City councilors rejected a proposed rate increase for slip rentals at Thompson's Wharf, citing concerns about the price disparity between what the city charges as opposed to what private businesses charge.

Harbormaster Kathy Pickering brought the proposed rental fee increase before city officials Tuesday, May 6. Pickering explained the city had previously charged a rental fee at Thompson's Wharf based on the size of the slip and the draft of the vessel.

Under that configuration, Pickering said rental fees ranged in price from $1,250 to $1,950.

The Harbor Advisory Committee reviewed the existing fee schedule and voted unanimously to charge a rate of $70 per foot for the season.

Pickering noted in a memorandum to councilors the change in the way slip rental fees are charged would mean some returning vessel owners would pay a lower percentage increase, while others would pay a higher percentage increase.

Overall, she said the average increase in the rental fee is approximately 25 percent.

When considering the rental fees, Pickering said the Harbor Committee factored in the planned rebuild of Thompson's Wharf this spring, the other rates charged in the harbor and the available amenities.

Pickering acknowledged the proposed rental fees are lower than those charged by Front Street Shipyard and Holmes Marina. However, she said Thompson's Wharf does not share the same amenities as those facilities — such as parking, private security, a lounge and other features.

She said the rental fee for Thompson's Wharf does include water and the use of the public restroom showers but electricity is extra.

The fact the city would be charging less for slip rentals at Thompson's Wharf as opposed to the fees charged by Front Street Shipyard or Holmes Marina was met with opposition from councilors who questioned the fairness of the proposed fee.

Councilors Roger Lee and Eric Sanders took particular issue with the fact the city would charge a seasonal rental fee of $2,800 for a person with a 40-foot vessel at Thompson's Wharf, while Front Street Shipyard would charge the same size vessel a rental fee of $5,200.

Lee said the city should be charging the fair market price for use of the slips at Thompson's Wharf.

Mayor Walter Ash Jr. weighed in on the issue and pointed out the city should not be “low balling” the private sector.

Councilor Nancy Hamilton suggested Pickering should look at comparable facilities along the coast to better gauge what would be a fair price. Pickering said she could look at other facilities, but pointed out there are not many comparable facilities in the state that are operated by municipalities.

“We owe it to the taxpayers to make sure we aren't giving these [slips] away,” Hamilton said.

Sanders agreed and said the city is “not in the business to undercut capitalism” and suggested that, because there is such a difference in the price the city is charging versus the fee charged by private businesses, the city needs to raise its prices some.

However, despite urging from councilors to raise the prices, no one had an answer as to how much the city should increase its rental fees.

“The disparity in cost is the eye-opener for me,” Sanders said.

Councilor Mary Mortier asked Pickering if the rental fee the city charges covers the cost of operating Thompson's Wharf. Pickering responded the city more than covers its cost for the facility and she estimated the proposed $70-per-foot charge would net the city an additional $40,000 in revenue.

Councilors ultimately decided to send the issue back to the Harbor Committee for further consideration. Pickering cautioned that the boating season will begin shortly and if the fees are going to be revised, she will need to be able to notify renters. She said the returning renters did not have any significant issues with the proposed $70-per-foot fee.

Small Vessel Storage Fees

In addition to considering slip rental fees at Thompson's Wharf, councilors were also asked to approve the fees for storing small vessels, such as kayaks, at the Boathouse for non-mooring owners.

The Harbor Committee recommended charging a storage fee of $40 for Belfast residents and $60 for non-residents.

According to a memo from Pickering, the committee settled on the proposed storage rates based on a number of considerations, which include that mooring owners should not be treated differently than non-mooring owners; that there are administrative costs associated with storing kayaks in terms of keeping lists and issuing required stickers; that there should be some fee to store private property on city property; and that the convenience of storing a vessel near the water is significant.

Councilors approved the requested storage fee rate by a vote of 3-1 with Sanders opposed. Councilor Mike Hurley was absent from the meeting.