Northshore Harbormasters Association News

Editorial: Control of mooring fees should stay local

Local governments ought to have the discretion to set their own fees.

So waterfront communities in the region should applaud a move by state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, to repeal a law that took that discretion away and gave it to the state. The law, passed last year, required coastal cities and towns to charge equal mooring fees for residents and nonresidents.

Tarr’s bill would put control back where it belongs — at the local level.

The measure was flawed from the start, both in its passage and in its substance. It was inserted by state Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, as an add-on to the 2004 transportation bond bill, which meant there was no opportunity for legislators or the public to comment on it. State Sen. Robert A. O’Leary, D-Barnstable, a cosponsor of Tarr’s repeal effort, called it "Senate skullduggery."

Morrissey’s argument that the new regulation creates "equity" for all boat owners rings hollow at several levels. Communities have long charged different fees to residents and nonresidents for various things, ranging from clamming licenses to admission to beaches, state parks or even local museums. Residents have always had preferred access to local services and resources.

And, as Tarr points out, local residents help to pay for the maintenance of harbor and mooring services through their property taxes, which reflect generally higher assessments because they are coastal communities. Why shouldn’t those locals get a bit of a break on mooring fees?

It is not as though the split-fee structure was gouging nonresidents. In Gloucester, the difference in the fee between a resident and a nonresident for a 35-foot boat is all of $70 a year. In Salem, the difference is $157.50 — more but not even close to breaking the bank for somebody who can afford a pleasure boat. At today’s fuel prices, that is less than half the price of filling the tank.

Finally, this is not about people who are struggling to make a living being blocked by high fees. This is about recreation for those who tend to be wealthier than average.

The system worked as it was. There was no good reason to change it. So Tarr and his colleagues deserve bipartisan support to undo the damage done last year.

Posted on June 1st, 2005 by Administrator in North Shore