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Port backs off marina hikes

The Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night agreed to delay imposing substantially higher rates on some tenants of the Port Orchard Marina next month when several current renters voiced strong opposition to the plan.

“This represents an increase in some cases as high as 83 percent, which I think is unconscionable,” said marina tenant and Port Orchard City Councilmember Rita DiIenno. “This is not market rate for our area, and I don’t know how you can do this with a straight face. I urge you to reconsider.”

A rate increase on currently open slips was approved last month as part of two directives the commissioners gave the port when it created its 2006 budget.

“We decided any new slips — starting Jan. 1 — would be rented at the market rate, and we couldn’t understand why that wasn’t already so,” said Board Chair Bill Mahan when the new tariff schedule was approved.

Chief Executive Officer Ken Attebery said the rate increases were also “driven by a need to address the sustainability of the marina over the decades,” and that the market rates were decided upon based on a survey of other marinas.

“They were set using no other criteria other than what the port commissioners felt was appropriate for the market,” Attebery said.

Those new rates — some higher by nearly $250 a month — would have been imposed on new tenants renting currently open slips, or existing tenants moving to different-sized slips, beginning Jan. 1.

Rates for existing tenants were to also be raised across the board by 5.5 percent at that time, but only temporarily until the port could implement market rates for their slips as well in “a multi-year process.”

However, following the lengthy and pointed comments by DiIenno and other tenants this week, Mahan, along with fellow commissioner Mary Ann Huntington, decided to put the hikes on ice — at least for now.

Gary Hunter, a member of the Port Orchard Marina Advisory Committee (POMAC), was the first to speak, explaining that the survey the port used to determine market rates compared “apples to oranges” because it included the fees charged at private marinas.

Since the fees collected at private marinas reflect the payment of certain taxes that public marinas are not responsible for, Hunter said “comparing the rates of (side by side) is grossly misleading, and to price members of the public out of a public facility is a huge disservice.”

Fellow marina tenant Janice Gilligan agreed with Hunter’s assessment, saying that the increased rates were “way too high,” and presented the commissioners with her own survey of public marinas in the state.

According to Gilligan’s research, which focused on the rental cost for a 36-foot slip, the rates the port proposed for 2006 represented an 87 percent increase over this year’s rate.

Gilligan also pointed out that by her calculations, the Port Orchard Marina’s rate amounted to $7.79 per square foot, which she said was more expensive than the rates at any other port she contacted — including Port Townsend, Anacortes and Friday Harbor — except for the Port of Seattle.

Her numbers suggested that the marina’s rates would also be close to twice as expensive as others in Kitsap County, as Kingston charged $3.89 and Poulsbo charged $3.50 per square foot.

Attebery said he had not had an opportunity since the meeting to take a close look at Gilligan’s materials and therefore could not speak to their reflection of other marinas’ rates, but said the port staff would be evaluating them.

Gilligan said her second concern with the rate increases was that she believed the decision to charge slips based on square footage instead of linear footage was “not equitable.”

“You have raised enough questions to have our staff go over it again,” said Mahan, who thanked Gilligan for her rate chart, which he said “clearly showed a problem that needs to be addressed.”

Mahan also told the audience that the port staff “recommended we not do this, but the commissioners felt very strongly that we need to do this,” he said, explaining that passage of Initiative-747 had a “dramatic impact on the port’s ability” to fund projects and pay for future replacement of facilities.

Attebery said the imposition of the marina’s 2006 tariff schedule for open slips would be delayed for “several weeks,” but that the 5.5 percent increase on current tenant rates would still be imposed next month.

Hunter said he was surprised by the board’s decision to delay the rate increase, but also pleased.

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