What Lewiston port commissioners expected to be a formality turned into a debate about whether the port should exist as the elected officials passed a $4.7 million budget with $450,000 in county property tax revenue.
Idaho's only seaport was founded on a promise that the tax would be temporary, William Chetwood of Lewiston said at the June 12 meeting. "When in the world is the port going to be self-sustaining?" he asked.
Port Manager David Doeringsfeld said the port has met the self-sustaining goal, because it uses fees from its container dock, land and buildings to pay for its employees and day-to-day functions. "(Property taxes) are used for investment back into the community to create jobs," Doeringsfeld said.
For the fiscal year that starts July 1, the greatest share of the $450,000, or $171,000, is earmarked for unspecified land acquisition and development. An additional $100,000 is set aside for roof repair at a port-owned building that houses a public ice rink.
John Bradbury of Lewiston, one of 11 people in the audience, asked whether the port could move freight without the $450,000.
Yes, the port could, Doeringsfeld replied. But he added that he didn't think it was a fair question, since economic development is part of the port's state mandate.
The investment the port makes installing utilities into industrial sites is invaluable to the community's ability to retain existing businesses and recruit new ones, said Doug Mattoon, executive director of Valley Vision, an economic-development group. Usually the companies he works with want "shovel-ready" sites where the only work that needs to be done is to construct a building, Mattoon said.
The private sector typically doesn't do that because it takes such a long time to get a return, Mattoon said. "It has to be available when that company comes knocking on your door."