We congratulate Kirk Stickels on his retirement as manager of the Port of Poulsbo. During his tenure, the port district did more to market the port, acquired the old armory site and redeveloped it as a paid parking lot, and made dock improvements. We thank him for his service.
Stickels helped navigate the district through the tumult of the recession and into a new decade. The district is financially sound. But it has the potential to be and do so much more.
The Port Commission needs to hire a new manager who is a visionary, who understands all that port districts are empowered to do under state law, who understands the law and can advise the commission on legal matters. For example, the commission should have received some guidance in December 2011 when it appointed Arnie Bockus to a commission vacancy, an appointment later found to be improper. Staff was silent.
Under state law, port districts are empowered to acquire property, lease property, engage in economic development, improve land for commercial and industrial use, and establish local improvement districts. Ports can invest in park and recreation facilities; roads and streets that serve port facilities; acquire, maintain and operate passenger-carrying vessels; and promote tourism.
The port district could play a larger role in economic revitalization in Poulsbo through the acquisition of property for commercial, ecotourism and recreational uses. It could be a catalyst for revitalization; the district at one time considered buying the Poulsbo Antique Mall building, which arguably is in need of improvement, for use as port offices, port laundry and showers.
In 2000, the Legislature authorized public utility districts and port districts to get into wholesale telecommunications services. The Kitsap Public Utilities District is building a wireless canopy over downtown, with the goal of expanding that canopy over the entire city. That means free wireless access to the Internet and expanded opportunities for existing and emerging businesses. The port district should look at how it can be a partner in that wireless canopy for the benefit of port district residents and businesses. In 2011, 14 public utility districts and three port districts in Washington were providing wholesale telecommunications services.
Poulsbo’s port district boundaries must be expanded. Voters created the Port of Poulsbo in 1951 to operate marine- and recreation-related facilities and help bring economic development — investment and jobs — to the community. But as the city boundaries have grown, the port district boundaries have not. As a result, only half of the city’s commercial and residential property owners pay a property tax to support a port district that benefits the entire city.
The Poulsbo Port District’s boundaries should be enlarged to match the city’s boundaries. The benefits: All voters in Poulsbo would be able to vote for port commissioners. All residents of Poulsbo would have a voice in port matters. The enlarged port district would generate significant tax revenue that could be used to replace the breakwater and its creosoted pilings; improve the seaplane dock and the marina so it can accommodate larger tour vessels; and prevent further erosion at the foot of Anderson Parkway.
Larger port district boundaries would also empower the commission to look beyond the waterfront for economic development.
Clearly, the Port of Poulsbo is only scratching the surface of what it can be. The commission must hire a manager who can awaken the sleeping tiger.