CITY MANAGER SAYS TIDELANDS FUND IS “TRANSPARENT”
SO WHY DOES HE OPPOSE AN AUDIT?
Finally, a truthful statement from our city government. As we have suspected, the Dock Tax, increases on commercial marina owners, and Harbor businesses don’t go to the improvement and maintenance of the tidelands – the money is used for salaries, benefits, and pensions of our bloated bureaucracy.
“Kiff said the city has in the past used Tidelands Fund money to pay expenses such as employee salaries, benefits and pensions. However, he said, the money was used to pay employees who “work for the tidelands” such as lifeguards or those who work for the city’s Harbor Resources Division.”
May 1, 2013
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1410 South Bay Front
Dock owners seek audit of Newport’s Tidelands Fund
By DEEPA BHARATH
NEWPORT BEACH – The ongoing tussle between the city and the Dock Owners Association continues with the group’s written request to state representatives asking for an audit of the city’s Tidelands Fund.
The association sent a letter dated April 25 to Senator Mimi Walters and Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, saying that the city has “mismanaged” the fund by moving portions of it to the General Fund to pay for big-ticket items such as public safety and pensions.
City Manager Dave Kiff responded that the city has been transparent in its management of Tidelands Fund and that the money has been used only for expenses relating to harbors and beaches.
The report states that in 2009, the city charged 28 percent of its public safety budget against the Tidelands Fund.
“Keep in mind that the Balboa Peninsula and Newport Harbor are busy four months of the year,” the report states. “We believe the Tidelands Fund is subsidizing public safety costs for other parts of the city including Fashion Island and Newport Coast, in direct violation of the Tidelands Grant.”
Bob McCaffrey, president of the Dock Owners Association, said the group has not yet received a response from Walters or Mansoor. He said an audit is necessary to shed light on how the Tideland Fund has been “mismanaged.”
“We even offered to pay the city to have an audit done of the Tidelands Fund, but they refused our offer,” he said.
Kiff said the city has in the past used Tidelands Fund money to pay expenses such as employee salaries, benefits and pensions. However, he said, the money was used to pay employees who “work for the tidelands” such as lifeguards or those who work for the city’s Harbor Resources Division.
The city is proposing to set up a Harbor Tidelands Fund with the money from the dock rent increases, which have been stalled by the association at the State Lands Commission, Kiff said. The commission will consider the matter during its June meeting, he said. Kiff said that the city wants to the set up a Harbor Fund so that money from the increased rents goes back into the harbor.
“These funds will go solely for capital improvements in the harbor such as dredging and seawall repairs,” he said. “But (the association) has blocked that.”
The Dock Owners Association has been vigorous in its protest of the increase in public tidelands fees approved by the City Council late last year. Some members even boycotted the annual Christmas Boat Parade. The association filed a lawsuit on Feb. 12 against the city alleging council members involved in talks on harbor fees did not adequately abide by the state’s Ralph M. Brown Act or open meeting laws.
When the city began to include the rent increases – ranging from $100 to thousands of dollars a year depending on the size of the residents’ dock or pier – in March utility bills, members of the association said they would not pay the fees until their lawsuit is resolved. City officials have said that they have not violated open meeting laws and that there is nothing wrong in the manner in which they are currently collecting the increased dock rents.
The association said it would seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from collecting the increased fees, but withdrew that request after a hearing Friday in exchange for the city giving residents a 15-day notice before slapping them with violations or seizing their docks and piers.
City officials view the hearing as a victory because the court confirmed that the city may continue to collect rent and impose interest penalties on any late rent.
McCaffrey said he doesn’t exactly know how many of the association members are not paying the increased dock rents.
“I’m not paying because I believe it’s a wrongful tax,” he said. “I feel like Mr. Gandhi walking to the ocean to make salt. We’re standing tall and trying to make our voices heard.”
A court hearing has been scheduled for May 16, when the city will ask the court to dismiss the association’s lawsuit.