Rail project inflates Vancouver port’s budget

Commissioners scheduled to adopt final 2012 plan at public hearing Tuesday

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter



Public meeting

What: Port of Vancouver officials are proposing an $84.70 million spending plan for 2012. The port’s three-member Board of Commissioners is expected to decide the final budget next week.

When: Commissioners meet

at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday to review and decide the port’s budget.

Where: Port administrative offices, 3103 N.W. Lower River Road, Vancouver.

Information: 360-693-3611.

The Port of Vancouver is stepping up efforts to expand its rail tracks to help pump up the economy, and its proposed budget for 2012 shows it.

Port managers are recommending the port’s three elected commissioners approve a 2012 spending plan of $84.70 million, up roughly 46 percent from this year’s estimated budget of $58.02 million.

Nearly 60 percent of the port’s proposed $84.70 million in spending is allocated for capital projects, reflecting its plan to kick into high-gear construction of the West Vancouver Freight Access project.

The port wants to finish the $150 million project — a 27-mile expansion of rail tracks to speed cargo and handle more of it — by 2017.

“We’re starting the homestretch,” Port Commission President Brian Wolfe said of the West Vancouver freight rail initiative, which is projected to generate thousands of jobs over the next several years.

Property taxes in play

The 300,000 property taxpayers in the port’s 111-square-mile district would chip in about 1 percent more under the construction-heavy proposed budget for 2012.

That would bump up the port’s property tax collections by about $99,000, to roughly $10 million in 2012.

The owner of a property with an assessed value of $250,000 would pay $103.61 — up $1.97 from 2011 — for the port’s share of property tax collections.

Port commissioners Wolfe, Nancy Baker and Jerry Oliver are slated to adopt the final budget for 2012 during their regular public hearing at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the port’s administrative office, 3103 N.W. Lower River Road in Vancouver.

Larry Paulson, the port’s executive director, said higher property tax revenue will help the port to secure a loan by showing the Federal Railroad Administration that it has the financial wherewithal to eventually pay back money it borrows for its West Vancouver freight rail project.

“We need to show financial stability,” Paulson said.

Revenues increase

The port does not use its property tax levy to pay for day-to-day operations. Rather, property tax collections only go to environmental projects, such as cleaning up contaminated property, and to service the debt the port takes on for capital projects, such as rebuilding docks and expanding its capacity to handle cargo.

Property tax revenues make up roughly 15 percent of the port’s income pie. The rest comes from industrial tenant rents, shipping fees and other non-tax revenue sources.

The port anticipates revenues from typical sources, including tenant rents, shipping fees and property-tax revenues, of $66.37 million in 2012, up by about 28 percent from this year’s budget. That’s based on strong returns on grain and scrap metal exports, and on the port’s imports of wind energy components and oil refinery equipment.

Also fueling the port’s rise in revenues is a major influx of grants. For this year’s budget, the port included about $5.29 million in grants as part of its total revenues.

Next year, the port’s grant funding more than triples to $19.07 million, with more than half coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s competitive TIGER II discretionary grant program. The port plans to use its $10 million in TIGER funding to complete two parts of its West Vancouver Freight Access project. One project will build an overpass at Gateway Avenue to separate vehicle and train traffic, allowing better access to the port’s Terminal 5 and supporting the handling of various cargo.

The second is aimed at improving rail service to United Grain facilities.

Port pursues loan

The port anticipates securing an $18.33 million loan from the federal government to help build the West Vancouver Freight Access project.

That would be the first installment of a total $80.5 million the port aims to borrow to complete its freight rail project.

As the port builds out Terminal 5, expands its rail capacity and helps existing companies expand their operations, it expects to create 1,000 permanent jobs in the next five to 10 years.

Port officials forecast that the West Vancouver Freight Access project, which the port has already been constructing incrementally, will create about 4,000 construction jobs during the life of the project.