Port Townsend approves utility rate changes, renames skate park

Public hearing set for Transportation Benefits District

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has raised utility rates, renamed the skate park and set a hearing for formally taking over the duties of the Transportation Benefits District.

The council on Tuesday passed four ordinances to raise revenue from utilities as the city looks at several million dollars worth of upgrades to its wastewater infrastructure and processing plant in the coming years. The updates have been discussed since last year and the ordinances were read before the council at meetings earlier this month.

“This is not really changing the amount that is on our utility bills,” said Council member Monica MickHagger. “This is changing the percentage because we’re figuring it differently.”

The city’s wastewater treatment plant is in need of roughly $20 million in upgrades in the next five years, Public Works Director Steve King previously told the council.

Ordinances approved Tuesday reduced the city’s utility tax from 18 percent to 16 percent but that was done in conjunction with another ordinance that combined the capital surcharges currently billed to customers with the base rate for the tax, increasing the overall base charge.

The ordinances also raised the city’s sewer rates by about 13 percent annually and stormwater rates by 10 percent annually until 2028, with water rates remaining the same. Connections fees, also called system development fees, were also raised for sewer and stormwater.

Also included in the ordinances was an expansion of the city’s low-income and senior discount programs, which now offer a graduated discount for a range of low-income customers.

Rate changes are scheduled to go into effect on April 1.

Skate Park

Council members also passed an ordinance renaming the Port Townsend Skate Park to the Seamus Sims Skate Park in honor of an advocate for the park who died last year.

Sims was a Port Townsend resident who as a teenager became involved in the grant application process for funds to build the skate park. According to meeting documents, Sims traveled to Olympia in 2002 and spoke before the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, convincing them to fund the skate park.

Sims died unexpectedly on Feb. 18, 2023, at the age of 41.

The city has budgeted $5,000 for signage at the park, but King said Sims’ family is raising money for the renaming, and would contribute funds for a plaque and two large signs.

“That’ll help offset that cost so it’ll be probably significantly less than $5,000,” King said.

The text of the ordinance listed the park as being renamed the Seamus Sims Memorial Skate Park, but council members amended the title in the motion to Seamus Sims Skate Park.

TBD

Lastly, the council set a public hearing date for the council to take over the rights and responsibilities of the Transportation Benefits District, or TBD, created last year.

The council voted last July to create a new Transportation Benefits District — a special taxing district for transportation infrastructure — which then asked voters to approve a 0.3 percent sales tax increase in last year’s November election.

Port Townsend voters approved the tax by 78 percent.

The members of the council are also members of the TBD board, but currently members must hold different separate meetings for each body with a separate budget. Having the council formally take over those powers would combine the budget of the TBD board and allow council members to take up district business during regular council meetings.

“I realize the city council currently sits as the Transportation Benefits District Board,” said City Attorney Heidi Greenwood. “But you do wear different hats when you are doing this and this would take one of those hats out of your wardrobe and allow you to just wear one.”

The public hearing for the council to assume the powers of the TBD is currently scheduled for March 18.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsulanews.us.

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