Heavier launch fees may not have grounded boaters, but are one more burden weighing them down, a longtime Juneau fisherman said.
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"We are paying more, but I do not see more lights, fresh water, Coke machines or anything special," Mike Mann said. "It is almost like living in New York City with your own car: You pay for the car, license and registration, while being stuck in the middle of the city most of the year."
City harbor officials say they need the money just to keep up with operational costs.
Mann, a commercial fisherman, owns a 47-foot vessel at Douglas Harbor and said he already pays several fees to deliver fish and provisions to Auke Bay, along with property taxes on a house in Juneau. He paid the $70 annual fee to launch his 16-foot skiff "nearly everywhere around town," he said.
"It is not just an increased ramp fee that disturbs me. It is the cumulative effect," Mann said. "The increase seems innocent enough, but the increase in dock and moorage fees, plus the launch fee is interconnected."
launch ramp fees
for one or more city harbors
calendar year 2005: $50.
calendar year 2006: $70.
calendar year 2007: $90.
Mann said the city Docks and Harbors Department is using a shotgun approach and trying to build its budget. In 2005 the launch fee was raised from $35 to $50, he said. This year it shot up from $50 to 70. It will peak at a maximum of $90 in 2007. Currently you can get a $12 day pass, which will cost you two more bucks next year.
"What Docks and Harbors intends to do with money is not cut-and-dry and certainly not set aside in an earmark," Mann said. "I see the fees going up in Juneau, but not the pay."
The fees were raised to meet increasing operating expenses, including personnel, maintenance and upgrades, said Docks and Harbors Board Finance Committee Chairman Jim Preston. He said the board has been clear about the increased fees "all along."
"We are saddled with having to generate money to continue operations. Unlike Eaglecrest (Ski Area), we receive no subsidies," Preston said. "There are many costs involved in operating launch ramps and some people want increased service with lower costs."
In 2003 the city needed to look into fee increases because the state transferred ownership to the city, Juneau Port Director John Stone said. The launch fees generated $35,000 in revenues last year, but there was an operating cost of $120,000. The $85,000 difference was provided by other fee sources, which is not appropriate, Stone said.
"The Docks and Harbors board was intent on getting revenues closer to the costs of operating launch ramps," Stone said. "We are talking about operation costs and general maintenance only."
Last year the city collected nearly $35,000 from recreational boaters, who launched about 20,000 times, Stone said. He said Docks and Harbors operates like a utility company seeking fees to recover costs.
"A cost associated with an activity should be financed by those doing it, not subsidized by others," Stone said. "We are establishing rates to recover costs."
The fees assessed to an owner for using one or more of the launches at Douglas Harbor, Harris Harbor, north Douglas, Statter Harbor, Tee Harbor Boat, Amalga Harbor and Echo. Use of the kayak ramp at Amalga Harbor is free.
"The Assembly reached a point where Docks and Harbors had to pay their own way, which was a difficult task considering the state had not really done a great job of maintaining the launches when they were handed over," Juneau Assembly member and Docks and Harbors Liaison Johan Dybdahl said. "They have a tough job, but they have to do it."