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Layoffs, staff reorganization will reduce Port’s expenses
Restructuring plan focuses on more than Bremerton Marina losses

Bremerton MarinaTo rein in unsustainable operating losses at the Bremerton Marina, the Port of Bremerton is laying off five employees and also will not fill a vacant management position.

The changes are part of a broad restructuring plan developed by CEO Tim Thomson for all port operations, and it will save an estimated $443,555 over the first year.

The plan cuts three maintenance worker positions and consolidates maintenance functions for all port facilities into one department, supervised by a new manager position. The marinas in Bremerton and Port Orchard will be placed under the supervision of a single manager, instead of having one for each facility.

In addition, the Director of Business Development position currently held by Rich Peterson will be eliminated. The position of Director of Marine Facilities, vacant since Steve Slaton resigned in January, will not be filled.

Marketing for the port’s industrial facilities and for the marinas will be contracted through outside agencies, and Thomson said that will include finding a marina marketing specialist to focus on attracting more boaters to Bremerton. The restructuring plan calls for other business development duties to be taken over by Director of Airport/Industrial Operations Fred Salisbury and Thomson.

“To my knowledge, this is the most radical change in the way the port does business in recent memory,” Thomson said when he first presented the plan to port commissioners at their Feb. 5 meeting. He expressed confidence that the plan is “fiscally sound,” and stressed that the goal of the restructuring is “to make the port more efficient, not to target a certain cost savings.”

However, the plan’s estimated savings of $443,555 will be roughly the same amount as operating losses projected for the Bremerton Marina in the port’s 2013 budget. One commissioner said the bookkeeping isn’t as simple as that.

“The Port’s overall bottom line costs went down, but the proportion that is attributed to marinas may or may not absorb that entire cost reduction, so the marinas may still ‘artificially’ reflect some ‘losses’,” Commissioner Roger Zabinski said in comments emailed to the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal. He added that reducing the port’s overall operating expenses “enables us to reallocate resources in other areas” such as economic development and business recruitment, and that “the term ‘losses’ here are more of a bookkeeping concept.”

The restructuring at the port follows an unsuccessful attempt to find a private firm to take over management of the unprofitable Bremerton Marina, which has run about a one-third occupancy rate since opening in 2008.

A Request for Proposals issued in December drew two responses, but the commissioners rejected both in January based on the recommendation of a consultant who evaluated the proposals and said they would not reduce the port’s operating costs for the marina.

Both companies that submitted proposals had expressed concern that the RFP — which did not allow a private management firm to make cuts that subsequently were made in the restructuring plan — was too restrictive and made it difficult to reverse the marina’s losses.

The commissioners didn’t think having the broader restructuring plan in place before issuing the RFP would have affected the marina management proposals the port received.

“If our costs were lower and we had fewer employees, that still may not have made it easier for private businesses to make a successful proposal,” Zabinski said.

Commissioner Axel Strakeljahn said the restructuring is “more about being more efficient and more streamlined than just making cuts; that’s not really what it’s about.”

He said it was the right approach to have the CEO decide the best course of action for reducing expenses and making sure the port operates as efficiently as possible.

“I think it was a prudent decision to look at the efficiencies and make some adjustments,” Strakeljahn said. He added that the marina situation has drawn a lot of public attention lately because “the decisions the port makes, whether it’s by the port commissioners or the CEO, impact the community.”

Thomson, who acknowledged that such a plan to reduce expenses at the port may have been overdue, has come under criticism along with the three port commissioners as the Bremerton Marina’s financial woes have drawn public and media scrutiny in recent months.

But Thomson took issue with a Kitsap Sun article from Feb. 6 reporting on the restructuring, saying at the Feb. 12 commission meeting that the story was “misleading, speculative and inaccurate” and had caused “extreme anguish” for one of the port employees potentially affected by layoffs.

Thomson clarified in a later interview with the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal that the article had incorrectly speculated that Bremerton Marina manager Kathy Garcia would be laid off and the Port Orchard Marina manager, Brian Sauer, would take over both facilities.

Thomson called that “a false conclusion” by the reporter. “I didn’t identify any names in my presentation,” he said.

The business development director, Peterson, will be out of a job he’s held for less than a year. He was hired last spring, just a few months after similar downsizing circumstances led to his departure as publisher of the Port Orchard Independent newspaper.

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