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Last Minute Move to Hike Mooring Rates Fails

Councilor at Large Michael T. Farley suggested tying mooring rates to the annual tax increase, sparking a debate about tax fairness and economic impacts.

A last-minute effort by Councilor-At-Large Michael T. Farley to tie mooring rate increases to the the city budget, which would almost guarantee a 2- to 4-percent rate increase each year, failed in a 3-2 vote at Thursday night's City Council meeting.

The vote occurred during the second reading of changes and fixes to the city's code of ordinances relating to Newport's harbors.

Farley proposed amending the code changes to include a provision that would increase mooring rates by the same percentage as the annual tax increase.

Farley said property owners are paying 25 percent more in taxes since 2008 and mooring owners have not had a rate increase during the same period, suggesting an increase in mooring fees would spread the tax burden in a more equitable fashion.

"It's politically unpopular to vote for mooring increases, so we've kicked the can down the road and maybe we've been ignoring this issue for a little too long," Farley said. 

First Ward Councilor Marco T. Camacho said he liked Falvey's "innovative" thinking and noted that the city's Finance Review Committee, which is due to release a report on how the city can find new revenue sources in May, could be presenting similar, untraditional schemes to generate revenue.

"We're always looking for fair and equitable distribution, how all citizens shoulder the tax burden," Camacho said.

But the rest of the council was staunchly opposed to the idea, with Second Ward Councilor Justin S. McLaughlin saying a such a move would be a "slap in the face" of the Harbormaster, the Waterfront Commission and everyone who worked on the city's Harbor Management Plan, which has sections relating to mooring fields and rates.

See also: Despite Claims, Mooring Fees did Not Just Go Up for Smallest Boats

Third Ward Councilor Kathryn E. Leonard said the HMP and the Waterfront Commission have been the city's tools to navigate those waters and the commission has studied the mooring rates issue. And the conclusion is that the economic impact could be negative, she said.

"We are a huge sailing and boating community and I think before we quickly say 'oh, hi, we ought to raise the rates,' we have a commission that looks at this, has looked at it and continues to look at it," Leonard said. "It's a big mistake to try to make changes that affect so many people in the economy without doing a full scale evaluation."

Leonard warned that the city could be perceived as unfriendly and said the issue has been debated in other coastal communities with similar conclusions, such as Martha's Vineyard, where she owns a second home.

"I can tell you boaters spend money," she said. "Economic studies have been done over and over."

Farley said he didn't think a small two percent increase is unfair. 

And Camacho said it's "difficult to go back to the majority of my constituents who don't have boats and say 'you're subsidizing this."

"Councilman Farley isn't asking for an immediate 25 percent increase," he said. "He's saying let's move forward and if we're raising taxes two percent, moorings should go up two percent."

The current rate for a mooring in Newport is 52 cents per anchor-weight pound with a minimum fee of $130. 

Farley said that Leonard's assertion that there would be a negative economic impact was incredulous, especially with the city's maintaining a 10 year waiting list for residential moorings and a 15-year waiting list for nonresident moorings. And he said that the Waterfront Commission has members who pay for moorings, asking why they'd ever recommend raising rates if they're paying for them themselves.

Camacho agreed that the warnings about economic impacts from a small rate increase are overblown.

"I don't think we'd be losing anybody with a with a small percentage increase," Camacho said.

The council ultimately voted 3-2 to strike down Farley's proposed amendment to the ordinance changes. 
Bill the 1st February 28, 2014 at 04:24 PM
@Larry, somehow, I think the cost of dredging and dealing with what is surely contaminated dredge soil will far exceed any possible revenue from any marina. Plus, you would displace the small-boat mooring field and anchorage area. Locals would lose and out-of-towners with big boats will win. Now, if you were to redesign all the mooring areas and make the entirety of Ft. Adams/Brenton Cove into a small-boat mooring field and push everything greater than 30 feet out into deeper, exposed water, then there wouldn't be as much of an issue. I don't see that happening though. As for the Connel Highway area, there is/was a plan to redevelop that and redirect the Newport bridge. I assume that plan is dead due to lack of State and Federal funds.
Larry Gotch February 28, 2014 at 06:05 PM
Bill, creating a marina south of the Spindle would not displace any boats. The spoils would be used to create a parking area off the pumping station. King park would not be touched because the deed of gift says that if there is any development on the park property the land reverts back to the family. There are marina developers that I am sure will work with the city. I know where to find them. It's doable without stepping on any toes. Re the Connell Highway dead end there are deals that can be made with developers. Maybe RK would be interested. I hate to shoot things down without exploring the positive side if the equation. After all our focus is to find additional ways to fill the coffers. Don't you agree?
nagaer February 28, 2014 at 08:28 PM
The city is broke, keep voting democrat and we will suffer the same fate as Central Falls.
Michael March 01, 2014 at 10:38 AM
Nuts!
Larry Gotch March 01, 2014 at 11:20 AM
The risk is: When one group is in a position to make a deference and it doesn't happen, then there is a propensity to make a change. There may not be an improvement with another group, however the first groups success or failure defines them.

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