Editorial: In Search of ‘Fair Market’ Fees — and More Revenue
The city of Newport Beach is currently embarking on a plan to raise fees for large and small marina operators, sportfishing businesses with boat docks, fuel docks, shipyards with docks, yacht clubs with slips and docks, restaurants with guest docks and just about anyone else with a dock that in some way adds monetary value to their operation. (And homeowners with private docks are next on the list.)
The stated goal is to bring current fees to “fair market” levels, in order to avoid anyone accusing the city of making an illegal “gift of public funds” by charging a fee for use of state land that might be less than the “market rate” the average commercial landowner might charge. Others have speculated that the “unstated” goal is to bring in much-needed revenue — and a lot of it.
The city’s position is that the existing fees, like the city’s former municipal mooring rates, remained artificially low for a long time instead of increasing with inflation. So, armed with the results of two recent appraisal studies, they went about trying to impose “fair market” fees for businesses and clubs operating docks and slips in Newport Harbor.
Rate increases would be phased in over the next few years, to soften the blow for local businesses. However, any way you slice it, the huge fee increases — amounting to 400 percent for commercial marina operators alone — will deal one heck of a blow to Newport Harbor’s many marine businesses.
As the state and the nation struggles to emerge from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the timing of this seemingly endless series of waterfront fee hikes could not possibly be worse.
Businesses will be forced to pass these fee increases on to local boaters, resulting in higher marina slip fees, higher fuel prices, higher shipyard repair bills, higher sportfishing charter fees, higher boating club membership fees and higher restaurant prices.
In a community where calling for higher taxes would be political suicide, local politicos seem to have found a way to do just that, imposing hefty new assessments that will affect everyone who goes boating or serves people who do — without using the “T” word.