Crescent City Harbor commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted against hiring an outside firm to find out whether the community would support a tax initiative to keep the port afloat.
Commissioners agreed to wait on the outcome of a citizens initiative, spearheaded in part by the Del Norte Fisherman’s Marketing Association, to increase transient occupancy taxes in the county.
If successful, the initiative would help the port pay down a $5.3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan, but wouldn’t help it finance roughly $11 million in repairs. But commissioners decided that placing another initiative on the November 2018 ballot to try to raise the money needed for the repairs would “muddy the waters.”
“If we go ahead and put another initiative (on the ballot) for this $11 million this year I can almost guarantee they will both fail,” Commissioner Jim Ramsey said. “Let’s do as much as we can legally with this citizens initiative and see where it goes. If in fact it does pass, and we do end up getting the money for the debt, we can then take a look and adjust our budgets accordingly.”
The Save the Harbor 2018 citizens initiative seeks to increase the transient occupancy tax visitors to motels and hotels in the county pay from 8 percent to 10 percent. The initiative also seeks to place a 2 percent transient occupancy tax on recreational vehicles for tenants that stay at parks in the county for less than 30 days.
For it to be ready for the November general election, Save the Harbor 2018 must collect 704 signatures countywide in favor of its tax initiative and bring it before the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors by June 28.
Commissioner Brian Stone said if successful, the initiative would make the county’s TOT rate the same as the city’s 10 percent TOT.
At the harbor district’s Feb. 6 meeting, Stone estimated that the tax initiative would generate between $240,000 and $275,000 if it’s successful. However on Tuesday, Stone said the initiative could generate as much as $350,000 for the harbor.
Stone also cited an informal survey conducted by representatives of Save the Harbor 2018, which include local elected officials Don McArthur and John Roberts. While the survey netted only 56 responses, most of those polled stated they would support increasing TOT for hotels and motels in the county and establishing a new tax on RVs in the county if it would help the harbor.
Stone also brought up a second privately-funded survey, results of which were received by his colleague Wes White, that stated 63 percent of 100 people surveyed would support additional taxes to keep the harbor open.
“The question comes down to, do we want to go any further with this subject?” Stone asked his colleagues. “Do we want to spend the money finding more out?”
At the Harbor District’s Feb. 6 meeting, White initially refused to provide the survey results to the Triplicate. On Tuesday White apologized, stating that he didn’t understand that although the survey was privately conducted, the information is public because he shared it with his fellow commissioners.
The harbor’s legal counsel, attorney Bob Black, notified the Triplicate on Monday that it would have the survey results by the end of this week.
According to White, although it can’t actively campaign or promote the Save the Harbor 2018 initiative, commissioners can vote to approve or support it.
Friends of the Crescent City Harbor, the port’s new non-profit organization, also can’t actively campaign or promote the citizens initiative since it’s “too close to the harbor,” Ramsey said. He also noted that both he and White sit on the Friends of the Crescent City Harbor board.
It was Commissioner Ron Phillips who made the motion to let the request for proposals for polling and community surveys connected with a potential harbor district-backed initiative die.
The commission in December had received proposals from six firms ranging in price from $6,000 to $35,000 to poll between 250 and 300 registered voters in the county. The firms would compile the the information they received as well as break it down by voting precinct and other demographics and present it to the harbor board.
Phillips questioned the need to spend any more money if an outside entity was already spearheading a tax initiative.
When it comes to the $11 million in needed repairs to Citizens Dock, Whaler Island Groin and other facilities at the port, Phillips said he’s hoping the port can tap into the county’s Community Development Block Grant request for $5 million. He said that would only take care of repairing the rock wall that’s crumbling.
Harbormaster Charlie Helms said he’s hoping to find additional funding for those repairs since it could potentially be affected by sea level rise.
Harbor commissioners have discussed ways to increase revenue and pay down the port’s $5.3 million debt left behind by the 2006 and 2011 tsunamis since early last year. According to Stone, the harbor is running a $500,000 deficit and with only $1.8 million in reserves, could be out of cash in two to three years.
Commissioners had been discussing placing a sales tax initiative or a property tax assessment on the November 2018 ballot, but had yet to decide what that initiative would look like.
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