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Marquette Launch Fee Issues:
29Apr00 As most boaters who launch at Presque Isle Marina know, the inside docks are very short and the whole center walkway is next to useless. I had mentioned this to the Harbor Advisory Committee last year who agreed that lengthening the side docks would be very beneficial by improving the safety in docking and speeding up the launch process. However, nothing seemed to come of that so I prepared a request for funding ($2,500) to the Marquette City Commission at their budget meeting on 25Apr00. Well, it was approved but should cost considerably less than that. Don't expect miracles as the City Manager told me DNR permits to extend the dock could take 90 days. Is that ridiculous or what? The dock extension won't even touch the water. Our thanks go to Commissioner Tony Tollefson who gave the push to get this request on the table and approved and those Commissioners that supported it.
14Apr00 I visited Presque Isle marina and notice the sign has been changed to show $3.00 launch fee but the envelopes still say $3.25. Don't be fooled as $3.00 is correct. Eh, eh as Paul Harvey would say! If you paid too much since Spring, I understand you can go to Parks and Recreation and get a rebate. See my remarks 29Mar00 below on this matter.
29Mar00 I drove to Presque Isle Marina and noticed the daily launch fees are shown as $3.25, both on the big sign and printed on the envelopes. Unless my memory has completely failed, I appeared before the City Commission to object to their proposed increases and one of their small compromises was to change the proposed $3.25 daily fee at Presque Isle to $3.00 even. As my logical reasons why these increases were out of line were not working, I mentioned that at least knock off the quarter so fishermen who want to go fishing don't have to search for one. That sold. Anyway, I took an envelope to the Parks and Recreation Department and asked them to research the minutes of the City Commission. I just heard from Parks on the 5th that indeed the rates posted and on the envelopes were wrong and should be $3.00. They're changing the signs and envelopes now.
13Dec99. The following is my presentation to the Marquette City Commission on 13 Dec 99. I was the only one to speak to the issue. Results were a change from $3.25 to $3.00 at Presque Isle.
1. I am here as a Marquette resident, taxpayer, and boater. As a taxpayer, I commend the Cityís efforts to strive for fiscal responsibility in our marinas. However, I feel the Cityís efforts to increase launch fees are grossly unfair and not wise for several reasons.
2. I feel I can speak with some objectivity on this issue because this proposed increase in launch fees will not affect me. I have always used the seasonal passes, which are not proposed to increase and I donít buy daily launch permits, which are proposed to increase.
3. Presque Isle and Cinder Pond marinas each consist of mooring and launching facilities. The City considers them autonomous when they are very different.
a. Mooring slips provide for local and transient boats. Slips are costly to build and require considerable and constant maintenance. Marina expenses include water, electricity, bathroom, attendants and/or marina officer, fuel pumps, pump-out facilities, etc.
b. Launch facilities. Consist of ramps where the boater backs his boat trailer into the water to launch his or her boat. The boater then parks the vehicle and motors off, using none of the previously mentioned marina facilities. Boaters renting slips also use the launches but seldom pay for their use.
4. According to a recent Mining Journal article, the marinas, after the proposed increase, will still cost the Marquette taxpayers an additional $35,000 subsidy. Supposedly, raising launch fees will generate an additional $800 next year. I contend it is grossly unfair and not in our interest to raise launch fees. Here are my reasons:
a. Iíll use 1998 figures rather than this yearís. In 1998, launch fees from both ramps brought in roughly $12,000 revenue. I have long contended, and Iíve seen almost nothing to refute my contentions, that it costs almost nothing to operate the launch ramps. Maintenance is obviously been minimal (however, City workers did some nice needed work last summer) and supervision almost non-existent. I would be willing to say that in 1998 the launch facilities contributed around $10,000 net income to the Marinas, and probably around the same in 1999. If the marinas are losing money overall despite ramp activity contributing $10,000, does it make sense to include the activity already making money? I hope you donít believe that makes sense. In any event, this proposed increase to ramp fees will fall square on the back of the small or occasional boater. Yes, I realize seasonal passes are available but also recognize theyíre not for everyone.
b. The State of Michigan funded the Presque Isle ramp and a lot of volunteer work went in to building it. Excessive launch fees looks like double taxation to me.
c. Raising our launch fees will discourage boaters from coming to Marquette. Alternatives to Marquette are all around us, not counting most Lake Superior launches which are cheaper and most inland lakes which are free. Launching at Autrain is free, Big Bay $2, Escanaba $2, Gladstone $1, Houghton $1 (and 12 free launches in the canal), Líanse is $2, and Munising is $2. Most other seasonal passes are Ĺ the cost of ours. Frankly, Iím kind of embarrassed to think others might perceive our City canít operate our launches economically or worse yet, that weíre money hungry.
d. Assuming it cost our Marinas roughly the same to launch 8,000 boats as it does 4,000, does anyone have an economic model showing that raising launch fees will produce more revenue than lowering them? Has that option ever been adequately considered? Not really! I continually see in the news efforts to get visitors to our area. Do you believe raising launch fees will help do that?
e. Although there are any number of other reasons I feel the proposed increase is unwise and unfair, the most compelling seems to be that it is outright unfair to go after those who are already contributing in several ways. Think of it as triple taxation Ė State tax monies were used (some from Waterways monies), Marquette residents are subsidizing the marinas, and lastly, boaters who launch are paying in far more now than it costs the city to operate the launches. If youíre a Marquette boater who launches, thatís triple taxation.
5. I respectfully submit you consider making both the Presque Isle and Cinder Pond launch fees $3 ($.50 higher than last year, an increase of 20%). Although I donít feel even that increase is warranted, $3 would probably be manageable. The proposed $3.25 for Presque Isle is ridiculous. Can you imagine a boater arriving to launch at dark-o-clock and fumbling around for a quarter? It was bad enough when they had to come up with 10 quarters. How about giving the small boater a break? How about doing what is fair?
6. Thank you.
It's commonly believed (I was one of them) the City Commission is planning to raise the marina rates to $5/$100. That is not true! The $5/$100 launch fee was approved last year and was scheduled for 1999. We tried to get those rates reduced back to $2.50/$45 (which is still higher than everyone around us). Please read on.
13 Apr 99 I just found out the Michigan Waterways Commission has disapproved Marquette's request for a 100% - 122% increase in launch fees and has instead approved a 5% increase, the same as for rental slips. Apparently, the City will not bother with the 5% increase to daily launch fees and will go with the previous $2.50 rate. However, seasonal passes will be $47.25. I don't know (or care about) the status of the weekly passes. Meters could be up as soon as next week. In all due modesty, I can't help but think my 10 pages of position papers and appeals to the Michigan Waterways Commission against the City's ridiculous launch fee increase had some bearing on their decision.
29 Mar 99 Click here to view my presentation , to the City Commission, followed by my observations and opinions. This is "must read" stuff.
16 Mar 99. The City Commissioners met with the Harbor Advisory Committee as a working group. There were approximately 40 people in attendance, a mix of launchers, slip renters, and on-lookers. The City Manager led off with the background, which I felt was basically fair. City Administration analyses of our petitions showed 35% were non-resident. No surprise for me as 60% of the Cinder Pond and 70% of Presque Isle marinas renters are non-residents. Most Commissioners stated City taxpayers want the marinas to be self-sufficient. One Commissioner felt the City had an obligation to improve launch facilities and explore cost cutting opportunities, e.g., providing a fixed amount of electricity in rental slips and charging over that amount. Harbor Advisory Committee members expressed self-sufficiency might take as long as 20 years but felt it was achievable.
Harbor Advisory Committee members said their $5/$55 launch fee recommendation was a compromise from the City Administration threatening (my word) $10/$200 in ultimate fees and knowing they had to do something. Their rationale was to compromise, and if their recommendation were accepted, it would at least hold and promote annual passes at $55, not $100 and $200. Ironically, one Harbor Advisory Committee member later stated he felt the $2.50 launch fee was too little, $5 too much, and perhaps $4 about right. (Joe's Comments: I don't recall hearing a rationale for the $4 nor it being qualified as his personal opinion and that it did not necessarily represent the Harbor Advisory Committee stance! Frankly, I still don't understand apparent value judgments like this. As I've stated before, I feel fees should be $2.50 because my unchallenged financial analysis of the launch facilities shows they are already making money for the marinas. Whose feelings should prevail? Guess whose will?) Harbor Advisory Committee members stated they wondered why the Commission ignored their recommendation and wondered if they were aware of all their objections to the $100 seasonal fee finally adopted. On another note, one Committee member said he was tired of people telling him the "little guy" can't afford increased fees when they drive expensive 4-wheel drive trucks and pull $60,000 boats. (Joe's Comments: There goes another value judgement! Maybe I'll take that member for a ride in my 12-year old 4-wheeler which I plan to sell in a Mining Journal® Nifty Two-Fifty Ad (must be under $250) and my boat which is 13 years old. Even though I don't consider myself a "little guy", I feel there are quite a few launchers with modest boats who live from paycheck to paycheck and don't drive fancy trucks. So what if some do? I don't know anyone that launches with a boat valued over $20,000, let alone $60,000, but I do see lots of boats I wouldn't give you $2,000 for. I get my money's worth from the annual passes and have never said otherwise. This fight is for fairness, boating, Marquette's image, and for the lack of a better word "the little guy".)
Near the end of the meeting, after listening to the Harbor Advisory Committee members state their recommendation of $5/$55 was under extreme pressure by the City Administration, one Commissioner asked the Harbor Advisory Committee what their recommendation was. One Harbor Advisory Committee member said $5/$55. (Joe's editorial comments: I felt it was inappropriate for the City Commissioner to ask that question when the Committee had just stated it was arrived at under duress which implied it was not what they would have otherwise recommended. It did not give the Harbor Advisory Committee a chance to objectively regroup, restudy, and recommend a new fee schedule. Secondly, it was completely inappropriate for the Harbor Advisory Committee member to respond to that Commissioner's question as though he represented the Committee's position following their admission those same figures were the result of extreme pressure and compromise. I felt this clearly gave the Commissioners the impression that was the Committee's best recommendation, contrary to what they had just said about being made under the gun. Which is it? New recommendations to governing bodies should come from Chairpersons after discussion and voting, not from individual members. That apparent breach in protocol, no matter how informal the meeting, I feel permitted some very misleading impressions. Frankly, the Committee Chairman might better have said under the circumstances, they need to meet again to reexamine the issue before they can render another recommendation.
I wish to comment that when an advisory group is basically told what to recommend as was done last year, their ability to give objective recommendations to the Commission has been compromised. The committee may even question what their purpose is if that happens. As the Mayor stated at the meeting, the buck stops at the City Commission. No one questions that the Commission has the responsibility to act in the best interest of the City, even if it differs with committee recommendations. However, I like to think Commission wants fair and objective recommendations from its advisory boards. To promote this objectivity, perhaps the City Administration should be directed to stop unduly influencing this board. After all, the City Administration has its chance to present a different recommendation to the Commission and then let the Commission choose which recommendation is best.)
The public was allowed to speak for approximately 15 minutes. Of the few that had time to speak, most supported the idea that launchers were already paying their own way. No one said otherwise. When the meeting adjourned, it was unclear to me where this issue was going from here. I was very disappointed the Mayor did not ask the the Harbor Advisory Committee for revised recommendations on launch fees, and perhaps slip rates too. Considering they stated to the effect their previous recommendation of $5/$55 was made under duress and was a compromise, the Committee should now be able to take an unencumbered look at launch operations and fees. The Committee can then objectively recommend fee changes and present other options to the Commission, along with their rationale.Please see my presentation 16Mar99.
In summary, I'm appreciative of the Mayor, Commissioners, and Harbor Advisory Committee members taking their time (they really don't need more meetings) to re-examine marina fees, marina funding policies, and even the process for making financial decisions. I feel the meeting ended with a better understanding of how we got where we are and where we want to go financially. I think most will agree goals need further refinement but then determining how best to achieve those goals will be the biggest challenge.
8 Mar 99. I attended the City Commission meeting and presented them with an additional 119 petition signatures, totaling 1,007 so far. Mr. Peterson basically said they planned increased revenue from launchers of $14,000 and from the marina slip increases of $12,000. Am I missing something here? The upshot of that meeting was to meet with the Harbor Advisory Committee on Tuesday, 16 Mar at 5:00 p.m. at the Commission's chambers and I suspect a vote may follow at the 29 March Commission meeting. I don't know if the working session is open to the public or if it is, whether public comment is permitted. Please click here to see my presentation and survey of launch rates nearby.
Media. Headlines on The Mining Journal 10 Mar 99 said "WHOA City puts brakes on boat ramp fee hike." WLUC-TV ran an excellent editorial against this increase from 5 - 8 March. WLUC-TV on their 6 and 11 news for 9 Mar 99 also presented Escanaba with their $2 daily rate and said Houghton was free. Dave Schneider in The Mining Journal came down against it last weekend. A well-written article by Bud Sargent appeared in the 8 March Mining Journal. So far, I have not heard a single person for this increase except the Commissioners and Mr. Peterson.
On 5 March, I sent 5-page letter to each Commissioner citing additional points why $2.50/$45 fees were reasonable. Click here to see a copy.
Results of the Monday, 1 Mar 99 "Buck Poll" on Discovering© were 94% felt the proposed 100% increase in launch fees was not justified and 6% felt it was. My guess is that almost no one, including the average non-boating Marquette taxpayer who could have voted, feels the launchers are not paying their way already, let alone suffer a 100% to 150% increase.
I spoke before the Marquette City Commission on 22 Feb 99. I presented them with petitions citing our objections to these increases and signed by 888 people. It appears the issue will be addressed at their next meeting in two weeks. To see a copy of my presentation, less the financial page, click here.
I attended the Marquette City Special Commission meeting 17 Feb 99. I requested to be placed on the 22 Feb 99 Commission agenda by presenting the following. I was granted my request.
"I ask that the 1999 Marquette launch and pass fees be put on the 22 Feb 99 agenda for the following reasons and that I be permitted to speak to this issue.
Commissioners, this topic deserves further discussion. I request 15 minutes and maybe a few others may speak to this issue. I promise to avoid repetition. Thank you."
I prepared petitions for people who object to this proposed increased to sign. If you wish to sign one, Monday I will ask Lindquist Sports, the Bait Shoppe, and Tom's Hunt & Fish to place one on their counters. You donít have to be a boater to sign and it isn't a legal document, just something to indicate to the Marquette City Commissioners there are a lot of objections to this ridiculous proposal.
I keep getting calls and people telling me if the City raises the launch to $5, they're not coming to Marquette anymore and will go elsewhere.
11 Feb 99 Sent letters to City Manager and each City Commissioner requesting launch fees be placed on the 22 Feb 99 agenda.
4 Feb 99. I attended the Parks and Recreation public gathering for input to the 5-year recreation master plan being drafted. I spoke briefly to the launch fee issue but also expressed my other concerns such as the need for a new bathroom at the Presque Island marina (which is gross), launch facilities be upgraded and made useable, and City policy be continued to make the maximum amount of shoreline available to its citizens and visitors.
To see a copy of my letter to the editor which appeared in the The Mining Journal on 9 February, 1999.
25 Jan 99 - I attended the Marquette City Commission working group meeting. It's true, the City manager proposed to increase daily launch fees from $2.50 to $5.00 and annual launch passes from $40 to $100. I'm preparing a letter to the Mining Journal editor but am still awaiting various data from the Parks and Recreation Department. I'll publish my letter here when I finalize it.
24 January 1999 - The Marquette City Commission is scheduled to discuss raising the launch fee (and a whole bunch of other fees, including slip rentals) at their 25th January meeting. Get this - I have it on good source they are proposing to raise launch fees to $5.00 per launch, $100.00 for an annual launch pass. I am furious, as I'm sure many others will be when they find out. I believe the Commission is scheduled to vote on these fees sometime in February. This is ridiculous. The City has done practically nothing to improve or support the launch facilities, especially at the Presque Isle launch. Three of the four launches are substandard, ranging from too steep, too crooked to get a boat centered on the trailer, and too shallow so the prop drags in the sand. I plan to appear before the Commission any time I can and if you want to change their minds, I encourage you to do the same.
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