2016 port budget includes flat taxes, marine infrastructure updates

Port of Bellingham commissioners approved a budget for 2016 on Tuesday, Nov. 17, with a 3-0 vote. The new port budget maintains the current property tax levy and shifts the focus of port capital projects from the airport to the waterfront and marine infrastructure.

The port will collect roughly 28.22 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value for 2016, for a total of about $6.99 million. That’s roughly the same as 2015. Over the last 20 years, the port has decreased the levy rate by about 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, from a high of nearly 45 cents per $1,000 in 1994.

Under the budget, the port will collect $71.8 million in revenue next year, spend $81.8 million, and end 2016 with about $18.6 million for future projects.

The budget proposes $31.6 million in capital projects, with the most expensive being $9.4 million in work at the Fairhaven Shipyard that would include replacing a wooden pier with a concrete pier that will be able to handle heavier loads, and constructing a new warehouse.

The budget also includes a variety of updates at Blaine Harbor, including replacing a concrete float at the landing of gate 1 and replacing several warehouse roofs. The planned projects will cost about $1.2 million. The Squalicum Harbor Esplanade’s fire suppression system is scheduled for a $500,000 replacement.

After several years of expensive capital projects, the port’s aviation department wants to keep costs low at the airport in 2016. The airport’s multiyear, $38.6 million expansion finished in 2014. Since then, a drop in the Canadian dollar and a corresponding drop in airport traffic has hurt the airport’s business model, as has Alaska Airlines moving flights to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to compete with Delta, and Allegiant Air cancelling service to Hawai.

The port forecasts that its aviation department will collect about $1 million less in revenue in 2016 compared to 2015, but it will also reduce operating expenses by about $671,000 if things go as planned.

The port budgeted $24.7 million for environmental cleanup and redevelopment costs in 2016.

Phase 1 of cleanup and dredging for the Whatcom Waterway—the channel through the downtown waterfront at the mouth of Whatcom Creek—is on schedule to finish in March 2016. The $30.6 million contract that the port signed last year with American Construction Company of Tacoma for the project was the largest single contract ever issued by the port. A combination of state cleanup grants and the port’s prepaid environmental insurance policy is funding the work.

The port’s Irish master developer is scheduled to start construction on the former Granary Building in 2016. The port signed a master development agreement with Dublin-based Harcourt Developments for 18 acres of former Georgia-Pacific waterfront in 2015.

In November, the port gave Harcourt a three-month extension on its building permit application for the Granary Building. Under the new schedule, Harcourt must submit a building permit for the work by Feb. 19, 2016 and start construction within 90 days after the permit is issued.

The port’s “corporate goals” for 2016 include:

– Ongoing development in the Waterfront District

– Complete Whatcom Waterway phase 1 cleanup and plan other necessary cleanups

– Expansion of marine trades

– Strategic management of a growing airport

– Redevelopment of the Bellingham Shipping Terminal and Log Pond area

– Stimulate economic development and job creation

– Restoration and repair of aging infrastructure

A full copy of the port’s 2016 budget is available on the port’s website: www.portofbellingham.com.

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