Should Taxpayers Subsidize The Mooring Field?

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For years, Fort Myers Beach Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt has been pushing town staff to get the operation of the mooring field to a break-even point. This week Finance Director Joe Onzick told the Anchorage Advisory Committee the town has been subsidizing the mooring field every year other than one.

Onzick made public financial numbers that the previous Town Manager Roger Hernstadt would never share with the Anchorage Advisory Committee or the community. In several slides Onzick laid out how much the mooring field has cost taxpayers through the years and what it would take to get the operation to break even. By state law, the mooring field is not allowed to turn a profit. However, it is allowed to break even.

The mooring field is now open to 77 boats. Six mooring balls were taken offline. It appears the reason for that is because the Coast Guard told the town they were installed in the wrong place. The charge per mooring ball is $410.00 per month. Boaters are allowed to stay on a mooring ball for up to 6 months. The town says the benefit of having a mooring field is to be a town friendly to boaters, and, because boaters spend money at restaurants bars and retail shops on the island. Boaters do not otherwise pay any taxes to the town.

In this first slide Onzick showed the committee how much taxpayers have been subsidizing the mooring field over the years. Onzick said, “We’re far from break even, if you take into consideration what’s going back in for capital improvements. The town has had to subsidize the mooring field every year but 2021. We’re putting more into the mooring field than we’re getting out of it.

The year 2022 was brutal for taxpayers as the town dumped $428,534 into the mooring field to upgrade the facilities which wound up costing taxpayers over $262,000 after calculating revenue and expenses. And those 2022 figures are before Hurricane Ian. The town’s fiscal year begins on October 1st.
We submitted a public document request for the previous 5 to 10 years worth of revenue and expenses but have not yet heard back from the town on that request.

Onzick says a revenue replacement bridge loan from the state back in April of 2023 is helping to cover some of the recent revenue shortfalls for the mooring field. And, if the Governor signs the state budget on July 1st, money from $15 million the state is sending to Fort Myers Beach will also be used.

Onzick then laid out the 2024 $414,431 mooring field budget which is detailed in this slide. He said it was his “best guess” for operating expenses.
Back in 2022, what Onzick called a normal year, the town had 70 mooring balls operating and charged $312 per month. The occupancy rate was 93%. From those 70 balls, about $245,000 was generated from user fees. That’s about $3,500 per mooring ball.

Onzick then tried to project revenue for 2024. The town now has 77 slips and charges $410 per month. If 93% of the mooring balls are in use for fiscal 2024, user fee revenue would come out to about $368,553. That would result in a $47,000 revenue shortfall taxpayers would have to cover.

If the town were able to get those 6 mooring balls back online, that the Coast Guard flagged, and add another 6 (which is the plan) there’s a potential to have the operation break even. But that does not include any capital expense money the town might have to put into the mooring field, if there is any. Onzick’s calculations are based off of revenue and budgeted expenses.

It’s also important to note that the previous Town Manager and Town Council purchased a $2 million piece of property behind the old town hall that they planned to build an upland facility on (bathrooms, laundry, etc) for the mooring field. Tropical Shores Way residents organized and squashed that idea. That piece of property has never been used for anything other than a storage area for town vehicles.

The town recently parted ways with Harbormaster Austin Gilchrist. Operations Manager Frankie Kropacek says the town is close to hiring someone to fill the position. He said the town conducted an extensive search with a focus on someone from outside the area.

 

27 COMMENTS

  1. Owned mango Rita’s on time square. Biggest lie told is that these boat people spend money in the town. Don’t fall for this lie. They are there living on a crap boat for 410 a month because they can’t afford rent on land. They don’t have to pay taxes like you and I for property. I’d challenge anyone to debate this and have each boat person tell how much they spend at restaurants, gift shops, etc.

  2. Been on the Beach since ‘99.

    Served on this volunteer committee, the AAC for eight years.

    So as not to cause a repeat reading of the same verbiage, proper sentiments are in the message from Janet, about 5 messages down from this one.

    We don’t record, then make the history of the Beach available very well.

    The Mooring Field has rolled with the changes well, especially with the growth that no one except speculators like to see. But growth needs to be dealt with.

    Vice-mayor Atterholt is encouraging what AAC players generally strive for, which is to provide a needed, money-losing amenity as efficient as possible.

  3. Simple math-$410 per month per ball. Pay or vacate. The taxpayers of FMB should be screaming about this and why they have to fund the deficit. Many of those taxpayers do not even have a permanent home of their own yet, and I can bet they still have to pay utilities, property taxes, etc to stay on their property. At least opt to break even!

  4. one other question… so where do all the “live aboards” who have taken up residency once again in the Bay dump their trash and waste? I remember yrs back there was a service that would pump out their waste … but what’s happening now, are they just dumping it in the Bay ? Does anyone know??

  5. The financial disclosures regarding the Fort Myers Beach mooring field have ignited taxpayer outrage due to the substantial subsidies it has required. The community overwhelmingly opposes the current funding approach, advocating for either privatization or complete removal to alleviate taxpayer burden. This sentiment is compounded by plans to build additional facilities for transient boaters, which many feel cater more to uptown businesses than to the residents who endure the resultant noise and litter. Furthermore, proposals by council member Karen Woodson to construct amenities behind the town hall, intended also to support workforce housing for town workers and the homeless, have sparked concerns about neighborhood impacts and mismanagement of funds. The strong opposition to Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt’s re-election reflects a broader demand for fiscal responsibility and accountability from the town council, with some residents even suggesting that the town should be unincorporated due to these financial missteps.

  6. Misconceptions about mooring fields are evident in some of the comments here. Mooring fields are common in large waterways near Florida towns as they attract responsible boaters willing to pay for a secure anchorage (usually rated to over 100 mph winds; far better than any combination of boat-based anchors). Such cruising boaters shop and spend ashore, so they contribute significantly to the local economy. In addition to a pump-out service to remove the moored boats’ sewage, most towns with a mooring field provide a dinghy dock (the dinghy is like a boater’s car), plus an onshore laundry / shower facility. Boaters must generate their own electricity, source their own fresh water, and dispose of their own trash. A town that doesn’t provide such services will earn no revenue from boaters and will have no way to regulate their presence in our waters. Some irresponsible anchored (not moored) boaters empty their holding tank sewage into the waters around them and may “squat” anywhere they please, for any length of time, in the waterways. Twenty years ago I spent a few months in the mooring fields off Marathon and Stuart, FL and greatly appreciated their services. They kept us there long enough to spend significant money and be respectable temporary members of those communities.

  7. Just one more burden on tax payers on FMB.
    if boater want mooring they should pay entire cost..or maybe we should ask them to help pay the residents property tax..give us a break..who has lost their minds?

  8. No not at all! The fact that this has been allowed to run at such a deficit is a concern. But getting rid of it should not be a problem there are plenty of private marinas that people can dock at and the mooring filed does not stop anyone from mooring where they like anyway (if they don’t want to pay the fee). Its time the town started to look at value for money on any expenditure and provide value to the tax payers.

    • Not only should taxpayers not have to help support the mooring fields, but no government agency should be competing with private business. As an ex-marina owner, I know what it takes to provide an excellent facility, and excellent service. Having to compete with the government is just another burden.

  9. The larger question is to what extent should government subsidize any activity on barrier islands, and which level of government (local, county, state, federal)? Should US taxpayers subsidize FEMA for us? Should Lee County pay for renurishment? Ian has raised a lot of questions about what is prudent policy. I don’t have the answers, but I do like raising the question: If we choose to live on barrier islands, whose burden is it to keep us out of harms way, our waterways free of debris, our harbors well regulated, our infrastructure modern? Comments?

  10. There is one other positive about having a morning field. With no mooring field boaters would be able to anchor as they wish, with limited or no control by the town. This has resulted in significant environmental problems elsewhere. Seems like the fees should be increased somewhat to minimize taxpayer subsidy. But some subsidy is a worthwhile investment to maintain control of the bay.

  11. Outstanding engagement! The consensus is that tax payers should NOT be covering the expenses. Also the Marine workers will need to cut their expenses drastically!

  12. Can we find out what other functions the harbormaster and the 2.75 employees do? I’m guessing they don’t sit on the docks and look at the balls. This is the bulk of the budget. Do they have other town functions, but get paid out of this revenue.

  13. This absolutely should not cost the tax payers any money. I’d like to live somewhere for 6 months for under $500 per month. Thanks to the Vice Mayor for thinking on us who pay the taxes

  14. Is it a law that says the mooring field has to be operated by government? To me the mooring field is a campground on water. It’s a business. I don’t believe government should be running a business. If government owns rights to the land/water in the bay, lease it out to a real business owner and let them manage.

  15. Why do we need 2.75 marine workers for mooring? If they are needed for the boaters, they should be compensated by the boater. Do they shuttle the boaters from their boat to land? The town should provide the physical mooring balls, but not any related services. The local marinas can use that business. More information is needed.

  16. Tax payers should absolutely NOT pay to support the mooring fields. Our taxes are already ridiculously high. The boaters choose to live on the water and they should pay their “mooring fees” like we pay our “property taxes” to live in our homes. NO!

  17. Thank you to the vice mayor, finance director, and advisory board for pushing to get stand-alone financials for the mooring fields. Finally we are in a position to make informed decisions about monthly mooring rates.

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