NEWBURYPORT — The City Council may soon adopt a harbormaster’s fee system that would increase costs for boaters docking on the central waterfront.
The Harbor Commission proposed the fee increases, which are under review by the City Council’s Committee on Budget and Finance.
The new fees are intended to synchronize with the Dockwa marine management software system, which was adopted by the city last year and allows boaters to reserve and pay for dock space online.
According to a letter to the City Council from the Harbor Commission, the Dockwa system helped city officials determine the docking fee structure was “overly complicated” and that its current rates (which were implemented in July 2015) are “well below market in surrounding waterways for the level of surfaces we offer.”
The city realized a $30,000 deficit in the harbormaster enterprise fund in the last fiscal year, largely due to increases in payroll for lifeguards and other staff, boat payments and bond payments for the docks and boater facility, according to the letter.
The new docking rates were proposed by the Harbor Commission to simplify the fee structure, bring the rates “more in line with the value the city offers boaters,” and to provide enough income to support the harbormaster enterprise fund.
The city charges hourly and nightly fees for boats to dock on the waterfront, with costs depending on the size of the boat.
For vessels up to 59 feet long, there is a $10 fee for the first three hours; boats under 20 feet pay $30 for 10 hours, and boats 40 to 59 feet long pay $50. Comparatively, boats 60 to 80 feet in length pay a day rate of $120, while boats over 160 feet long pay $325.
There is a maximum three-night stay, though extended stays may be approved by the Harbormaster’s Office.
As proposed, the new fees would charge boaters a flat rate for three-hour increments, ranging from $10 to $30 depending on boat length.
There would also be a day rate of $3 per foot for boats under 50 feet, $4 per foot for boats 51 to 100 feet, and $5 per foot for boats over 101 feet. These rates would increase by $1 per foot on weekends, holidays and during special events.
Moorings for all boats would cost a $50 flat fee per day.
Annual waterway permits would increase from $4 to $5 per foot, while annual mooring permits would increase from $3 to $4 per foot. Dinghy dock permits would increase from $225 to $250, and annual commercial fish pier permits would rise from $1,200 to $1,700.
Harbormaster Paul Hogg noted that the city’s docking fees have only been adjusted once in the past decade and said they are due for an increase to deal with rising costs, especially with the addition of the new harbormaster facility, which opened in 2017. That building includes the harbormaster’s office, a meeting space and public restrooms and showers for boaters.
“There are things out of your control, and the cost of running this department goes up every year,” Hogg said. “There’s room for adjustment, and we’d rather make a smaller increase now than make a huge increase in the future.”
Councilor at large Charlie Tontar, who chairs the Committee on Budget and Finance, said the committee discussed the harbormaster fee increases at a meeting Thursday and ultimately requested more information from the Harbor Commission on rates charged in other communities along the Merrimack River.
“We want comparables to other communities to see what they are paying,” Tontar said. “People have been coming to Newburyport, and we don’t want them to be discouraged. It’s a matter of looking at the numbers.”
Noting there is some pressure on the council to make a decision on the docking fees so they will be in place in time for boating season, he said the Committee on Budget and Finance will discuss them during a meeting Monday at 6:15 p.m., just before the night’s City Council meeting.
To see the proposed harbormaster fee changes, read the packet from the City Council’s Feb. 10 meeting, visit https://www.cityofnewburyport.com/sites/newburyportma/files/agendas/city_council_packet_02_10_2020_finalv2.pdf
To see the city’s current docking fees, visit https://www.cityofnewburyport.com/harbormaster
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.