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Port District Resources

This page, created for the Washington Public Ports Association (WPPA), provides resources for port district commissioners and staff in Washington State, including sample documents and information about budgeting, procurement, promotional hosting, comprehensive schemes, and more.

Have a question? Ask MRSC! Most port districts in Washington State are eligible for our free one-on-one consultation service, Ask MRSC. With one call or click you can get a personalized answer from one of our trusted attorneys, policy consultants, or finance experts!

Eligible port districts must be members of Enduris or must have opted in to receive MRSC’s services through WPPA.


Statutes


E-Newsletters

Stay up-to-date with the latest news and analysis from MRSC. We distribute a quarterly port district e-newsletter, plus other newsletters on a wide variety of local government topics including new legislation and court decisions, emerging issues, policy guidance, and management tips.

Learn more and sign up at our MRSC E-Newsletters page.


Search for Sample Documents

MRSC has developed a custom search tool for port districts. This tool helps you to search exclusively for port district examples within our Sample Document Library.

Alternatively, you can visit our main MRSC Sample Document Library and type WPPA into the search field and select a category to browse all our WPPA documents in that category.

You can also search the MRSC website for a broad range of local government topics, using the search box at the top of any MRSC webpage.


List of Port Districts

There are currently 75 port districts in Washington State, with the most recent district formed in 1988. There have been a few more recent attempts to form port districts, but those attempts have been rejected by voters.

  • List of Port Districts (Excel spreadsheet) – Includes counties, year formed, and number of commissioners, as well as separate tab for inactive/dissolved districts

Information for Port Commissioners

WPPA has published two helpful guides for commissioners:

In addition, MRSC has two publications that may be of interest to port commissioners or prospective commissioners:

  • Getting Into Office – Discusses the qualifications and processes required to seek office
  • Knowing the Territory – Describes the nature, powers, and duties of municipal officials for "keeping out of trouble," including discussions of open government, conflicts of interest, and other laws.

Some districts have adopted their own codes of ethics, so make sure you know what your local policies are.


Transaction of Business

Each port district must adopt rules governing the transaction of port commission business (RCW 53.12.245). Below are a few examples:


Purchasing, Contracting, and Competitive Bidding

For general information about public works contracting, purchases, and service contracts, see our extensive series on Purchasing and Contracting.

To see your specific statutory bid limits and competitive bidding requirements for any kind of project, use our Find Your Contracting Requirements tool. Select your project type, then select “port district.” Note: This tool only shows your statutory requirements. Your district may have adopted its own, more stringent policies, so always consult your local policies and legal counsel.

Personal Services Contracting

In 2008, the state legislature adopted legislation establishing requirements for personal services contracting by port districts (chapter 53.19 RCW). The legislation also required MRSC, in cooperation with WPPA, to develop guidelines for the effective and efficient management of personal services contracts.

Small Public Works Rosters

Port districts are authorized to use a small works roster process for public works contracts with an estimated cost of $300,000 or less (see RCW 53.08.120(2)(b) and RCW 39.04.155). For more information, see our page on Small Public Works Rosters or download our Small Works Roster publication.

MRSC provides its own roster service for local governments across Washington, connecting hundreds of local governments – including many port districts – to thousands of businesses for public works, consulting services, and purchases. To sign up or learn more, visit MRSC Rosters.

Unit-Priced Public Works Contracts

Port districts are authorized to use unit priced ("on call") public works contracts. A unit priced contract means a competitively bid contract in which public works are anticipated on a recurring basis, under which the contractor agrees to a fixed period indefinite quantity delivery or work, at a defined unit price, for each category of work. For more information, see our page on Unit Priced (On Call) Public Works Contracts.


Port District Budgets

All port districts are required to adopt an annual calendar year budget under chapter 53.35 RCW, with the following deadlines:

  • *September 15: Preliminary budget filed (RCW 53.35.010)
  • Between September 15 and the adoption of the budget: Districts that collect regular property taxes – which is to say, almost all port districts – must hold a public hearing on revenue sources for the upcoming year's budget (RCW 84.55.120)
  • *Between September 15 and the first Tuesday following the first Monday in October: Public hearing on final budget, with public notice once per week for two consecutive weeks beginning 9 to 20 days before the hearing; budget adoption (RCW 53.35.020-.030)
  • *First Wednesday following first Monday in October: Final budget filed with county commissioners, stating amount of property taxes to be raised (RCW 53.35.040)
  • November 30: Deadline to certify next year's levy rates to the county (RCW 84.52.070, see below)

However, RCW 53.35.045 allows port districts to adopt alternate dates for some of these steps, marked with asterisks above, culminating with final budget filing by the first Monday in December.

All port districts must certify to the county assessor the amount of property taxes to be levied upon the property within their jurisdiction for the coming fiscal year no later than November 30 (RCW 84.52.070). This deadline may not be altered. If your jurisdiction misses the November 30 deadline, you may not increase the levy amount above the prior year’s level.

In addition, any port commission may adopt one or more supplemental budgets (budget amendments) during the fiscal year. A public hearing is required, with a single public notice required 5 to 15 days before the hearing (RCW 53.35.050).

Examples


Promotional Hosting

Port districts are allowed to spend a limited amount of money on “promotional hosting” to promote industrial development or trade within the district (RCW 53.36.120 - .150). Promotional hosting covers customary meals, refreshments, lodging, transportation, or any combination of those items in connection with:

  • Business meetings,
  • Social gatherings, or
  • Ceremonies honoring persons or events

related to authorized business promotional activities of the port. Hosting may also include reasonable, customary, and incidental entertainment, and souvenirs of nominal value, incident to such events. See the State Auditor’s Office Bulletin Number 404 (1986) for specific guidelines on hosting various types of organizations and individuals.

Article 8, section 8 of the state constitution specifically states that such expenses do not constitute a gift of public funds; port districts are the only local government agency with such authority. (However, aside from promotional hosting, port districts are still subject to the gift of public funds doctrine, which generally prohibits local governments from conveying gifts or financial benefits upon private parties. For more information, see our page Gift of Public Funds.)

The statutory limits on promotional hosting expenditures (RCW 53.36.130) depend on the port district’s gross operating revenues:

Gross Operating Revenues Promotional Hosting Expenditure Limit
$250,000 or less $2,500
$250,000 to $2.5 million 1% of gross operating revenues
$2.5 million to $5 million $25,000 plus 0.5% of operating revenues in excess of $2.5 million
Over $5 million $37,500 plus 0.25% of operating revenues in excess of $5 million

Promotional hosting funds may only be spent from gross operating revenues, and expenditures must be included as specific budget items in the annual budget.

Port districts must adopt written rules and regulations governing promotional hosting expenditures. Such rules should state who is authorized to make such expenditures and what the objectives are. Port commissioners may not personally make such expenditures or seek reimbursement for such expenditures unless specific authorization has been approved by the entire port commission.

All payments and reimbursements must be identified and supported on vouchers approved by the port auditor. Also see BARS Manual Section 3.10.7 on promotional hosting (Cash Basis and GAAP).

Examples


Comprehensive Schemes/Comprehensive Plans

Before creating any harbor improvements, port districts are required to adopt a comprehensive scheme under chapter 53.20 RCW. These documents are also known as “comprehensive plans,” but they differ significantly from the comprehensive plans of cities and counties.

While port districts are not directly required to create comprehensive plans under the Growth Management Act (GMA), many port districts have been involved in the development of city/comprehensive plans under GMA. Port comprehensive plan elements are mandatory for cities that include within their jurisdiction a marine container port with annual operating revenues over $60 million, and optional for cities that include a marine container port  with annual revenues between $20 million and $60 million (RCW 36.70A.085).

For more information, see WPPA’s Comprehensive Plan Guideline for Washington’s Public Ports (updated 2009). You can also find examples of comprehensive schemes in MRSC’s Sample Document Library.


Resolutions

Port districts adopt rules governing the transaction of their business by resolution. For information on drafting and adopting resolutions, download our Local Ordinances publicationWhile this document focuses on ordinances for cities and counties, the contents are still useful for port district resolutions.


Open Public Meetings

The Washington Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) requires that all meetings of governing bodies of public agencies, including port districts, be open to the public.

The OPMA contains specific provisions regarding regular and special meetings, executive sessions, the types of notice that must be given for meetings, the conduct of meetings, and the penalties and remedies for violations.

All port commissioners must complete OPMA training within 90 days of taking the oath of office or assuming duties. A refresher OPMA training is also required every four years.

For more information, see our Open Public Meetings Act page or download our Open Public Meetings Act publication.


Public Records

The Public Records Act (PRA) requires that all public records maintained by state and local agencies, including port districts, be made available to all members of the public, with very narrow statutory exemptions.

All port commissioners and public records officers must complete PRA training within 90 days of taking the oath of office or assuming duties. A refresher PRA training is also required every four years.

For more information, see our Public Records Act page or download our Public Records Act publication.


Financial Policies

Effective financial policies are essential to a local government’s fiscal health. They provide stability and continuity over the years as staff and elected officials turn over by establishing what actions are acceptable and unacceptable, identifying who is responsible for taking certain actions, and providing standards to measure your jurisdiction’s performance.

They will also be used during state audits to assess compliance, by credit ratings agencies to help determine your jurisdiction’s fiscal stability, and by other financial professionals as a basis for providing services.

For help crafting your financial policies and procedures, see our Financial Policies Tool Kit, which provides detailed guidance and key questions to consider for a number of financial topics, as well as links to best practices and sample documents from other jurisdictions.


Interlocal Agreements

RCW 39.34.040 provides an alternative to filing an interlocal agreement with the county auditor; a public agency may list the agreement on its website or other electronically retrievable public source. For more information, see our page on Intergovernmental Cooperation in Public Works.

Below are examples of port districts that post interlocal agreements online:

Other examples can be found in MRSC's Sample Document Library.


Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is critical for port districts, which must protect vital infrastructure in addition to personal employee information and other important documents. For a list of helpful resources, see our Cybersecurity Resources for Local Governments.


Industrial Development Corporations

Port districts may create industrial development corporations under chapter 39.84 RCW to facilitate economic development and employment opportunities. For more information, as well as examples from other port districts around Washington, see our page on Industrial Development Corporations.


Recommended Resources


Last Modified: October 28, 2019