By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The Fairhaven Marine Resources Committee has been busy updating its waterways rules and regulations and on 9/3 made further progress with the acceptance of various new fee proposals. The committee sees the fee increases as a way to boost the waterways revolving fund to allow for additional staff. But what does it mean for the waterways fund if Town Meeting approves a fee increase that is never then collected?
When the subject of aquaculture and shellfishing came up, former MRC member Frank Coelho pointed out that aquaculture farmers in Fairhaven have accidentally been enjoying a virtual BOGO on the acreage of their annual aquaculture fee.
Mr. Coelho noticed how the draft of fees under discussion listed the current annual aquaculture fee as $100 per acre; however, he said, that fee is supposed to be $200.
As Mr. Coelho recalled to the committee, Town Meeting in 2014 voted to increase the aquaculture fee from $25 to $200 per acre, which was approved by the Selectboard and subsequently by the state legislature in December 2014.
“You’re talking about renting an acre of water for $100 an acre,” said Mr. Coelho. “That doesn’t make sense. I mean, there’s something wrong with that.”
Mr. Coelho said MRC and Selectboard member Bob Espindola should recall the fee increase, having been on the board, and claimed that Town Administrator Mark Rees drew up the order for the $200 fee justifying the increase for Harbormaster Timothy Cox.
“I’m almost positive it’s only been $100,” responded Mr. Cox, “but [the harbormaster principal office assistant] will look that up because I did not lower that down from $200 to $100; it was $25 an acre and then the fee went up to $100 an acre and that’s what we’ve been charging all along. We never were charging $200.”
“Timmy, so you’re telling me that we charged $100 last year?” asked Mr. Coelho. He said he recalled Selectboard member Daniel Freitas expressing concern over the increase hurting businesses during a meeting when the matter was featured on the agenda, a meeting Mr. Coelho said Mr. Cox and the MRC were invited to attend but did not.
“So I can’t understand why you — you mean to tell me since 2014 you’ve been charging $100 an acre?” said Mr. Coelho.
“I’m only charging what I’m allowed to charge. But, like I said, Mr. Coelho, we will look into that and I will get back to the committee on that,” said Mr. Cox.
“My God,” said Mr. Coelho, “I’ll tell you one thing: we’re losing a lot of money. Forty-four acres and you’ve been charging $100 an acre — so, actually, it went for half price….”
Also during the meeting, the majority ruled when it came to fee increases, but Chairperson Michael McNamara and MRC member Robert “Hoppy” Hobson were consistent in their preference for keeping fees low, or non-existent when it came to Mr. Hobson.
“So what you’re doing is you’re just instituting another fee for the people,” said Mr. Hobson as the MRC discussed introducing a new mooring fee. “…The whole town’s just trying to tax you to death here and there; they get $50 here, $20 there…”
“I’ve said it before,” said Mr. McNamara in agreement. “This is still very much a blue-collar town and boating is in our blood for many of us.”
“And this ain’t Mattapoisett or Westport,” said Mr. Hobson.
“It’s just as nice as Mattapoisett and Westport,” said Mr. Cox.
“I think it’s better,” said Mr. Hobson.
MRC member Eric Dawicki said the discussion bothered him.
“I’m trying to be as kind and respectful as possible,” Mr. Dawicki started, “but the Libertarian idea that we shouldn’t have to pay taxes, in my view, it doesn’t measure up. The fact of the matter is, this community has always sold itself short. And the blue-collar guys are making more money than white-collar guys. My blue-collar graduates make more than lawyers.”
“The whole idea that we seem to be afraid to take care of ourselves and to really build an as-good-a-system as Mattapoisett, as Marion, as Dartmouth, as Nantucket — this town has always seemed to sell itself short,” said Mr. Dawicki. “And this isn’t about overtaxing. I think the fees that are proposed are fair and reasonable…. My feeling is that we have not kept up with other communities and … when I look at what [Mr. Cox] does with so little staff, it is unbelievable. And there are a lot of shenanigans, frankly, that have gone on in this community. Hoppy, you know more than I do, you’re neck deep in it,” Mr. Dawicki continued.
“So the bottom line is we need to have more people, more assistant harbormasters, … we need a second pump-out boat, … and we need to start building towards that and we need to start being a more responsible community in measuring the same distance as Mattapoisett and Marion. And, no, we’re not a snobby community; that’s why I raised my kids here. But we are a community that deserves to keep our waterways clean. We’re a community that spends a lot of money on shellfish and shellfish plantings…. We get grants, but those grants aren’t going to always be there. We’ve got to think about really making sure we provide the service that we’re providing today, and I don’t think those fees are that expensive….”
Clearly, Mr. Hobson could not argue with all of that, saying, “This gentleman (Mr. Cox) actually needs an assistant. Fairhaven and New Bedford is the biggest water commercial place in the country.”
Mr. Hobson added that Mr. Cox used to have a full-time assistant for eight months of the year, but that “they took that away from him.”
“I don’t mind paying a mooring fee or a waterways fee if he’s gonna get some help for what he’s doing,” said Mr. Hobson.
“Bravo,” said Mr. Dawicki. “I love it.”
The MRC decided on a $30 mooring fee, $15 annual mooring application fee, $10 annual mooring waiting list fee, and a $100 commercial mooring/ commercial vessel fee.
MRC member Andrew Jones said the committee should be prepared to defend thecfee increases to Town Meeting, saying, “Anything to do with waterways or fees generally generates conversation, and I think we should be prepared to back that up.”
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