(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Liveaboard surcharge increase is too steep

  • Tuesday, April 20, 2021 4:12pm
  • Opinion

By Matt Leither

As a liveaboard resident in the Juneau Harbors system, I am writing to voice my concern regarding the proposed resident surcharge increase that was advanced at the last meeting of the CBJ Harbors Regular Board on March 29. The proposal on the table will double liveaboard fees. This is in addition to the moorage fees that all users pay, including liveaboards. The Harbor Board will vote on the resolution on April 29.

Port Director Carl Uchytil and others have made the point that this increase for liveaboard fees is long overdue, and that increasing fees will force residents of the harbor to pay their fair share. His letter from the agenda from the Regular Board meeting on March 29 indicates that currently, the resident surcharge accounts for $115,000 in revenue for the harbor system. With the proposal to double the resident surcharge, the harbors can expect to increase this revenue to $230,000 anually.

Ostensibly, this rate is to help to pay for the increased demands which harbor residents place on the harbors’ staff and resources. Uchytil emphasized the costs for snow removal, which he implied were primarily necessary to make the harbors passable for residents. However, the idea that nonresidents would settle for unkept walkways is unreasonable — the walkways are frequented by commercial fisherman, recreational users and others providing maintenance and shoveling their own boats, and the walkways would have to be kept clear even if residents were not present. Similarly, the security enhancements in which there have been recent investments are just as valuable to the nonresidents as to the residents, as is the free oil recycling which is provided at the harbors. (What was not mentioned is that oil disposal is already provided free of cost at the landfill.) Uchytil also compared the fees liveaboard residents pay to those paid by residential homes. However, this is comparing apples to oranges. What person who lives in a home in Juneau has no direct sewer hookup, or even a possibility of pump out in the winter? What person who lives in a home has no water hook-up in the winter and must disconnect after each use in the summer?

What is reasonable is to assume is that harbor residents use more resources in the way of freshwater, wastewater treatment and in refuse disposal. According to records from the CBJ Docks and Harbors Board (Jan. 30, 2020), the total costs for these services was $231,645 in 2019, the last year before the financial upheavals due to the pandemic. As mentioned above, under the current proposal, revenue from the resident surcharge would be expected increase to $230,000. Is it right to assume that harbor residents are using 99.2% of the freshwater, as well as producing 99.2% of the wastewater and trash in the harbor? This defies belief, especially when one considers that Uchytil had previously estimated that in Statter Harbor, 75% of restroom supplies and water/wastewater is used directly by another user group, with 25% of costs for waste disposal is for that group as well (Finance Subcomittee Minutes, Nov.30, 2020). Similarly, other Juneau harbors have significant use in these areas from non-liveaboards.

In addition, when compared with other harbors in Alaska, the proposed fees are higher than most. Under the current proposal, Juneau’s liveaboard fees would be almost double to then next highest harbor found ($138 per month with Juneau’s proposal versus $75 in Craig).

These numbers can further be broken down as a percentage of moorage fees in each city. In this way, one can see that even when compensated for the idea that another harbor may be less expensive in general (and that therefore that their liveaboard fees would be less expensive), the proposal is not commensurate with the rest of the state. With the current proposal, Juneau’s liveaboard fees as a percentage of moorage fees would only be second to Craig, and greater than the majority of sampled harbors.

Harbor services are certainly valued, I am happy to contribute to their cost. However, it should be the board’s desire that these costs be spread equitably throughout the harbor users, rather than significantly increasing the costs for one group while planning to decrease general moorage fees in the coming year.

• Matt Leither resides in Don D. Statter Harbor. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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