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"What price growth...?"
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Published October 26, 2006

Port officials kick around spending ideas

By Jim Szymanski, The Olympian

OLYMPIA - Ideas ranging from Swantown Marina rate reductions to converting vehicles to biodiesel fuel were bandied about as commissioners began discussions Wednesday toward adopting a 2007 Port of Olympia budget.

A formal spending proposal will be made next week, said Ed Galligan, the port's executive director.

Wednesday's budget workshop was an informal discussion of ideas, not proposals, Galligan emphasized.

"All is obviously subject to change," Galligan said of the figures and ideas.

The port plans a Nov. 13 public hearing on its eventual proposal, with commission adoption expected Nov. 27. The port is running on a $4.5 million operating plan.

Port finances have taken a hit this year because of declining marine terminal markets and a delay in the planned moved of a Weyerhaeuser log export business from Tacoma to the Olympia waterfront. Weyerhaeuser hoped to open the log export business in Olympia as early as August of this year, but legal challenges have delayed construction of related facilities and the beginning of the Olympia business.

The port also operates divisions for Olympia Regional Airport and property development.

Profit roller coaster

The port has seen a roller coaster effect regarding its operating profits and losses. It went from a $26,000 operating profit in 2005, to an estimated $801,000 loss this year, said Steve Davis, the port's chief financial officer. He projected a possible 2007 surplus of $136,000.

Davis' figures exclude depreciation costs and property tax revenue. After all expenses are factored in, the port lost $2.6 million in 2005 and $1.5 million in 2004, according to the state Auditor's Office.

Softer markets for forest products and aluminum and the loss of two Iraq War-related shipments to the Port of Tacoma have hurt Olympia port revenue this year, said Jim Amador, the marine terminal director. The delay in recruiting the Weyerhaeuser business to Olympia also has hurt finances, he said.

The downturn and operating loss troubled Commissioner Paul Telford.

"We should have been able to see this coming; at least I should," he said. "What is it that can be pared or cut or deferred to make that number better?"

Some marina rates could be cut to boost falling occupancy at smaller slips, said Bruce Marshall, the harbor director. Commissioner Bob Van Schoorl urged that consideration go into converting the port's vehicle fleet to biodiesel. Commissioner Steve Pottle did not attend the workshop.

The port also has possibly growing cargoes of equipment and machinery related to Canadian oil exploration and wind power projects, Galligan said.

Jim Szymanski is business editor of The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-357-0748 and jszymanski@theolympian.com.

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