WESTERLY — Residents took to the podium in Council Chambers Monday to communicate their dissatisfaction with a proposed ordinance that will implement parts of the municipal Harbor Management Plan.
The speakers focused, largely, on the cost of mooring permits for residents whose homes have shoreline frontage and questioned the need for registering their riparian moorings annually as contemplated in the ordinance. Residents also questioned why the Town Council is moving to adopt the ordinance in May, saying the process seems rushed.
Richard Holiday said he pays about $21,000 in annual property taxes for his home on Avondale Road, a figure he said includes a $9,000 "waterfront tax premium." Being asked to pay the same $250 fee for a mooring permit as non-waterfront property owners is "unreasonable and unfair" and contradicts previous assurances, Holiday said.
"We were told our mooring would not be taxed at the same rate as private moorings committed to boaters who don't pay Westerly's waterfront tax premium," Holiday said.
Holiday said he returned from a recent vacation only to learn that the ordinance was under consideration by the Town Council.
Councilor Sharon Ahern asked the residents who spoke to put their concerns in writing and said they should be forwarded to representatives of the state Coastal Resources Management Council, who are expected to attend a public hearing on the proposed ordinance in May.
Ahern told the residents that CRMC is firm in its expectation the town will adopt parts of the harbor management plan as an ordinance for the upcoming boating season.
"We understand there are a lot of questions and concerns about this harbor management plan. It's not surprising," Ahern said.
If the ordinance requires tweaking in the future, Ahern said, the council would work on it.
Resident Hatsy Moore questioned whether the council gave proper legal notice in October when it adopted an interim version of the harbor plan by resolution.
Dr. Adam Kaufman also said he was surprised the council was prepared to implement parts of a plan by ordinance. As Holiday did, Kaufman questioned the fairness of charging those with riparian rights the same amount as those who do not have the rights that go along with shoreline property ownership.
"It sounds like another property tax to me," Kaufman said.
Kaufman also asked whether riparian mooring holders risked losing their moorings if they did not use them every year. Kaufman said he sometimes only uses his mooring as a spot to secure his boat more safely when storms are predicted.
Other towns, residents who spoke Monday said, charge riparian property owners less for mooring permits and charge residents less than non-residents, Kaufman said. David Petrarca, a lawyer for the Shelter Harbor Fire District, asked the council to study fees charged in other coastal towns in the state.
Town Manager J. Mark Rooney said the proposed fees were based on an attempt by town staff to be fair to the town's summer residents who do not qualify as residents but spend close to half the year here.
Many of the questions raised by residents had been discussed, Rooney said, with representatives of the state Coastal Resources Management Council, which oversees the harbor plan development process. Rooney also advised that the council has authority to change the proposed fees.
Enforcement of the plan and paying an assistant harbormaster are expected to cost about $50,000 per year, Rooney said. The proposed fee system is intended to cover the cost of providing the services called for in the plan, he said. Under the proposed system, Rooney said the town would likely see revenue of about $25,000 over expenses but he said the overage might be needed to pay legal services and surveying rights of way or access points to the shore.