In a review of the Port of Astoria’s financial performance between July 1 and Sept. 15, the agency is showing promise through a combination of increased business and frugality.

“We’re looking pretty good,” said Executive Director Jim Knight at a quarterly budget review Tuesday.

The review showed the agency earned $635,000 after expenses in the first fiscal quarter, after budgeting for a loss of $150,000.

Todd Kimball, an accountant with financial consulting firm CFO Selections hired to help prepare the Port for upcoming audits, boiled the $785,000 variance down to four main factors.

The Port sold $533,000 worth of fuel in the first quarter, about $200,000 more than expected. Kimball said fuel sales were particularly strong at the marina, as is expected during the summer months the first fiscal quarter largely covers.

Kimball said the Skipanon Peninsula property the Port leases from the Oregon Department of State Lands and subleases to Oregon LNG (liquefied natural gas) is a big part of why the agency earned $118,000 over budget on lease and rental income. The property was recently reclassified from urban recreational to marine industrial, skyrocketing the lease payments from $38,000 to $129,000 a year. Oregon LNG pays the Port, which then pays the state.

The Port spent $233,000 less than it budgeted on projects, which Kimball said is largely because of timing. The Port, for instance, is still trying to find a paving contractor for the Astoria Regional Airport, where it received $5 million in Federal Aviation Administration grant money to resurface a runway.

Lastly, the majority of payments on the principal and interest of the Port’s debt, which still totals more than $10 million, come due in December, meaning their expenses will largely hit the Port’s bottom line during this fiscal quarter.

Despite the strong initial performance, Knight cautioned the Port has a lot of expenses coming its way. The Port is trying to fix a crumbling infrastructure, dredge its vast waterfront holdings, clean up historical petroleum spills, develop a Portwide stormwater treatment system and switch healthcare carriers amid rising costs. In the courtroom, its counsel is litigating cases with former employees and a spurned suitor for the Astoria Riverwalk Inn.

Despite the challenges, Knight said, there is a lot of outside interest in the Port.

“I would say we’re in store for a radically changing waterfront in the next two years,” he said.

Several suitors are trying to lease the Astoria Riverwalk Inn long-term. The Port recently leased a strip of land just west of the Astoria Bridge to Hollander Hospitality, which is exploring the feasibility of a Marriott hotel there.

Bornstein and Da Yang seafood companies are expanding into recently vacated spaces in the Port’s Pier 2 warehouse, while competing to get into the recently vacated Oregon State Police building.

“I look at the Port like a farmer that’s just gone through five years of drought,” Port Commissioner James Campbell said, sharing his frustration about how land-poor the Port is.

Drought assistance

When deciding whether to support the Port in repairing its infrastructure, Knight said, the public will gauge the Port on the consistency of its budget performance and how well the staff and the Port Commission work as a team. “We need to show consistency in our budget performance, and a year out, we need to look at going out for a bond.”

The Port is preparing a proposal for the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Connect Oregon VI infrastructure grant, seeking money to repair the deteriorating west side of Pier 2, where boats pull up to the dilapidated dock to deliver seafood to processors. It is also preparing to repair a dilapidated runway at the Astoria Regional Airport, with the help of a Federal Aviation Administration grant.

Much of the battle for support, budget committee members and Port commissioners said Tuesday, is about public relations. Knight said he is getting help on that front from Daily Astorian Publisher Steve Forrester, who he said has offered to help publish a quarterly newsletter about the Port’s performance.

“Our story is not being adequately told,” said Budget Committee Chairman John Lansing, echoing the sentiments of other budget committee members and Port commissioners who say the Port isn’t getting the credit it is due for its low tax burden and large economic impact.

The Port collects about $669,000 a year in property taxes, through a minimum taxing rate of 12.56 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, from the entire county, and another $150,000 from timber taxes, according to its budget. Budget members noted the amount is exponentially lower than any city or the county.

A recent analysis by the Infrastructure Finance Authority, which extends the Port financing for capital projects, found the agency supports more than 50 port-related businesses that provide more than 1,800 jobs in Clatsop County — more than 2,000 jobs if Pacific Coast Seafoods’ temporary relocation to North Tongue Point is included. The analysis said labor income tops $93 million a year.

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