Marina Business Plan Fuelish to Some
by Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - "I thought the city marina was kind of a community service provided to us, more than a for-profit business," said Andy Robinson, a recreational tenant of the marina, during the November 1st Clearwater City Council meeting.
But the harsh reality that both commercial and private boaters will soon face has been revealed in a proposed 2008-2012 business plan for the Clearwater Municipal Marina.
Gone is the notion of resident-friendly slip rates and below-market fuel prices, replaced with market rates determined by averaging the prices charged by the marina's commercial and municipal competitors.
The resident slip rate for a recreational boat would rise 31.5-percent per year for the next four years, tripling today's rate of $5.28 per foot per month to $15.75 in 2011. The non-resident rate, today $9.20, would increase at a slower rate to the $16 per foot per month that was forecast during the downtown marina study to be the market rate in 2011.
Commercial operators of the city's fleet of fishing, excursion, sailing and rental boats would face an 89-percent increase in their slip rates by 2012 under the proposed business plan.
Fuel prices would also increase for everyone. Today, the city claims its fuel pricing results in a 9-cent per gallon loss for sales at the deepest available discount. The city is proposing to raise its markup on diesel fuel to 71-cents from the current 40-cents, and to reduce the discount offered to its large commercial customers to 24-cents from the current 27-cents. Gasoline would also be priced to market, requiring a markup of 54-cents according to the city.
The net effect of proposed rate changes would replace a projected 2008 loss of nearly $200,000 with net income of more than $34,000. Over the 5-year span of the proposed business plan, the changes promise to create a cumulative profit of $1,620,275 by 2012, versus a loss of $1,363,154 with rates status quo over the same period.
The marina's commercial tenants have grudgingly accepted some of the proposed rate increases. "I had previously felt satisfied with everything that had been accomplished to this point between the City and the CCMA; the City will be increasing revenues on an unprecedented scale through rent increases, fuel increases, and transfer fees, and the commercial tenants will now have transferable leases and smaller rent increases to deal with in the next couple of years," wrote Eric Spaulding, president of the Clearwater Commercial Marine Association (CCMA), in a November 13th email to Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard.
But the magnitude of the proposed increase in fuel prices has angered the CCMA. "This [fuel price increase] is an absolute outrage, and would be the epitome of price-gouging if approved," wrote Spaulding. He estimated that the fuel price increase would cost his business more than $20,000 annually.
Spaulding offered the results of a survey conducted by members of his organization that differed from the city's market survey of fuel prices. "… We conducted a survey of 10 fuel docks … and came up with some telling figures: the average diesel selling price of these fuel docks is $3.14, while Clearwater is selling for $3.26. Under the proposed change, Clearwater would be selling for $3.57. Shouldn't Clearwater Marina be competitive with fuel rates as an enterprise fund?" Spaulding wrote.
Spaulding suggested that some of the fuel vendors included in the city's pricing survey, which included resort destination Marco Island, were inflated; his argument was clearly heard by the City Council during Monday's worksession meeting.
"Operate as a business and when you operate as a business, by definition you have to look at the local market because that's where the fuel is being purchased," said Councilmember Paul Gibson.
"We don't want to subsidize, but we want everyone at the Clearwater Marina buying from us," said Hibbard. Indeed, additional profits from marina fuel sales were forecast in the downtown slips business plan, those profits being the difference between profit and loss at the new facility that should be operational in 2011.
The proposed 2008-2012 marina business plan will be heard and decided at tonight's City Council meeting.
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