Harbor panel submits budget to town for approval
In a meeting marked by frustration and raised voices, the Harbor Management Commission voted 5-2 to re-submit an updated – but essentially unchanged – budget to the Jamestown Town Council.
There was some confusion regarding the charge of the Town Council coming out of the Feb. 22 public hearing.
Chairman Michael de Angeli opened the March 1 meeting saying that its purpose was to respond to the Town Council’s request for the Commission to reconsider the proposed Harbor Management Plan and Harbor Ordinance as it relates to the funding formula.
The proposed funding formula would allow for a 50 percent transfer-of-excess operating revenue to the infrastructure account where currently the upward limit in the ordinance is 10 percent.
In describing his attempt to explain the Commission’s position at the public hearing, de Angeli said, “I was rebuffed.” de Angeli said that the Council told him to “go back and come back with something that [the Commission is] 100 percent behind.”
Town Manager Bruce Keiser agreed with the chairman’s assessment. Keiser specifically mentioned the new funding formula sits at the center of the impasse. He also described a conversation that he had with councilors Mike Schnack and Bob Bowen concerning the need for “something concrete.”
Prompted by Keiser’s reminder that the deadline to set mooring permit fees is March 15, the conversation moved to setting rates.
Keiser described an informal survey that he conducted asking costal communities how they structure the harbor revenues and corresponding coasts. Seven of the eight responding communities said it puts harbor revenues in the town’s general fund. Middletown dedicates mooring fees and other harbor revenues to both harbor and beach main- tenance. Keiser said that Jamestown has the most restrictive policy regarding the expenditure of harbor funds.
Keiser said that retained earnings – money not spent in a given year from either the harbor’s operation or infrastructure budgets – are co-mingled and a restricted savings account is created.
“[We don’t want] an unlimited slush fund,” Keiser said. “We need a cap.”
Keiser also said that that money needs to pay for infrastructure repairs and improvements such as the East Ferry parking lot, sea walls, and infrastructure that supports the boating community and the general public.
When debate ensued as to whether or not the Commission should be responsible for costs of a parking lot used by patrons of the shops and stores, Keiser said that the lot provides access to the water and that a broader definition of harbor-related infrastructure is required.
Bowen said that the Commission should share the costs with the town, with each group sharing the costs of each project. de Angeli agreed that the Town Council asked for a “concrete long range plan.”
“There’s no objection to doing that, but nature is a nebulous thing [and] we don’t know what’s going to break,” de Angeli said. He asked, “How do you allocate what you are going to need two years down the road?”
Ultimately, and in spite of confusion regarding the Council’s charge, the evening’s discussion revealed two schools of thought. One group, which was generally comprised of boat yard owners and mooring holders, expressed that it is better to defi ne infrastructure first and then define the responsibilities of the Commission regarding costs of maintaining or improving infrastructure. This group also said that sufficient funds in all retained earnings already exist.
Steve Defoe, an owner of Jamestown Boat Yard, said that he is “new to the Jamestown process” and suggested to the Commission that the process was backwards. It shouldn’t be concerned about measuring Jamestown fees against other towns.
“The reality is that we keep trying to tie the fee side of the budget, whether it is operating or infrastructure, and in reality there’s no real connection,” Defoe said.
He cautioned the Commission and the Town Council to “state [on] what premise we are going to raise rates because the idea that we are going to raise rates because we need the money without defining what that need is, to me, is a haphazard way of going about the process.”
He added, “It is a waste of a lot of our time if this is going to become an exercise in giving us parody with Newport or Middletown or wherever in somebody’s mind they want Jamestown to fall.”
Vic Calabretta, a mooring holder, urged the Commission to respond to the Town Council’s request to define infrastructure. “I don’t know why we are beating around the bush,” Calabretta said. “Somebody’s got to draw a line in the sand and say infrastructure is from the high water up, infrastructure is if you can see the water – pick something, define it, send it to the Council and let the Council decide.”
He continued, “Define it the best way you think it should because you know the Council is going to change it if they don’t like it. I have trouble understanding why [we] just don’t want to define what you think is the proper use of harbor infrastructure money.” de Angeli agreed with the point, but said that it was a bigger issue and it is not something that can be done tonight, in part, “because it is not on tonight’s agenda.”
The second school of thought consisted mostly of elected and appointed town officials. While not disinterested in definitions and responsibilities, they expressed a view that capital funds should be raised consistently and at a higher rate beginning with this year’s budget.
Commissioner Andrew Kallfelz said that regardless of how the responsibilities are defined, there would be an ongoing and escalating need for funds.
“What we know,” he said, “is over time, we need to spend a lot more on infrastructure than we have budgeted for in the recent past.” He said that the town is under budgeted for infrastruture.
“Going forward there’s going to be arguments for more infrastructure and hopefully we can keep those arguments to a line that everyone agrees with, whether it be taxpayers, mooring holders and commercial operators,” Kallfelz said.
Bowen agreed, saying, “Typically, you will always need to raise money for projects. The question is what that rate is.” He said that the Commission is raising between $70,000 to $88,000 annually for infrastructure and that is not enough,
Bowen added, “The Commission must accumulate money at a much faster rate than you have been doing it” in order to pay for a list of projects that included the Fort Getty pier, the old ferry landing and the sea wall at East Ferry.
Commissioner Larry Eichler, who along with Commissioner Ed McGuirl voted against the updated budget, laid out his case that harbor infrastructure needs to be defined and that raising rates is not necessary given the $120,000 in retained earnings at this time.
He also said that some expenditures, such as the curb-andrails project at East Ferry and the third touch-and go-dock, were not the responsibility of the Harbor Commission and an unnecessary addition to infrastructure.
The Town Council will discuss the matter further at its March 7 meeting.