Port gets clean financial bill of health

The cash-strapped Port of Astoria recently received a clean bill of financial health in an audit.

The Port of Astoria, a cash-strapped agency struggling to fix its crumbling infrastructure, has received a clean bill of health in a recent financial audit.

Brad Anderson, a representative with accounting firm Talbot Korvola & Warwick, said the Port earned an unmodified opinion on its financial statements for the previous fiscal year, the best result an agency can hope for in an audit.

The audit, covering July 1, 2017, through June 30, looks over the Port’s assets, liabilities and net position. While it shows the Port’s financial woes, it also paints a picture of the staff’s work to make the agency more efficient.

The agency’s overall net position — assets minus liabilities — decreased by nearly $331,000 over the past fiscal year, according to the audit, but has increased by more than $2.5 million over the past two years.

The agency’s gains in net position over the past two years are mainly because of multimillion-dollar federal aviation grants for repairs at the Astoria Regional Airport. The Port took a $935,000 hit on its net position from having to account for future retiree health care costs.

“That’s not a hard cash liability you have to plan for, like you would for planning your log business and things like that,” Anderson said. “It’s a liability you’ll see over time through rate increases in your health care benefits.”

The Port experienced an operational loss last year of more than $1.1 million. The loss was still an improvement of more than $100,000 from the previous year and $800,000 from two years ago. The agency is making about $500,000 more from operations than it was two years ago, while spending $300,000 less on operations.

The Port previously had to hire consultants to help sort through financial information but has now reached the point of handling the accounting reviews in-house. Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, credited Finance Director Will Isom with professionalizing the Port’s financial accounting. Although the agency doesn’t have enough money, the public should be confident in its ability to properly handle for what it has, he said.

But while the Port has enough money to cover day-to-day operations, the challenge is finding money to fix its crumbling, aging infrastructure, he said. The agency has divested itself of some money-losing properties and recently began looking at new fees for seafood and passing ships to raise more revenues.

“It would be easy for us to show a profit here from the staff level,” Knight said. “All we have to do is not spend money on maintenance. That’s the exact problem that’s taken place, and why we’re in the shape that we are today, because of decades of not putting money into taking care of the Port’s infrastructure.”

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