City considers raising boat ramp fees

City officials expect an increase in the dollar amount people will have to pay to launch their boats from the city dock. But for now, they are still debating how much the increase should be.

In recent months, the Harbor Management Commission asked for an increase from $30 a year to $50 for city residents and a hike from $20 to $30 for senior citizens. Nonresident fees would have gone from $125 a year to $150, and single-day boat ramp use would have gone from $10 to $15 for residents and $20 to $25 for nonresidents.

The requested hikes are largely due to the loss of state funds over the past years, which has led to the downsizing of staff at the city-owned marina at Lisman Landing.

The Board of Aldermen voted down the request in December, with several aldermen saying they thought the increase was too steep. Mayor Ben Blake said the aldermen and harbor commissioners are still working on a compromise, hoping for a more gradual increase.

“[The aldermen] just thought it was too much all at once,” Blake said.

Among its economic woes, the harbor commission lost about $70,000 in revenue in the last few years that had come through a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program. That program saw half the registration fees for vessels going to the harbor commission and the other half going to the state. “Two years ago, the state decided to take it all,” Blake said, adding that members of the state delegation are trying to get those funds routed back to the city.

When the city’s aldermen discussed the requested dock fee increase in December, Aldermen Anthony Giannattasio and Ray Vitali pushed for a fee freeze for senior citizens, hoping to keep it at $20 a year. But they didn’t get support from the rest of the board to do that.

Giannattasio said he was disappointed, noting that many promises were made to senior citizens during the election.

Ray Swift, director of operations at the city-owned marina, pointed out that boat ramp fees have not risen in 10 years. He told the board there aren’t many areas in the budget where additional revenue can be brought in.

Alderman Brian Bier, who serves as liaison to the Harbor Commission, commended the commission, Swift especially, for doing a great job with diminished funds.

Bier said that without proper money to fund the marina, in the long run the board will end up paying for more costly repairs. He also pointed out that the marina is an enterprise fund, and that generally means that people who use it help pay the costs by paying fees to use the facilities. He added that $50 a year was “a bargain.”

Alderman Nick Veccharelli suggested that marina and city officials get together and review costs and fees, and try to come up with a financial solution.