MSC report draws criticism

POULSBO — The Poulsbo City Council and staff got their first look at the long-awaited report on the Marine Science Center and quickly took aim at errors in the report.

Among those errors was an apparent misunderstanding of the purpose of the Poulsbo Public Development Authority (PPDA) and the council’s review of the center’s business plan by consultant James Kolb of the FOR SEA Institute of Marine Science in Indianola.

“I’m sure this is a very good document but I’m not sure that with $5,000 the city got what it paid for,” Councilman Ed Stern commented.

Stern’s primary point of contention was Kolb’s explanation of the PPDA. In the report, the PPDA is treated like an organizational authority, which it never was, the councilman noted.

“The PPDA was a financial arm and had no operational oversight or operational authority,” Stern said. “That is a confusion over the English word authority as it applies to the State of Washington and its financial code.”

Under state law, the authority could only be used to pay for and construct the Marine Science Center building, which it did when construction was funded in 1990. The authority was dissolved in 2002 after bonds issued for the project were refinanced.

“I’m a little concerned where this document takes us, and it puts an onus on the city because of a misunderstanding of the RCW (Revised Code of Washington),” Stern explained.

The center never had an overall organizational authority and basically housed different groups under the same roof, noted Councilman Mike Regis.

“(Kolb) uses the term ‘governing board’ and no such creature existed,” Regis explained. “We were just landlords.”

As landlords, Poulsbo requested financial records from the Marine Science Society of the Pacific Northwest (which had volunteered to staff the center) and its business plan, which the city didn’t receive in a timely manner, claimed Finance Director Nanci Lien.

“They made us an offer that we could come down with paper and pencil but they never gave us a date,” Lien noted. “They’re a non-profit, so they’re not audited by the state.”

Had the MSSPNW been a governmental organization, the city would have been able to obtain the financial records, but since different rules apply to non-profits, it didn’t happen, she explained.

The group did develop a business plan, but the council never reviewed it contrary to the information in the report, Lien declared. Although the center is closed, the city still owns the property and the building, she said.

“We can’t refinance the bonds because the bonds on the Marine Science Center have already been refinanced,” Lien explained. “We have to honor these principal payments until 2011 unless you decide to sell the building.”

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