Blaine is weathering its storm well.
A first quarter review of revenues and expenditures showed that despite the loss of tax revenue from the Semiahmoo Resort in December 2012, the city is holding its own, thanks to a pared-down budget and a slight increase in revenues from point-of-delivery sales taxes from online stores such as amazon.com.
“Semiahmoo has historically been the largest sales tax producer in the city, but amazon.com has filled that void and they now occupy that position in the community,” said city manager Gary Tomsic.
Financial director Jeffrey Lazenby agreed. “That point-of-delivery sales tax has definitely benefited the city of Blaine,” he said. “It’s had a significant impact on our sales tax revenue, and we are recovering quite nicely if you look at past quarters.”
Compared to first quarter 2012, sales tax revenue for the city is 1 percent higher and expenditures are down by 11 percent.
“We don’t see any problems right now,” Lazenby said. “Everything seems to be remaining stable and, barring any future closures, we’re alright. We’re holding steady.”
Tomsic and city staffers apparently aren’t content with just holding steady. Instead, they are investigating ways to help the city grow and become more attractive to investors, and that means learning to understand the market better.
On May 15, the city hosted James Palmer, the economic director for the Washington State Department of Commerce in order to gain insight into how to better serve potential Chinese investors. “Michael (Jones) and I initiated the idea of having some type of educational experience for us to get a better idea of how to do business with Chinese investors from the lower mainland, because they are a primary source for land development,” Tomsic said. “We’re seeing more Chinese investors than anyone else, but there are some unique cultural things that we need to be aware of in order to work well with them.”
Tomsic said that Palmer, who has a bachelor’s degree in international studies and an MBA from the Republic of China’s leading business school, would provide some insight into how the city could better manage investor expectations and do business more effectively.
“It’s a real opportunity for us to learn and do a better job at creating an environment that makes investors feel comfortable and welcome,” Tomsic said. “We have to understand them and they need to understand us. It works both ways.”
In other council news, Steve Lawrenson was sworn in as a member of council on May 13, taking the seat left vacant by Ken Oplinger’s departure. Lawrenson was one of four applicants for the position.
“I’m a local Blaine boy,” Lawrenson said during his council interview. “My roots are here and I’d like to see it be the town it’s been in the past. Part of what I want to see is to try and boost community spirit in Blaine.”
Lawrenson, a long-time Blaine business owner, said that he’s been interested in serving on council for “a long time,” but wanted to make sure he had the time to devote to the position before making his bid. “There’s a lot of potential here,” he said. “We have a great school system and a great city staff and we need to take a good look at future opportunities.” He cited the police department as a top priority for increased funding, adding he was interested in helping downtown business owners expand their businesses.
A former Blaine Tourism Advisory Committee member, he has also served on the chamber of commerce. His appointment passed with a 5–2 vote; Paul Greenough and Charlie Hawkins voting no.