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I sent the following letter to each commissioner circa 5 Mar 99. Each was slightly different but had basically the same contents.
I appreciate your listening to my points for maintaining our original $2.50/$40 fees. I know that presentation was not very pleasant for you or the other Commissioners and I apologize for being so lengthy. In response to Commissioner Schneider's question about other marinas' fees, fellow boater Jim Price has contacted several marinas for their launch fee rates to hopefully answer his and your questions. Following are data we have gathered so far and we will provide you with copies of remaining faxes or letterhead stationery when we receive them.
Fellow boater visited marina in Feb99
Letter on its way
Letter on its way
Data not requested or confirmed
See attached marina letter
See attached marina letter
Scheduled increase from $2.50/$45.00
See attached Fax
I felt bad dragging Mr. Smith into the fracas and fray but I wanted to show that the Harbor Advisory Committee was under extreme pressure and had arrived at a compromise they really didn't feel comfortable with. I believe the Chairman of that committee later corroborated my statements.
I fully expect Mr. Peterson to mount a case for a raise in launch fees, albeit a smaller one than previously approved. In anticipation of Mr. Peterson's arguments, I would like to cite further reasons that were not a part of my original position paper. I wanted to limit (hard to believe I'll bet) my original position paper length and didn't consider them "major points" at that time. Apparently, they may become so.
References by Mr. Peterson to maintaining large parking spaces for boats and trailers is, I feel, perhaps one of the weakest of arguments. For example, almost nothing has been done to those lots as far as cleaning or sweeping or the like. If they did take one or two passes during the summer, how much do you think that would cost? They do stripe the lots every few years by the city crews, which is a rather small job in the scheme of things.
The parking lots themselves were not, to my knowledge, purchased by the City and therefore should not be depreciated. I believe Peter White donated the Presque Isle land and George Spear family the Cinder Pond property. I hope we're not trying to recover costs that are not there.
The space allotted to parking at the Cinder Pond really isn't that big. While you might be given that impression, I'll bet there are not 10 - 15 double spaces for vehicle/trailers. Besides, launchers are usually forced to give up these spaces for any big events such as the 4th of July, Seafood Fest, and several other events.
The restroom facilities near the Presque Isle launch are disgusting and appear seldom used because of their condition and then usually used by the public and not boaters. The marina restroom is too far away to use, even if we were allowed to use it. Use of the restrooms at the Cinder Pond certainly has merit, even if I feel it would be infrequently used.
The point of "considerable costs to develop the launch facilities" cannot apply to the Presque Isle facilities as we already know that was mostly all provided by State money and some volunteer labor. For the Cinder Pond, I've previously mentioned that probably 2/3 of the money spent was for what appears to be launch facilities is really something specifically to remove and launch large boats and not to be used by launchers. So now what launch facilities did we get? Well, I remember the Cinder Pond when George Spear owned it and paying $1.50 to launch after he donated it the City. That included two places to launch and parking. Now what do we have? We have two places to launch in a narrower and more hazardous launch facility and parking. What was our net gain? Scheduled fees increase from $1.50 to $5.00 or even $10 per launch? Is that progress? I don't think it is.
Let's look to where the real money for that project went. Dredging, finger docks, building and restrooms, electrical hookups, water hookups, sewer pumps, gas pumps, and all the costly other things that go with mooring boats. They ended up with a beautiful facility that basically was not there before. However, our launch facilities were there before, albeit not as pretty but quite functional. If the new launch facilities were 5% of that total cost I would be shocked. I feel it would be hard to argue any percentage over that. I'll get to the math on this later.
The time and attendant costs of personnel working at the launch side is negligible. Let me offer you extracts from my 13 March 1997 letter to the Harbor Advisory Committee where I cited this lack of attention. I don't like to repeat myself but time spent by marina personnel was and is negligible. You'll notice I gave them the courtesy of an advanced copy also. Does this look like a facility getting much attention?
"I respectfully request to be placed on your 18 March 1997 agenda to address your committee on several issues of concern to me. Like most of us, you probably do not like surprises so I have provided an outline of most of these issues in advance.
Who is in charge of the launch facilities? I launch a lot and almost never see any marina supervision at either of the harbor launches. Last summer on four occasions, I walked over to the Presque Isle Marina office to identify situations such as vehicles illegally parked or unattended boats tied up to the docks. However, each time I visited the marina office, I was told "the ramps are not our responsibility." When I asked whose responsibility it was, I was told it was "Parks and Recreation." As a result, nothing was done to rectify the situations. Needless to say, I am a little confused.
Some of you may recall I attended your committee meeting on 15 May 1990. Ironically, I then spoke to what I felt was a general lack of supervision of launch facilities, and suggested several other specific improvements which were needed. On physical improvements, your committee was quite responsive as several of my suggestions did take place (for example, better dock protection and additional lighting). However, since that time, I increasingly see boaters who do not obey the rules or even observe normal boating courtesies. For example, some boaters load their boat while tying up the ramp. I feel they should be talked to and not be allowed to unnecessarily delay or interfere with the great majority of boaters who do follow the rules. You cannot expect other boaters to talk with this type of boater or eventually you will have an adverse confrontation. Management of the launches and marinas should be the responsibility of marina personnel. Iím not looking for a ramp dictator but rather for marina staff to periodically visit ramps to enforce the rules and exercise some common sense."
Reference garbage pickup from the launch facilities. My observations are the Parks and Recreation pickup truck swings through the launch parking lots during the course of its rounds of garbage pickup. There is only one 55-gallon drum at the Presque Isle parking lot, which I've usually observed to have but a few pounds of trash, and is rarely full. What could that small portion cost in comparison to the garbage output from all the large boats moored that often have people living on them and are generating household trash?
Now for the math part. I've been told the "soon to be" debt payments will be $90,000. My marina financial statements for 1998 showed a $55,890 debt retirement. I understand the difference is a payment on the principle. With a stretch if we allow that the launch represents 5% of the investment cost and our portion is $4,500 of the $90,000 figure and we allow an additional $2,500 for personnel, garbage pickup (that is also a real stretch for me), sweeping, and miscellaneous, then we have $7,000 expenses attributable to the launch. That still would leave a net income to the marinas of $5,000 ($12,000 - $7,000) by my math.
How much more money does the City want the little guy to pay? So far the merits to support the $5/$100 were not presented by anyone - period. To just say "the marinas need the money" is grossly unfair. I feel I have addressed nearly every one of the possible related expenses in detail. Why then are we boaters on the defense? The system is upside down and the burden of proof should be on the City administration. Now I suddenly see where there is a projected $14,000 increase in revenue due to the increase in launch fees. Does that say that if we were contributing $5,000 before and now an increase in $14,000 brings us to $19,000 net income to the marinas that is representative of the debt load? I figure that $19,000 as a percentage of the $90,000 debt is 21%. Do we really believe the launching facilities represent 20% of the burden? I don't think so.
Let's use an unrealistic worst case scenario where operating the launch and debt reduction combined cost $12,000, roughly the amount we're paying in fees now. Would the City propose we pay still more? Sounds like it to me. Now we're back to that fairness word again. What is our objective here? Charge as much as we can get away with? In my position paper I didn't emphasize other marina rates, as it was my thinking it was only important to know what they charge nearby for information purposes. I'd like to think in Marquette we stand on our own merits in what we charge and if e.g., Munising and Big Bay were to go to $5, we wouldn't raise our rates unless we had good justification. After all, they charge less than we do and we have not followed their lead. However, I perhaps am beginning to increasingly see the merit in questioning what other nearby marinas are charging. I guess a good question might be if the City says it cost a lot to operate our launches and needs to charge more than $2.50, then we should question what we are doing wrong compared to all the others that are charging less. Back to fairness. Why are we not proud in this community to say we keep our boating launch fees reasonable, are still making money, drawing people to Marquette, promoting water-related sports, and not burdening the tax-payer?
I obviously feel strongly that the little guy is getting stuck unfairly and my native City has turned "big city" for the "almighty buck." When the City administration cited Wisconsin launch rates in their justification I thought I'd include one. I feel my biggest shortcoming in tackling this problem is that I'm still very naive to think that logic and fairness will prevail. In the real world I know it often does not but hope it does here.
I realize you have to look at this issue objectively and from all perspectives. One of your prime obligations is to the taxpayers whom you represent. No one likes to admit their choices were not the best at the time but in fairness, I don't think the Commission was presented with the information they needed to make a fair decision. And the public certainly didn't know about all this as it was probably buried in all the fees and schedules being reviewed. Isn't fairness what this is all about? Where I come from, two wrongs still don't make a right. Some things are black and white and some are gray. To increase fees radically from the $2.50/$40 is black in my eyes and will give our City a black eye.
I hope for your support in this matter. I do, as you may have gathered, pull out all the stops when I feel strongly about something like this. Throughout this though, I hope I have played fair. It has been intimated I may have understated or minimized some expenses related to launching. Well, if I did it certainly was not intentional and in fact, I thought I was being more than generous in my estimates. You be the judge. At least I presented the rationales against an increase. I've yet to see anything tangible or substantial justifying an increase. I just have to see all the all the happy boaters with their dogs, kids, better halves, and friends headed to the Lake to know it's one of the best reasons why we live here. To think an unwarranted increase of this magnitude will not adversely affect them I feel would be a serious misjudgment.
Mr. Peterson no doubt will have answers for those who need something to justify a raise in fees of some kind. I hope hard but fair questions are asked of him and that he plays fair in his responses. I expect fairness will be a major consideration as fees are again considered by the Commission.
One last thing. As I look back at all the empty slips in the Presque Isle Marina last summer, I can't help but think just filling a few of those at roughly $700 a slip could raise a couple of thousand dollars without raising expenses. Why is not our City going more aggressively in a positive direction to fill those slips instead of a negative direction of increasing the fees for its residents and neighbors who are already paying more than their fair share?
Thank you very much for listening. If you have any further questions please call me at 226-2624 or email at (email address omitted to prevent bot scanning).
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