Editorial: Repeal dock fees but don’t diminish parade
One of the delights of the holiday season in Orange County is the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade in Newport Harbor. The 104th parade launches Wednesday and continues through Sunday, starting at 6:30 p.m. each night. Fireworks will light up the sky on the opening and closing nights.
Unfortunately, roiling the waters this year is a threatened parade boycott by some boat owners. The boycott is on, Bob McCaffrey told us; he’s the chairman of Stop the Dock Tax. The owners object that the City Council voted 5-1 last week to raise yearly residential dock fees from a flat $100, no matter the dock size, to 52.5 cents per square foot.
It’s the first increase in 23 years and affects about 1,200 property owners with docks. For most owners, the fee will jump to as much as $300. However, some owners with large docks could pay “thousands of dollars in rent” per year, according to a story in the Register.
The flat fee raises about $118,000 a year, the City Clerk’s Office told us. When phased in over five years, in 2017 the new fee will bring in an additional $680,000. The total will be about $800,000.
Many people might not be sympathetic to the plight of the owners of homes worth well above $1 million. Yet it’s these folks who so beautifully decorate their boats for the parade for all to enjoy. And the dock owners also are being hit by other tax increases at the federal, state and local levels. The higher fee could lead to boat hands being laid off and being forced onto unemployment and public assistance.
Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, who also is mayor, told us the money “goes to manage the tidelands and the harbor for improvements, and for dredging, access areas and water quality.”
Mr. McCaffrey, a 20-year harbor resident, insisted that the fee is really a tax. Ms. Gardner said it’s not really a tax because the docks are over public property – the water. However, the docks are privately owned, constructed and maintained and are attached to the sale of the house.
The docks’ use of the public waters is “like an easement,” Bob Poole told us; he’s a transportation policy analyst at the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank. An easement is the right to use land owned by someone else.
He said that the new charge might be more akin to a “user fee” if it were directed only toward maintaining Newport Harbor. Ms. Gardener told us that the city attorney is “working on” legal language mandating that all the fee money “goes for care of the harbor.”
The only council member to vote against the fee increase was Leslie Daigle. She pointed out to us that homeowners with docks already have paid at least $500,000 more for their homes than neighbors without docks, meaning they already pay higher property taxes that go to the city.
“The fee seems excessive,” Mr. Poole said. “These people already are paying through their property taxes for having a dock.” We agree. And for some dock owners, the fee could rise to $3,000 or more from $100 – a 3,000 percent increase. Mr. McCaffrey warned, “Next year, the Council could say the tax is $40,000 per dock.”
We believe the council should repeal the fee/tax. The dock owners’ higher property taxes should be adequate for any harbor upkeep. We especially don’t like that the money is not yet dedicated to the harbor. Before it was passed, at a minimum the city attorney’s legal language should have been completed and debated by the council. In a city with some lifeguards paid $200,000 a year, everything should be checked.
As to the parade boycott, we understand the sentiment, but would rather see everyone’s holiday enjoyment undiminished.