Port of South Whidbey peers at saving more

With an eye toward saving more money, Port of South Whidbey District commissioners approved a $1.2 million operating budget for 2019 at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

About two-thirds of its revenue, up to $790,000, comes from property taxes and interest. The budget includes a 1 percent increase in its property tax levy, the maximum increase taxing districts can approve without voter approval. The increase adds about $7,700.

Total projected revenue for 2019 adds up to $1.2 million while estimated operating disbursements total $1.08 million.

Revenues from moorage, parking and permit fees are expected to remain largely unchanged, but some administration expenses will increase.

Insurance benefit payments jumped 23 percent last year to $59,400 from $48,000 in 2017, Executive Director Stan Reeves explained. In 2019, premiums are expected to cost $61,500. Commissioners Curt Gordon and Ed Halloran attended, board President Jack Ng was absent.

Unlike previous years, no pay raises for staff or increases for commissioners pay or travel budget are budgeted. There’s also no cuts, but that trend may not last, Gordon predicted.

“We may be cutting expenses in the future,” he said. “We’re not unhealthy here. I just don’t like the trend.”

Gordon emphasized the need to build a bigger cash reserve.

“Out budget is growing, our liabilities are growing,” Gordon said. “We need to keep our bond rating and it’s better with more carryover funds. I would like to see a $500,000 carryover starting in 2020.”

In the port’s 2019 capital budget, which is separate from operating expenses, costs for improvements to the Island County Fairgrounds total $865,640.

After the port assumed ownership of the fairgrounds from the county in March 2017, a plan to invest about $1.67 million in renovations and repairs was calculated. It included safety improvements, horse barn repairs and electrical upgrades.

Some of the fairground fixes will be funded over the next two years with $688,000 in grants received from Island County Rural Economic Development Funds, Reeves explained.

The port was also awarded a $30,000 grant from the USDA Rural Business Development Grant to help overhaul the Coffman Building commercial kitchen so it can be rented by start-up food businesses.

Fixes to the barns are finished and wireless access is now available in all the buildings, said Larry Lehtonen, fairgrounds director. Additionally, after many months of delay, construction work should begin at the Blackbox Theater, which needs a second emergency exit, Reeves said.

The board also approved the $32,271 purchase of a 2019 Ford F-250 pickup truck needed for maintenance travel to the port’s numerous marine areas, parks and beaches.

The cost of the new truck had been included in its current budget.

Commissioners reported some progress in securing parking in Mukilteo for Clinton-bound ferry passengers wanting to leave their cars behind. But they declined to elaborate until a memorandum of understanding had been signed by various government entities.

“We’re keeping the ball rolling,” said Gordon, who’s led the decade-long push. “We just want to build a parking lot.”

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