Port passes budget with $10.5 million deficit

By Oliver Lazenby

Port of Bellingham commissioners have approved a 2018 budget with expected revenues of $47.5 million and expenditures of $58 million, resulting in a $10.5 million deficit that will require dipping into the Port’s reserve funds. The move will reduce the reserves to $10.9 million.

The deficit is mostly due to projects, according to the draft budget.

Capital expenses make up $20.4 million of the port’s expected expenses for 2018. Replacing a timber portion of the pier in the Fairhaven shipyard will be the port’s biggest capital expense in 2018, with an expected cost of $10.8 million.

Demolishing, reconfiguring and rebuilding Blaine Webhouse #1 for $2.6 million is the port’s biggest Blaine project for 2018. Webhouse #1 is a storage building south of Sound Pacific Seafoods and next to the sawtooth dock. Relocating it next to the other webhouses on Milhollin Drive would free up space for seafood processors or other industrial uses.

Other Blaine projects in the 2018 budget include upgrades to lighting at Blaine Harbor; cleanup, redevelopment and public access planning for the industrial area and wharf district; planning for marine trade-related infrastructure replacement and increased marketing for Blaine Harbor.

Port commissioners passed the budget with a 2-1 vote on November 21.

“I’m concerned because I really don’t see any jobs being created in this budget,” said commissioner Dan Robbins, who voted against it. “I also see revenues of $47.5 million and expenditures of $58 million. So we’re taking roughly $10 million out of a rainy day fund, if you will, and putting it into a budget with really no big solid job creation measures. That really concerns me.”

Robbins suggested that projects in Blaine and Sumas be delayed until 2019 and a project to build a boat yard in north Bellingham be added for 2018. Robbins said that project would create jobs faster. The other commissioners argued that work in Blaine and Sumas will create jobs.

“In Blaine, if that building comes down, it frees up more industrial space. We have two companies up there that want to expand. When they expand, I assume it’s going to create more jobs,” commissioner Bobby Briscoe said. “I think saying it won’t create jobs is a false statement.”

The port isn’t requesting an increase in the tax levy, set at just over $7 million.

They expect the current levy rate of $78.66 for a home worth $300,000 will decrease to $75.63 in 2018, depending on new construction and assessed values.

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