Port of Coupeville commissioners took strides Monday toward taking over management of the Greenbank Farm.
During a special meeting, the board developed a basic job description for a farm director and will be advertising the position, they agreed upon lease details with tenants and will solicit for businesses interested in running activities at the farm.
Discussions around farm employees ranged from having two key operations and events positions to including an assistant farm manager.
“I think we need to get going and advertise the farm director immediately,” Commissioner John Carr said. “It needs to be someone with practical experience.”
Commissioner Marshall Bronson suggested having port Executive Director David Day interview potential candidates for the position and make a recommendation to the board.
Commissioner Mike Diamanti argued that it should be the board doing the interviewing, not Day.
“The port is a policy making board,” Bronson said.
“I disagree,” Diamanti countered. “The board should have oversight on all aspects.”
Commissioner John Carr suggested a compromise.
“We don’t know if we’re going to get 10 applications or two,” he said. “We should have a filtering process.”
The board agreed to have Day narrow down potential candidates and bring top choices to the board.
The commissioners also discussed advertising for an events manager position, but instead made a motion to seek businesses interested in running events at the farm and paying the port to do so.
Incoming commissioners John Misashek and William Bell were present for the meeting and expressed a desire to have a port employee handle events rather than a business.
Gloria Mickunas, who owns the event planning business Whidbey Party Girls!, was also present at the meeting and spoke in favor of the idea.
“I just ask the port keep an open mind in having a business manage special events and weddings (at the farm),” she said.
The board agreed to explore options and directed Day to send out a request for proposals from businesses.
“It’s a phenomenal idea,” Day said after the meeting.
During the subject of lease negotiations, the commissioners debated on the process and how to even go about setting parameters for negotiations.
“I think a commissioner should be involved,” Diamanti said.
Bronson disagreed, saying it wouldn’t be fair to have a two-on-one negotiation between the tenant and port and that Day should handle it. Commissioners threw ideas back and forth about establishing a base to start negotiations, discussing the nearly 13 percent leasehold tax, CPI and lease lengths.
Currently, the Greenbank Farm Management Group covers the cost of the leasehold tax out of the rents collected. It is not a tax the tenants pay on top of their lease rates.
The total cost for leasehold taxes at the farm for all tenants is about $13,000.
Commissioners initially decided the tenants were going to have to pay that nearly 13 percent tax and were looking at raising tenant rates to what they considered fair market value. Commissioners started throwing around base figures like 85 cents a square foot, but Day objected.
“I want to make sure the commission isn’t negotiating leases universally in a public meeting,” Day said, saying that lease negotiations were not a public process and that each tenant will want their own terms.
One tenant, present at the meeting, said the port would be hard pressed to get tenants to sign a lease which raised their rates so high, especially with all the uncertainty at the farm.
“You’re currently asking tenants to pay more for less,” said Rob Schouten, who runs a gallery at the farm. “You don’t have a team in place. We don’t know how the farm is going to look.”
Carr, who has a background in real estate, said he understood where tenants were coming from.
“It’s a leap of faith for everyone,” Carr said.
“We’re looking at total chaos,” Schouten said. “Keep us at the rates we are for a year and that gives you a year to get things worked out.
“Let us see what management is going to look like.”
Diamanti made a motion, which was approved by all, to keep current tenant leases the same for 2016 except to include a 1.22 percent cost of living increase. The port will cover the $13,000 in leasehold taxes.
Leases will then be renegotiated for 2017 after the port has time to determine fair market value for the rental spaces.
Day was perplexed by the motion as it seems the commissioners unilaterally set the lease terms with the motion.
“There’s nothing to negotiate,” he said.
While the decision to cover the $13,000 in leasehold taxes can be fiscally done, Bronson said, it doesn’t get the port further in its goal of having the farm financially sustainable or even profitable.