Port Townsend holds first town meeting in four years
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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About 130 people gathered in the Port Townsend High School auditorium for the Tuesday night meeting, which included a presentation by City Manager David Timmons, followed by a public comment period and a workshop.
The meeting, the first in four years, is the beginning of a process to open a new dialogue between city government and the public, officials said.
“Thank you for reinitiating town meetings,” said Julie Jamon, one of 15 people who spoke. “It's been long overdue. I would suggest that we hold multiple town meetings on a regular basis.”
The ongoing maintenance of the Mountain View pool drew the most comments.
“I've been swimming competitively since the age of 6 and had my first lesson when I was a month old,” said Port Townsend swim team member Darby Flanagan.
“Water is kind of my life,” Flanagan said, “and I can't imagine what my life would have been like without the pool.”
“I'm 100 percent certain that without the opportunity I had swimming, I would probably drink, and I would do drugs,” said Hannah Welch, also on the team.
Adults also were represented.
Janet Johnson said the availability of the pool made it possible to evolve from a mediocre swimmer to a participant in worldwide competitions.
“The city owns parkland of 160 acres. They own the golf course, but they do not own the swimming pool,” she said.
“The thought of spending $500,000 to improve something that we don't own is something we should reconsider,” Johnson added.
“We should see if we can install a new pool for what it would cost to rehab an old facility.”
As part of an agreement between the city and the district, the municipal swimming pool on the Mountain View Elementary School campus is operated by the city but is owned by the Port Townsend School District.
Said Bill LeMaster, Port Townsend School Board member: “We like to say we are a sustainable community, but if you look at our demographics, you see that is not true.
“When the City Council threatens to pull money from the recreation center, that sends a message that it doesn't care about young people,” he added.
“Our focus has been on older, white-haired people, and I suggest we change that focus.”
The Port Townsend City Council on Monday deferred action on a proposal to withhold Proposition 1 payments — from the city's share of a sales tax increase approved in 2010 — totaling about $35,000 effective Oct. 1 if there is no progress on negotiating an agreement on a joint funding strategy for parks and recreation facilities.
City officials said setting up such a plan was part of the original interlocal agreement.
One factor is the maintenance of the municipal pool, which Mayor David King said had not been figured into the agreement.
Some of the 15 people who spoke during the public comment period had general, wide-reaching suggestions for what comes next.
Jamon said regular quarterly budget meetings should occur, then suggested several dedicated topics for future meetings: the Port Townsend Library, the post office, the Mountain View Commons, the parks district, the pool and Peninsula College,
“To have meetings that are more focused would really get some serious nitty-gritty information that could be applied to projects and maintenance issues,” Jamon said.
“It has gotten stalled out and seems to have become the staff's business, but it's really the community's business, and we know a lot.”
“There are no jobs for people here, and we all go to Silverdale or Sequim to buy our basics,” Kathy Walker said.
“We're a tourist town, even though we try to pretend we are this or that, and our children are moving away because there is nothing available for the young ones.
“How many young ones do we have here making decisions?”
Town meetings last occurred in Port Townsend in 2008. While those meetings helped plan a general strategy, the upcoming gatherings will have a broader focus, King said.
“This series of meetings will focus on specific issues affecting our near-term future,” King said.
“The city doesn't have enough resources to maintain what we have or to provide everything that we want, so we need to discuss choices.”
“The stresses that we have dealt with aren't going away,” Timmons said.
“But there is a lot of potential here,” Timmons added. “The community is coming back to life, but the challenges won't be solved by the council or the government.
“This requires a partnership.”
The next meetings have not been scheduled.
“We are aware that these meetings have to balance structure and openness,” King said.
“Too much of the former, and it will feel like a series of talking heads urging you to a predetermined outcome, and too much of the latter will prevent any consensus or range of options from emerging.
“We will do our best to strikes that balance, including changing the structure and format of the meetings as they progress.”
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: September 19. 2012 5:17PM