Discussion over raising rates at the East Creek Marina in South Jamesport got heated on Thursday as Riverhead town board members discussed a price hike some thought was too high.
Riverhead Town Councilman George Gabrielsen introduced the discussion, which was attended by Riverhead Town Recreation Superintendent Ray Coyne and Mason Haas, South Jamesport resident and member of the East Creek Advisory Council.
The marina, Gabrielsen said, has two to three years before its number are "in the red. We need to discuss fees. We want to look at what kind of revenue we're getting, compared to the competition."
Currently, Gabrielsen said the marina charges $60 per foot -- while other marinas charge over $100 per foot. "We're way off," Gabrielsen said, adding that he and Councilman Jim Wooten had discussed raising the fees in the coming year.
The question, said Councilman John Dunleavy, centers on what other municipal marinas charge. Haas said Brookhaven charges $64 per foot for facilities on the Sound and $54 per foot for dockage on the bay. Islip Town, he added, charges $58 per foot.
"In my opinion, there's fault in this because you are comparing East Creek to full-service marinas," Haas said.
The truly comparable marina, he added, is the facility located at the Riverhead Moose Lodge, which offers dockage at $50 per foot.
The East Creek Marina of Jamesport, Haas added, is frequented by mostly older people with smaller boats. "They took these slips because they can't be hauling boats in and out," he said.
Gabrielsen said he heard the "sympathy" plea but had "a problem with the town going into the red soon" and added that even with higher rates, he could foresee no problem with filling the marina; currently, he added, a waiting list of 299 boaters exists.
The councilman said the town will run out of reserve monies in two years; the proposal to raise rates is meant to service the debt and also maintain a 15 percent fund balance, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said.
Coyne presented three proposals, including raising rates slightly, from $60 to $65 per foot.
The second proposal, which Coyne said he believes is the "sweet spot," would raise rates incrementally and gradually over the next years, from $65, to $75, to $83, to $90 per foot over five years.
The third idea would raise rates to $80 per foot for the coming season.
Gabrielsen there is a need to act. "If we have a shortfall in three years, there is no way the taxpayers are addressing that."
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio noted that the reserve is less than the expenses.
Haas said he objected to "jumping to $80" when it was not necessary. He suggested that other projects could be commenced to address revenue, including the possible addition of a snack bar, that he said could be a "first class" operation; another could be constructed at Iron Pier.
Giglio said she'd been asking for a snack bar, similar to what exists at Meschutt Beach in Hampton Bays at the Beach Hut, for two years. Haas added dockage could be added on the other side of the facility.
Wooten noted the high number of boaters waiting to get in to the East Creek Marina. Haas said that's because its a "no frills" facility.
Gabrielsen laughed. "That's one of the nicest spots," he said, adding that a beach is available for children to play while parents work on their boats.
Haas retorted that a 33 percent increase would hurt senior citizens.
"Don't play the senior citizen card with me," Gabrielsen said. "People there are doing well."
Wooten noted that Haas keeps a boat at the marina; Haas asked why the rate increase was not discussed beforehand.
Wooten said the goal was to discuss the matter in open session.
Coyne said the second solution, with a gradual raise in rates, would solve both problems.
"I agree it services the debt," said Dunleavy. "We can tell taxpayers they're not subsidizing it and still keep in line with other towns, and not commercial establishments." He added, "I'm not a boater -- I'm just for the taxpayers of Riverhead."
Haas agreed that the second solution, with gradual and incremental rate increases, was "workable."
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