Poulsbo Port’s budget drying up

Port commissioners consider 30 percent moorage rate hike.

POULSBO — The Port of Poulsbo is facing a big to-do list, and with it could come a hike in moorage rates.

Earlier this month port commissioners voted to institute a 30 percent increase in fees in 2009, however the commission will hold a second special meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 to once again address the topic, and possibly revisit other rate options.

Port commissioner Arne Bockus said he’s encouraging feedback from port tenants on the tentative solution, which would bump moorage fees, especially those for larger boats. Much of the port’s infrastructure is in need of repair, and Bockus said the commissioners may reevaluate its comprehensive plan. Funding for the port comes from moorage fees and taxing, a district Bockus pointed out has not continued to grow as the city’s taxing district has. Raising rates would help to strike balance between revenues and increasing costs.

The new rate structure would mean the port could charge more for larger boats by increasing prices incrementally according to the size of a vessel. Bockus said he hopes tenants offer input on what has historically been a flat fee across the board.

“The economy is such now that it’s something we just have to look at,” he said.

Monthly moorage rates at the port have increased by an average of 3.3 percent each year between 2000 and 2008. Currently, permanent base moorage costs $4.50 per foot/per month, just raised from $4.25. Permanent moorage rates account for 53 percent of the port’s operating revenues, while guest and winter moorage make up 25 percent.

A rate study developed by Bothell-based BST Associates put that amount in comparison to several other ports, with Poulsbo being the lowest of them all. That same study found the port to be “in a very dire condition of deferred maintenance.”

The report states without preventative action the marina could face a “catastrophe” within five years, and lists a needed breakwater replacement, dock upgrades and utility improvements as necessary before any facility expansion or new ventures. Right now, it contends, the port is running a break-even operation, with expenses averaging a 6.1 percent annual increase between 2001 and 2007. Between 2006 and 2007, repair and maintenance costs alone nearly doubled, going from about $33,000 to nearly $60,500. With lacking capital funding, BST termed the current budget situation an “unsustainable business strategy.”

“We’re definitely in need of additional money,” explained Commissioner Tony DeCarlo. “Of course it’s not going to make everyone happy but we we’re looking at our finances and the work that we need to do and we just don’t have the money to do it.”

Approximately 78 percent of the port’s permanent tenants are from Kitsap County, 55 percent of them from Poulsbo, while most current tenant boats run between 22- and 40-feet in length, the study reports.

The port has 251 slips for annual tenants and 69 for transient tenants, and currently has a waiting list of those who’d like to moor there.

DeCarlo said tenants were consulted as a part of the rate study. He said a phased, incremental approach was discussed, but “we thought we need to do something now,” he said.

Rate increases would go into effect in March of the coming year.

The port, which was formally established in 1964, is considered one of the downtown’s main gateways, especially during the tourist season, and Bockus said commissioners don’t want that aspect to change.

“We want to stay that way,” he said, “so that we are an inviting place to come.”

For more information on the Dec. 15 meeting, call (360) 779-3505.

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