Public hearing highlights opposing views on Port of Olympia’s finances


The Port of Olympia Commission held a public hearing on the proposed 2024 operating budget, capital investment plan, and tax levy on Monday, November 13.

Total projected revenue for 2024 is expected to be around $23.4 million, $15.6 million of which will come from operating revenues, while $7.8 million will come from property taxes.

Considering operating and non-operating expenses of $18.7 million, debt service payments of $4.6 million, and capital investment spending of $2.4 million, the port’s net cash would decrease from $15.3 million to $12.9 million in 2024.

The port’s four businesses are the airport, Swantown Marina, the marine terminal, and port-owned real estate properties. These business lines are all expected to yield losses of around $494,000, $310,000, $1.14 million, and $244,000, respectively.

Resident John Saison said that next year’s budget will be “business as usual” for the port.

“This goes on year after year. When asked why, the answer is there are some jobs at the marine terminal,” Saison said. “But we need to weigh that against not only the financial costs, but the cost to our environment and our health.”

Resident Carla Wulfsberg agreed with Saison. “I just think we all should be very, very thoughtful about spending the money that the public is giving the port to support a losing proposition,” Wulsburg said.

“I would rather put that money towards something that would really help people in this community: supporting small business incubators, childcare support for the farmers…” she added.

 Debbie Patton, who is chair of the port’s citizens advisory committee, had opposite views on the matter and discussed how the public benefits from the port.

“I'm completely in favor of maintaining the marine terminal for many reasons, including emergency response by the Coast Guard… the airport that provides access for the Department of Natural Resources for firefighting, and for the State Patrol for search and rescue and for medivac. I just think it's short-sighted for people to want to stop any of our lines of business,” Patton said.

Commission Chair Amy Evans Harding had a brief comment about the issue, saying that the public needs to consider that the port provides public services.

“When the county is balancing the public health budget or the sheriff's budget, they're not looking for a profit. I think that when we're analyzing our business lines, we need to take into consideration when we're providing essential services or a public good and how that plays into the overall analysis,” Evans Harding said.


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  • BobJacobs

    1) Over the decades, we've learned to be wary of any numbers published by the Port District.

    2) I believe Debbie Patton is an "interested party" thru family.

    3) Ms. Harding is on the right track to suggest separating public services from private services provided by the Port District. Overwhelmingly, the Port District provides services to private parties -- boat owners, plane owners, large shippers, users of major real estate. It does also provide some public services like the wonderful Port Plaza park and the waterfront walking path from East bay Drive to the Hearthfire Restaurant. Also small grants to small cities in the rural county that presumably go toward public services. These public services are a very small part of the Port's budget.

    4) A marine terminal is not necessary for coast guard responses.

    I'm very glad to see more people get involved in Port District issues. It needs a lot of scrutiny.

    Bob Jacobs

    Wednesday, November 15, 2023 Report this

  • jimlazar

    The Port of Olympia loses money every year, making it up with property taxes.

    The budget presented at this meeting conceals $1.2 million in interest expense on bonds sold to finance capital improvements for the marine terminal, marina, airport, and office properties. The interest on these should be assigned to the specific business units. When that is done, the losses for each business unit are higher. A minimum of $2 million every year for the marine terminal alone.

    Commissioner Evans is on the right track: it's fine to use taxes to support the public functions, like Port Plaza, but not to subsidize Weyerhaeuser's job export facility (raw logs that should be processed here instead).

    I hope the three new Port Commissioners just elected will insist on more honest financial reporting by the Port, so all the subsidies to shipping companies, yacht owners, airplane owners, and office buildings is more transparent.

    The Port holds about a half-billion dollars worth of real estate (data from Thurston County Assessor, not the pre-inflation "book value" reported on the Port's balance sheet). . They should be able to collect enough rent from that to not need a property tax in addition.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2023 Report this

  • DavidAlbert

    If there are workers sustained by the Port Marine Terminal expenditures, couldn't we use TWO MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR to retrain them? What alternative public services could be paid for with $2 million a year? (Besides cleaning up the environmental degradation?

    If the State Patrol and DNR use the airport for emergencies, shouldn't this be part of the STATE budget, not the Port's?

    Wednesday, November 15, 2023 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    "Some jobs at the Marine Terminal?" You mean 47 well-paying direct jobs and over 4,000 jobs created by necessity of services. The Marine Terminal is an essential part of the Port, and the shortsightedness of some folks in this community just boggles my mind. Also, the small cities grant made it possible for Yelm to relocate and remodel their city hall, build a park, add an outdoor fitness area, and revitalize the town center. The people dismissing the importance of the Port in this community are too short-sighted and have a lack of vision.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2023 Report this

  • TonyW33

    The Swantown Marina is a yacht basin for the privileged elite. Why the hell are the taxpayers of the entire county required to subsidize this playground of the wealthy and well off to the tune of $310,000 . Incidentally, Willard (Bill) McGregor is the Chief of Operations of the Olympia Yacht Club. They are the primary beneficiaries of

    Wednesday, November 15, 2023 Report this

  • TonyW33

    of that subsidy and McGregor was a Port Commissioner for many years. Self dealing at it's best. I have lived in other cities with yacht clubs and Marinas. I've not seen one before anywhere that was subsidized by taxes. Raise the slip rates and the rates on all the other supplied benefits and balance at least that budget. A marina that loses money every year is usually referred to as bankrupt and is closed or sold. SMH

    Wednesday, November 15, 2023 Report this

  • TonyW33

    It has occurred to me that since Willard McGregor lost the election this board might try to appoint him to a position at the Port before January 2024.

    Wednesday, November 15, 2023 Report this