Port in the storm

If you are outraged, you haven’t been paying attention.

Outrage over the lack of an invitation seemed to be the reaction of the public earlier this year when the Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners approved a temporary tax levy, based on their authority as defined by the state of Washington.

Interestingly enough, two years ago, at the May 24, 2005, meeting of the Port Commission, a similar proposal hit the agenda and was tabled ultimately in part for what then Commissioner Bob Mosier described as the worst example of public involvement he had witnessed in nearly two decades on the commission. Fellow commissioners disagreed with Mosier at the time saying the Industrial Development District (IDD) levy had been discussed as an ongoing part of the commission discussions around financing port activities for some years. Indeed, at that meeting in 2005 no fewer than 10 people testified about the tax proposal. Some were testifying as individual residents, others as representatives of groups as diverse as a labor organization and the Columbia River Economic Development Council.

The public had their say then, and will have it again through a vote in August.

At the end of the day, this will come down to an investment decision. Should we as residents and business owners “invest” through this tax levy in the Port of Vancouver? Any investment advisor worth their credentials would invite a discussion about such a proposal focusing on risk and return. What level of risk as investors are we willing to make and what type of return can we expect once the investment is made?

From our perspective – looking at leadership, management, community partnership and mission – the risk is low. A plan exists for how to utilize the investment and the organization’s history suggests we can expect a top notch execution of the plan. As for return, the potential to eliminate traffic delays due to street level train crossings and obnoxious whistles through our downtown is nearly enough in itself. Add to that the potential for more than 1,800 new marine and industrial jobs in our county and the addition of millions of dollars to the state and local tax coffers, the return on this is nearing dot-com proportions.

This is an investment as a community we definitely should make.

Port business isn’t always as sensational as the current reality TV offering or as demanding of our attention as the family’s obligatory turn in the snack shack at the ball field. We’re all busy, and we’re at a juncture in our community where at every turn increased growth demands the attention of a board, commission or council.

Regardless, we have an obligation to pay attention – especially if we intend to influence the decisions of government after we send the elected members to their respective offices. As this current situation at the Port of Vancouver exemplifies, there are times and decisions that will have lasting effects on our community, our companies and our families.

Allowing for the fact that the port staff could have chosen a different communication strategy on the levy decision – namely inviting more public comment – it is important to consider the proposal and not get de-railed by the method. Certainly, with the citizens’ initiative to put the levy on the ballot we’ll get the public debate the issue deserves – and that it would have had years ago if the public was paying attention to their Port Commission meetings.