Marina rate increase a bitter pill to swallow

Officials worry 5% hike will be too much for boaters but swayed by reality of increasing costs, needed projects

SINCE IT WAS built, the Port Washington marina has been filled with tenants, including a fleet of charter fishing boats, but some Harbor Commission members fear that with an impending 5% slip rental fee increase slated for next year that situation could change. Press file photo
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington marina tenants may be in for sticker shock next year.

The Harbor Commission last week approved increasing the annual slip fees for next year by 5%, significantly more than the 3% that had been customary.

“A 3% increase isn’t going to cover our budget,” Harbormaster Dennis Cherny told the commission, adding that the city’s administrative staff had recommended a 10% increase.

“A 10% increase sounds horrible, but it’s not,” he added, especially when compared with the fees charged by other marinas.

Everything the marina buys has gone up in price, Cherny said.

“Our supplies have gone up 8% to 10%,” he said.

And, he said, the marina is looking at some significant costs in the next year or two, including increasing the pay for seasonal workers to $15 an hour, replacing the golf carts used by workers at a cost of $30,000, air conditioning one of the marina buildings, dredging along pier five and replacing the marina fuel tanks, a $500,0000 proposition.

Cherny said he did not recommend the 10% increase, instead proposing 5%, but even that got some pushback from the commission.

“It is horrible,” Commission Chairman Gerald Gruen Jr. said. “You can’t jump up that high in one year.”

That’s especially true now, when the economy is precarious, he said.

Even in bad years and during the recession of 2008, the marina held rates down because of the economic times, Gruen noted.

Commission member Tim Osowski predicted that with this kind of increase, the marina will lose tenants to other marinas.

“I’m still hearing about it (last year’s 3% increase) from people,” he said. “We’re going to lose tenants. I think you’re going to have an exodus.

“The waiting list will evaporate pretty quick. You’re going to get a lot of pushback.”

A 5% increase, Cherny said, won’t put the marina in the red but instead provide it with a small surplus.

Gruen suggested the committee review some of the expenses, particularly the fuel tanks, but Cherny said that can’t be done.

“We can’t say no,” he said. “The insurance company won’t insure them.”

The tanks are believed to be in good shape, he said, but they need to be insured and companies won’t insure tanks older than 25 years.

Port’s are 40 years old, Cherny said, and assistant Lisa Rathke noted that they have a 30-year lifespan.

Port, he added, isn’t the only marina facing this. Many others are having to replace their fuel tanks at a significant cost.

Gruen suggested the city look at self-insuring the tanks.

“That’ll save us a half-million dollars,” he said. “We should talk about if we need to do these things. I don’t think we do.”

If need be, he said, the city should find an expert to study the integrity of the tanks.

“I would like to get an expert,” Gruen said. “How long will they last. I’ve heard that some tanks are as good as new buried in the ground like that.”

Osowski, who cast the lone vote against the increase, suggested that the cost of the tanks be passed on through the fuel costs, saying transient boaters and boaters who simply stop to refuel will then share that burden.

That could disproportionately impact the charter boats, which don’t have the amenities that other tenants do, commission member Chad Biersach, a charter boat captain, said.

“We don’t have security,” he said. “We have old docks. We don’t have gates. We’re paying $200 more (annually than other tenants) and we get increases just the same.”

The increased fee is because the marina can’t rent those slips to transient boaters during the season, Rathke said.

Those slips are generally wider as well, Cherny said.

“Can we get security cameras?” Biersach asked.

That’s in the works, Cherny said.

Stacey Berg, a tenant representative, suggested that the charter fees be increased 3% while others go up 5%, but that idea got little traction.

With the 5% increase, Port’s fees for next year will be $1,844 for a 30-foot slip, compared to $1,756 this year; $2,455 for a 36-foot slip compared to $2,338, $3,180 for a 40-foot slip vs. $3,029 this year; $4,109 for a 45-foot slip compared to $3,895; and $4,565 for a 50-foot slip compared to $4,327.

In comparison, Cherny said, the fees in Manitowoc are $2,670 for a 40-foot slip, $3,060 for a 44-foot slip, $3,875 for a 50-foot slip and $4,645 for a 60-foot slip.

In Sheboygan, he said, the fees are $2,050 for a 30-foot slip, $2,380 for a 35-foot slip, $2,900 for a 40-foot slip, $3,590 for a 45-foot slip and $4,100 for a 50-foot slip.

At McKinley Marina in Milwaukee, Cherny said, the rates are $2,177 for a 30-foot slip, $2,976 for a 37-foot slip, $3,357 for a 40-foot slip, $4,047 for a 45-foot slip and $48,00 for a 50-foot slip.

“They’re all going to get an increase, 3% or more,” he warned.

Racine, he added, charged $2,299 for a 30-foot slip, $2,799 for a 35-foot slip, $3,499 for a 40-foot slip, $3,999 for a 45-foot slip and $4,699 for a 50-foot slip.


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