There's been a good deal of discourse over Newport Beach's recently approved marina fee increase. Plenty of small business owners say their operations faced an unreasonable increase in the "dock tax." We agree that some of the levies may have been too high when first proposed, and it would have been better to have increased the fees in past years to lessen the impact, but the fee schedule OK'd Tuesday by the City Council appears reasonable.
We have great respect for the harbor's business owners. They navigate not only the bay, but an arduous list of regulations, taxes and fees to provide jobs and tax revenues in a cut-throat economic climate. They have also allowed Newport to continue its tradition as both a working and pleasure harbor, a point of pride for everyone here. But the fees were outdated.
The complex levies are rooted in a formula that calculates rents at private marinas that do not sit on public lands, known as tidelands, to help determine appropriate fees. In order to do business in tidelands areas, California requires local governments to charge fair market rates due to the impact the businesses have on publicly owned, premium waterfront land.
The Newport council, as the Daily Pilot reported in its news story, raised rents on large commercial marinas from about 36 cents per square foot to about $1.68 per square foot — changes that will be phased in from 2014 to 2018. That's a lot to swallow at one time, and we hope the four-year window allows businesses to plan and remain profitable as the schedule kicks in.
Then there are the smaller businesses. "Operators of daily boat rentals, homeowners' association slips, guest slips for restaurants, sportfishing charters, yacht clubs and large charter boats will eventually pay $1.02 per square foot," according to the Pilot report. "Meanwhile, shipyards will pay about 50 cents per square foot, and fuel docks will pay 50 cents per square foot minimum rent, offset by a per-gallon fee of 1.5 cents for the first 100,000 gallons, then 2 cents beyond that."
We recognize that any new levy on business is difficult. But part of the cost of doing business in the tidelands is compensating the general public for using and limiting access to taxpayer-owned land. And, to that point, and as Councilman Steve Rosansky noted, money from the levies will go into harbor maintenance projects that benefit everyone in the community.
Mayor Pro Tem Keith Curry had it right when he said, "There's one big problem. It's that for 20 years, the council did not address this problem. That's the reason the size and magnitude [of the increases] is so overwhelming to the business owners."
Curry said he reluctantly supported the new fee structure. With a similar degree of reluctance, we do too.