Candidates share their visions for the Port of Kingston

From left, candidates for Kingston Port Commissioner Tom Coultas, Jerry Kirschner and Walt Elliott in the Kingston Cove Yacht Club Tuesday night. - Johnny Walker/ Herald
From left, candidates for Kingston Port Commissioner Tom Coultas, Jerry Kirschner and Walt Elliott in the Kingston Cove Yacht Club Tuesday night.
— image credit: Johnny Walker/ Herald

KINGSTON — When it comes to priorities for the Port of Kingston, the three candidates for port commissioner all take their own stand.

Incumbent Tom Coultas said stormwater treatment and boosting SoundRunner’s ridership are of greatest concern.

Challenger Jerry Kirschner said one issue is parking, but the most pressing issue is strategically planning for economic development and attracting small businesses.

Challenger Walt Elliott said the biggest issues are creating a thriving downtown, making SoundRunner work for everyone, and ensuring the health of the marina and Appletree Cove.

On July 26, the three candidates for Kingston port commissioner answered questions from the public in a forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and held in the Kingston Cove Yacht Club. The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 16 primary will advance to the Nov. 8 general election. The discussion ranged from economic development to the port’s role with Arness Park.

When it comes to understanding taxpayers’ concerns, the two challengers think more community involvement is needed.

Coultas said it’s a challenge.

“Go back to SoundRunner,” Coultas said. “I kept referring to the silent majority, but the only time I heard from people is when I crossed paths with them in the store.”

Coultas is serving his fourth term as port commissioner and  describes himself as fiscally conservative. He noted the downtrodden state the port was in when he joined the board; it is now debt free and has financial resources available for development.

Though the two challengers agreed on the position of transparency —  supporting electronic notification and website posting of Port District information — it was Elliott who stood alone when it came to discussing the Port’s responsibilities.

When asked whether the Port should play a role in maintaining Arness Park, Elliott said “yes.”

“I don’t think it’s going to break anyone’s budget to help clean,” he said. “I think the port ought to step forward and help volunteers out.”

In his opening statement, Elliott, chairman of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee, quoted Will Rogers: “If you want to be successful, know what you’re doing, love what you’re doing and believe in what you’re doing.”

Elliott’s fellow candidates opposed the idea of the port taking care of Arness Park. Kirschner, who leads the port’s volunteer passenger ferry advisory committee, said the public is asking the Port to “do more and more” and it needs to stay focused on current projects important to the community.

Kirshner’s response echoed Coultas’, who was more blunt.

“Why not? It’s county Parks and Recreation ... That’s it,” Coultas said.

Coultas said the port commission needs to keep its goals realistic. With limited financial resources, while trying to maintain the SoundRunner passenger ferry, the port should know its limits, he said. This includes how the port should help with economic development.

“We just do not have the financial resources,” he said. “We need to be realistic and look at the numbers and someone on the board needs to be able to say ‘no.’”

When it comes to SoundRunner, however, the three candidates seemed to be in agreement.

Asked their position on Port District tax money being used to support the ferry, Coultas began by saying the Port needs to listen to the majority. If the Port was to survey property owners, and the majority said “yes,” he is all for it.

“I supported (subsidies) in March, but we need to have performance and ridership goals,” he said. “Bottom line in the sustainability of that ferry is ridership.”

Kirschner said support for the ferry is twofold: Revenue versus cost and how it benefits the community. In order for SoundRunner to succeed, goals need to be set, including a timeline, and confidence needs to be built, Elliott said. This may require three to four years of subsidies.

“Getting all the pieces takes time,” he said. “Do we want subsidies? If so, how long?”


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