips at the marina, and commissioners zeroed in on a design from port engineering consultant Art Anderson Associates with 32 slips and an unsolicited design from Bellingham Marine with 67 slips.

The first was pegged at $8.4 million, with upland improvements factored in. The Bellingham proposal is a flat $7.7 million based on what the marina would cost today.

Many remained worried, however, that the port will create a special taxing district to pay for marina improvements should a property tax increase fail at the ballot box. Creation of an IDD, or an industrial development district, does not require a public vote.

Linda Perkins asked port commissioners if that was in the plans.

“The impression I’ve gotten is that, if the levy fails, you would resort to an IDD,” she said. “Is that right?”

“I don’t know what we’d do,” Seitle responded. “But we would never make a move without several public meetings.”

Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden added that the port would need to reevaluate its position if that happened.

“But I have no intention of approving an IDD,” she added.

Perkins said this is a tough time for many people.

“The marina is a wonderful idea but the economy is scary and I’m worried, so I hope you are proceeding with caution,” Perkins said.

“If the levy failed, we would not come back to punish you,” Seitle said. “You’re right, the economy has changed a lot since we began this process. Our mission is to reduce our dependence on taxes by generating new revenue.”

Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert said it may be perfectly legal for the port to create an industrial development district, but it wouldn’t be ethical.

“If the voters shoot us down, an IDD is out of the question,” he said.

Port staff were asked to draft a resolution for a property tax rate hike of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The tax increase was smaller than the port’s previous proposal — down by 5 cents — and would run for 20 years instead of forever.

Still, it’s not final. Port commissioners will review the new rate at the next meeting on

July 9.

Commissioners put off a decision on design, asking staff to fuse the two options to determine engineering feasibility. The final plan will offer somewhere between

32 and 67 slips.

“Our expectation is to have both technical plans and cost estimates ready for the July 9 meeting,” said Port Manager Ed Field.

Still, others question the plan.

Ron LaCour of Freeland said later the marina project could lead to financial problems.

“I propose a motion that this entire marina adventure be tabled until December 2010,” he said.

“With diesel surpassing $5 a gallon, I’m afraid the 11 or 12 die-hard boaters visiting Langley every other month in the future won’t be able to contribute enough to the island’s economy even to maintain today’s existing marina much less the grandiose one proposed,” he said.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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