Boaters who dock vessels in Erie Basin Marina have been given a reprieve on a rate increase.
The city has abandoned plans to boost slip rentals by 6 percent this season, an increase that would have affected most boat owners. The rate hike was announced last fall after officials tallied skyrocketing utility costs.
Many boat owners, struggling to hold down fuel expenses, curtailed cruising in favor of using their docked vessels as entertainment hubs. As part of the dock leases, vessels hook up to the marina's electrical system. When boats are used as floating family rooms equipped with refrigerators, televisions, satellite dishes and air conditioning, the marina's electric meter feels the strain.
That's why city officials pushed to boost rates for all boaters except those using small slips without electrical hookups.
Boaters pointed to a series of rate hikes in past years, and they called on the city to use any additional revenues to improve security, parking and other conditions at the marina. The rate hike request remained tabled for months in the Common Council's Finance Committee.
Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said the city has decided to leave rates unchanged for the upcoming season.
"We want to encourage people to use the marina and to come downtown," said Stepniak.
Boaters already received notices announcing the rate increase, and some paid the higher fees. City and marina officials said boaters will be compensated -- either with credits that will be applied to the 2010 season, or with rebates.
Erie Basin already charges rates that are 8 percent to 10 percent lower than other marinas, said Michael J. Wolasz Sr. of Brand-On Services, the marina's operator. But Wolasz said he understands the city's reason for scuttling plans to boost rates.
"We want to keep things affordable. It's expensive enough owning a boat," he said.
Erie Basin Marina has 422 slips, and most slip-holders pay seasonal rates that range from $1,183 to $1,850.
John E. Dailey docks his boat in the marina and speaks on behalf of some slip-holders.
Dailey said many were not opposed to rate increases; they merely wanted assurances that the extra money would be used to make marina improvements. For example, some boat owners have been prodding the city to replace chains with security gates to give more protection and privacy near docks. They also seek parking lot improvements, dock repairs and electrical upgrades.
City officials have been reviewing the requests.
"We're doing an entire evaluation of the marina," said Stepniak. "We're certainly taking their ideas into consideration.
Dailey said it's good news that the city has decided to hold the line on dock rates while considering improvements.
"The slip-holders are happy the city is taking the time to understand what's needed at the marina," he said.
When the marina's utility costs rise, the city and Brand-On Services absorb the expenses.
"At some point in the not so distant future, [dock rates] will have to be reviewed," said Common Council President David A. Franczyk, whose Fillmore District includes Erie Basin. "It comes down to the question of what's a fair rate."