As it continues to search for a way to pay down its debt and raise revenue, the Crescent City Harbor Commission is exploring additional options along with what it would take to get one before voters in 2018.
According to Commissioner Brian Stone, a small sales tax increase or a special property tax assessment could help address the port’s $498,000 deficit and $5.3 million debt left behind by the 2006 and 2011 tsunamis. Both options would require a vote from the public.
Stone said he and his colleagues are still trying to determine what kind of tax initiative the harbor district should pursue. The question of whether or not Del Norters would be receptive to a potential tax increase must also be answered, he said.
Harbormaster Charlie Helms has been researching potential consultants to help the port answer this question.
Harbor board President Ron Phillips said the issue will likely be discussed during a special meeting today but added that hiring a consultant to conduct public surveys would probably be put on hold.
“Right now I think we need to have a little more discussion on what we might want to do as board members or as commissioners,” Phillips said Monday. “I’m not so sure we’re ready to jump into that.”
Although none have been finalized yet, there are four options for bringing a tax measure before voters, Stone said. One is an initiative that’s spearheaded by citizens who have collected enough signatures to warrant it being placed on the ballot.
Another is to put a two-part initiative on the ballot that asks the public to weigh in on two items, according to Stone.
The third option would be to pursue a sales tax increase similar to Measure F, the 2014 initiative that kept the Del Norte County Fairgrounds operational, Stone said. That 0.25 percent sales tax increase generates between $670,000 and $725,000 for the fair board, however it required a two-thirds majority vote, he said.
The fourth option would be for the public to vote on a property tax assessment, Stone said. He estimated that with 20,191 parcels in Del Norte County a $36 per-property assessment would generate $727,000 for the harbor. However, Stone said that the assessment could be calculated based on property value as well.
“In other words if you went in and said 15 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value, if you start doing the calculations it comes out to roughly the same,” Stone said. “It takes the burden off the back of the homeowner and shifts it onto a broader spectrum based on the fair market value of the property.”
According to Bob Black, the harbor district’s attorney, any citizen, even a harbor commissioner, can gather signatures to place an item on the ballot for June or November 2018. However, harbor district funds and resources can’t be used.
Another way of getting a potential tax measure before voters is if the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors voted to place it on a ballot, Black said.
“We’re at a fairly preliminary stage in terms of actually looking at something that would go out to the voters or to a petition process,” Black said.
If the harbor district isn’t successful in putting a potential tax measure on the ballot by 2018 a special election would need to be held, which could cost $30,000 to $60,000, Stone said.
Stone first presented options for tackling the harbor’s deficit in June. After the 2006 and 2011 tsunamis, the harbor received state and federal emergency funding to rebuild but had to take out a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for its contribution to the project, Stone said.
During his presentation in June, Stone brought up the possibility of the USDA forgiving the loan but said the agency wasn’t interested. Other possibilities discussed included annexation of the port by the city or the county as well as encouraging the Crescent City Council and board of supervisors to increase the transient occupancy tax by 2 percent.
“The city said no and the county gave us a sort of tepid, or very lukewarm, response,” Stone said. “We’ve never gone back up that avenue.”
Stone pointed out that in addition to paying down its USDA loan, the harbor district must also tackle crucially-needed repairs to Citizens Dock, Whalers Island Groin as well as the sheet pile sea wall near the harbor district office. He estimated that the harbor needs about $11 million to make those repairs.
Helms said only about 3 percent of the pilings at Citizens Dock need repair, but the water lines and power conduits that go underneath the dock to the fish buyers need to be replaced.
Another big project is the sheet pile seawall that leads to Citizens Dock, Helms said. After speaking with two engineering firms, Helms said that project would cost $2.5 million to $2.7 million.
“If I ever get any money that’s the first thing I’m going to do,” Helms said. “It’s all part of supporting the commercial fishermen and all the trucks that pull over that parking lot to load up.”
As for Whaler Island Groin, which connects Anchor Way to Whaler Island, Helms estimated that it would cost about $500,000 to re-rock it.
“I don’t think he’s way off on his estimate,” Helms said of Stone’s assertion that it would take $11 million to address the harbor’s deferred repairs. “Depreciation has never been funded at the harbor because the harbor’s never been in the black long enough to do that.”
The Crescent City Harbor District meets 5:30 p.m. today at its office,101 Citizens Dock Road, Crescent City.