By WILLIAM L. SPENCE of the Tribune
Port of Lewiston commissioners approved a $1.61 million budget for fiscal 2019 Wednesday, including $405,000 in revenue from a local property tax levy.
The overall spending plan is up $67,770 – or 4.4 percent – from the initial 2018 budget. Higher salary and benefits for port employees make up the bulk of the difference, together with a $10,000 increase in legal services.
The current-year budget also relies on $405,000 in property tax revenue. Given the slight growth in Lewiston’s market values this year, the actual levy rate will drop 3.85 percent in 2019 – meaning property owners will pay slightly less for the port, barring any changes in their assessed values.
Port Manager Dave Doeringsfeld noted that since 1990, the port’s property tax levy rate has dropped nearly 70 percent.
“I think it’s a good investment, especially for the return we get,” said Jeff Sayre, one of five people who spoke during the public hearing on the proposed budget. (Sayre also writes a column for the Lewiston Tribune.)
Idaho state Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, asked why the commissioners boosted the legal services line item more than 75 percent.
“Is there something you’re expecting?” she wondered.
Port Commissioner Mary Hasenoehrl said the increase is simply a precautionary measure.
“We have a lot of public policy issues coming up,” she said. “A lot of fish and dam issues could come forward in the next year. We’re just trying to be proactive and anticipate (possible expenditures).”
The 2019 budget includes a 6 percent raise for Doeringsfeld and assistant manager Jaynie Bentz. The remaining staff will receive raises of 3 percent to 5 percent.
The port collects about 60 percent of its revenues from its dock and warehouse operations, as well as leasing space. However, the fiber-optic network it began building in 2015 is becoming a new and rapidly increasing revenue source.
The network currently extends over 14 miles, from North Lewiston to the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport. Private internet and telecommunications companies lease the fiber-optic network from the port and use it to serve their retail customers.
The port expects to collect about $81,000 in fiber-optic fees this year, but budgeted a more conservative $60,000 in revenues for next year.
Lewiston City Councilor Bob Blakey spoke against the move, saying the revenue projection should be more realistic.
Given that the port has invested $1.5 million in the network to date – and expects to spend another $300,000 next year – Blakey said a higher revenue estimate would “reflect how encouraging you think this investment will be.”
“Then, if you fall short, you have some explaining to do – but if you collect more revenue, you can pat yourselves on the back,” he said.
Another anticipated expenditure next year is $25,000 for a more detailed “Confluence Waterfront Development Plan,” which addresses an 11-acre site the port owns immediately downstream from the railroad bridge at the Snake-Clearwater confluence.
The site has been empty for a number of years. Doeringsfeld said the Army Corps of Engineers did a conceptual plan in 2010 calling for a riverside RV park, combined with a recreation and cruise ship dock.
“We’re not saying that’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “But (the development plan) will put some numbers to that concept. Then the commissioners can decide how to move forward.”
Hasenoehrl said the intent isn’t to get into a competition with the Port of Clarkston for cruise ships. However, if cruise traffic continues to grow, additional dock space may be needed in the future.
Also Wednesday, the commissioners amended the current-year budget upward to $1.73 million to reflect actual revenues and expenditures through the first 11 months of the fiscal year.
The main difference was higher-than-expected terminal and dark fiber revenues; general operating expenditures actually decreased by about $25,000.
Spence may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 791-9168.