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Oak Harbor Marina boaters face hefty fee hike

Dave Steckman, left, and Billy Wind remove Christmas lights from Steckman’s San Juan 24 on Sunday after the Oak Harbor Yacht Club’s annual Lighted Boat Parade to the Coupeville Wharf on Saturday evening. Both men oppose a moorage fee hike of 11 percent next year. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Dave Steckman, left, and Billy Wind remove Christmas lights from Steckman’s San Juan 24 on Sunday after the Oak Harbor Yacht Club’s annual Lighted Boat Parade to the Coupeville Wharf on Saturday evening. Both men oppose a moorage fee hike of 11 percent next year.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

The Oak Harbor City Council will vote on whether to increase marina rates at its next meeting, Dec. 15.

In order to meet the marina’s “cumulative reserve goal” of $300,000, an 11-percent rate increased is required, said Development Services Director Steve Powers at a Tuesday, Dec. 1 presentation to the council.

As proposed, the 11-percent hike in 2010 would be followed by a 2.4 percent increase for the remaining years in order to keep pace with the marina’s reserve fund goals, he said.

The two-digit figure isn’t sitting well with marina advisory board members and tenants after two years of no increase. Earlier this week, they came up with a counter-offer.

Steve Williford laid blame on the marina community and city government for its failure to raise rates in 2008 and 2009 due to the poor economy.

“I’m not sure the economy has gotten much better,” he told the council. “If you present this ... it’s going to hit the fan and it’s going to be omnidirectional.”

Williford also took issue with the way city staff developed and presented the fee increase, effectively bypassing the marina advisory committee until the 11-percent figure was reached.

Marina customers didn’t learn of the increase until Nov. 30 when a “little note” was posted at the docks, he said.

“I don’t think it’s fair.”

Bob Nelson, who moors his boat in “F Dock,” called the increase “a big bomb” to take all at once. Instead of such a large rate hike for 2010, Nelson suggested a more gradual increase.

Powers defended the city staff’s method of handling the rate increase and how it was presented.

“Throughout the course of the year staff has discussed rates,” he said, “but it is true, we didn’t get down to the brass tacks until November.”

“The revenue that is generated at the marina stays at the marina,” Powers added. “A lot of time and work has gone into this. It’ll include “multiple phases ... phase three, four and possibly five.”

Powers said that while “rates have been somewhat static over time, operational and maintenance costs have obviously increased.” A rate increase is necessary if the marina is to meet its operational and maintenance needs and to build a cumulative reserve for a redevelopment project, he said. The current rate only covers operational and minor maintenance.

The annual target for the reserve is $300,000 and will go toward the redevelopment project, Powers said.

Comments made at the Dec. 1 meeting caused staff members to re-think the one-shot, 11-percent increase. At a marina advisory board meeting Monday, Dec. 7, Powers presented a draft budget with a 5-percent increase each year over three years.

The more gradual increase appeased advisory board chairman Dave French.

“It’s pretty hard to argue against this,” he said. Although the new rate increase proposal is better, it doesn’t erase the fact that staff members chose to forego a 3-percent increase in 2008 because of the uncertain economic climate, he said.

French doesn’t think an increase will deter boaters from mooring their vessels at the Oak Harbor Marina.

“We’re one of the lowest costing marinas and have been for some time,” he said.

The council will continue the marina rate increase discussion and vote on the issue at their next meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 15, at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 865 SE Barrington Dr. The new rates will take effect in Jan. 2010.

The increase does not cover additional funds needed for dredging, Powers said, which will require a fee in addition to the suggested rate increase in 2010.

A proposed contract for dredging is also tentatively scheduled for the council’s next meeting.

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