Updated November 29.
Tisbury’s Select Board approved a 10 percent increase of permit fees and leases at Vineyard Haven Harbor for the 2024 season. Harbor officials say the increase is in line with a previous decision to raise fees 10 percent every two years.
Private mooring fees in Tisbury are currently based on separate fee tiers for boats of different lengths, with a tier every 10 feet of boat length. A vessel under 20 feet currently pays an annual mooring fee of $117. A vessel length of 30 to 39 feet pays $270 per year.
Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker advised the board to stick by its previous request. “Several years ago, the select board asked the harbor department to increase fees by 10 percent every other year,” said Crocker. “We recommend continuing this process for calendar year 2024.”
Crocker’s proposed fee increases had also been approved unanimously by the town’s natural resources advisory committee.
While discussing his proposal, Crocker explained the difficulty of precisely determining how much to charge for mooring fees: “Regarding mooring fees, technically you would charge what the cost of administering the moorings are. And that’s a really difficult number to come up with. Because you would literally have to track, every day, the amount of time on moorings, and we spend time on moorings pretty much every day.
“We have to go through a bit of mental gymnastics in order to try to compare apples to apples, since the other two towns have a flat fee,” Crocker said.
The feasibility of a flat fee for private mooring permits in Tisbury was discussed, and a flat fee for private permits was proposed through public comment.
Edgartown currently charges a flat mooring fee of $200. In Oak Bluffs, a yearly mooring fee in its harbor is $400, and a mooring outside its harbor is $300.
Crocker told the meeting that he prefers the current tiered system over a flat fee, partly because certain boats take up more space in the harbor. “I would have to assume that people with larger vessels also have larger budgets,” he added.
The harbormaster was also concerned that a flat fee would entail people with smaller vessels subsidizing the fee for those with larger vessels.
To illustrate what a flat fee for Tisbury could look like, Crocker cited possible dollar amounts, provided by town finance director Jon Snyder. “If we had a flat fee, which we do not, the current flat fee would be $212. And we are proposing, if we got a 10 percent increase, it would be $233,” said Crocker.
Lynn Fraker, a member of the harbormaster department’s dredge committee, made a proposal for a flat private mooring fee, stating that a flat fee of $250 would generate approximately $138,000. Fraker also recommended that this $250 fee be reassessed after three or four years.
Fraker disagreed that a flat fee would result in smaller boats subsidizing larger ones. “Nobody’s subsidizing anybody. Everybody would be paying the same fee because they’re all getting the exact same service,” she said.
Tisbury resident Andy Chapman gave a warning to the board about the impact of the fee increases and off-season leases upon younger boaters, many of whom work on the waterfront and in the harbor. “I’m a little concerned with the shoulder-season increases and off-season leases,” said Chapman. “I would just propose … slowing the roll of that 10 percent every other year on those off-season leases.”
“Twenty percent more over four years is significant to a young person … already struggling to keep a little wooden boat going, and we know it’s not where you get your revenue,” said Chapman. “We need to take care of the future of the harbor.”
“All we’re talking about is this year,” replied board member John Cahill to Chapman. “Two years from now or next year or whatever, if you folks would like, we could address this, and we could take it in any direction that you feel is necessary.”
The board approved Crocker’s harbor fee increases despite the concern.
This article has been updated to reflect additional public comments and proposals regarding private mooring fees.