Rising trend in Oak Bluffs harbor revenue

Oak Bluffs harbor had a banner year; it could have been a record year for revenues but for Labor Day weekend. Harbormaster Todd Alexander said the town was cruising toward the $1 million mark from the town’s busy harbor, until Hurricane Earl hit. Or, didn’t hit.

Mr. Alexander said the hurricane warnings issued before the long holiday weekend sank the plans of many boaters to visit Oak Bluffs, and had an effect long after the weakening storm passed southeast of Nantucket with little damage to Martha’s Vineyard on September 3.

“When you have a storm like that late in the season, people haul their boats out for the storm; if it’s not worth putting them back in, they don’t do it,” Mr. Alexander said.

Even with revenues down dramatically for September, the harbor yielded $959,000 in revenue from slips and moorings. That represents a 3.2 percent increase over last year’s total of $940,000, according to figures supplied by Mr. Alexander. With other miscellaneous sources of revenue added, he estimates total revenue for the harbor this year will be $970,000.

“It was the best season we ever had,” Mr. Alexander said. “My personal goal is $1 million.”

Harbor receipts are an important source of revenue for the town. In fiscal year 2009, the harbor accounted for 3.7 percent of all the revenue the town collected.

The harbor has 80 slips and 45 moorings available to visiting boaters. Often in the busy summer season, three or more boats are secured on each mooring.

Mr. Alexander manages a budget of $224,572, a figure reduced by 12 percent from the previous year’s appropriation. The town approved budget-cutting measures at the April town meeting that reduced the harbormaster’s staff this summer by the equivalent of 40 hours.

Years of watching the revenue figures convinces Mr. Alexander that weather plays a bigger role than the economy or anything else in the number of boaters who come to Oak Bluffs. In contrast to 2009 when the summer was wet and dreary, the summer of 2010 was dry and warm, he said, and the numbers reflect it.

“It was great from the spring on. It rained the first weekend in June and it didn’t rain again,” Mr. Alexander said. “We’re still feeling the recession, but it’s mostly weather.”

The month-by-month figures (see table) illustrate his point. The most dramatic year-to-year increase came in June, up $39,000 or 42 percent. A record amount of rainfall kept many boaters at home in June 2009.

Mr. Alexander said the numbers were up considerably heading into September, when he expected to have a full harbor,; instead he had an empty harbor.

Mr. Alexander expects to be busy in July and August. The harbor is filled to capacity most every day. The shoulder months are where he can boost revenues.

“It only takes a couple of bad weekends,” he said.

Mr. Alexander works on the water and he has no illusions about the weather in September. “It would have been a super year instead of just being great, but what are you going to do,” he asked. “It’s hurricane season.”

Looking ahead he said slip and mooring fees will remain the same next season. “We’re going to keep the prices the same, ride out this recession,” Mr. Alexander said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to raise prices now. We have to stay competitive.”

This year, Mr. Alexander asked selectmen to designate six harbor slips for Oak Bluffs residents, at a seasonal rate. Selectmen approved the plan, but only two residents took advantage of it, Mr. Alexander said. “There was very little interest,” he said. “We’re going to give it another try next year.”