Commissioner candidates tout fiscal responsibility for port

Horton, Zabinski say the agency should keep a close eye on spending, rein in CEO.

As the current Port of Bremerton commissioners craft their budget for next year, the candidates vying for a seat at the table said Tuesday morning spending funds wisely and carefully should be the priority.

“We need to make sure that the Port of Bremerton is financially stable,” said Roger Zabinski, speaking at the Cloverleaf Bar and Grill in Bremerton at the Eggs and Issues forum hosted by the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce. “The marinas are losing money and we need a change in the way business is done.”

Zabinski’s opponent Lynn Horton agreed.

“We need to find ways to cut costs and bring in more revenue,” Horton said. “The goal should be that (the marinas) pay for themselves.”

But while one member of the audience asked the candidates how they would keep rates at the Port Orchard Marina and Bremerton National Airport affordable for local boaters and pilots, another member said he did not want taxpayers who don’t have boats or planes to be “subsidizing” the activities of others.

“We need to make sure we are neither gouging nor giving a sweetheart deal to tenants,” Horton said. “But these are public facilities. I think it would be ideal if the airport and marinas could all break even. But if we have to subsidize it, it’s worth it.”

However, another member of the audience suggested the port’s mission was economic development, not operating a business.

“Why not sell the marinas to the cities or just shut them down so the taxpayers don’t have to pay for them?” he asked.

But both candidates said they felt the marinas were assets worth keeping.

“That question has been raised many times, but I want to explore every option to make them cost-effective before we get there,” Zabinski said.

“I think the marinas are public amenities and shutting them down would be a very short-sighted response,” Horton said. “We need to find ways to cut costs and bring in more revenue. The goal should be that they pay for themselves.”

The candidates were asked what they thought of the port’s new Chief Executive Officer Cary Bozeman, and if they would have hired him.

Horton said she thought she would be able to work “very well with him,” but is uncomfortable with the amount of money he can spend without board approval — $50,000.

“One of the first things I would do is to seek to reduce that amount,” she said. “That is far too much money and we need to have tighter fiscal controls over the director.”

Zabinski said he agreed that $50,000 was too much spending power for “any one person,” and he would not have hired Bozeman for the job.

“I would have chosen someone with more of an MBA-background,” he said. “At first I was pleased — I think he has an inspirational speaking style — but as time has gone by, I’ve become a bit more concerned.

“In meeting with him, (Bozeman conveyed) that he wants to be the boss and only have the board involved at budget time,” Zabinski continued. “I disagreed with that. He needs to be reined in, and a lot of changes made.”

When Zabinski was asked how he planned to fulfill his role as commissioner while keeping his full-time job as a research scientist and project manager on Bainbridge Island, the candidate said he would be freeing up a lot of time by “cutting out (numerous other activities he is currently involved in) and focusing on the port.”

Horton said she also has a full-time job as a project manager for Pierce Transit, “but currently, demands on my time are much less than in the past, and I will be able to devote the time to the port position.”

Asked why they wanted to run for the commissioner seat, Horton said she was “interested in how the port can benefit the community,” while Zabinski said he “felt compelled to run.

“I have been active with the port for a while and I didn’t like how business was being run,” he said. “Why were backroom deals being struck with the tribes? Why did we raise taxes without communicating with the public at all?”

“We need a change,” Zabinski said, “and I’m not interested in using this as a stepping stone. I’m focused solely on the port.”

Zabinski closed his comments Tuesday by adding, “I don’t think there is one silver bullet to fix all the problems. I’d like to see our resources and facilities expanded, but by a detailed, logical process.”

Horton said, “I think this election is a lot about experience and bringing experience to the position and I think its incumbent on the port to work with Port Orchard and Bremerton to engage in economic development. I can’t wait to get elected because I want to roll my sleeves up and get the job done.”

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