Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Effort to reduce boat slip lease rate falls short
Motion fails on 3-3 vote

by Rob Ireland

March 10, 2011

Fontana — Two trustees changed their original votes and about a half a dozen angry boat slip owners uttered their displeasure, but in the end the 31 percent increase in boat slip leases will remain intact.

In September, the Village Board voted to increase the rate boat slip owners pay to $2,750. Trustee George Spadoni was the only board member to vote against the increase.

On Monday night, the board considered reducing that increase to 3.5 percent, but the motion failed on a 3-3 vote. A 3.5 percent increase would have brought the new rate down to about $2,170.

Trustees Peg Pollitt, Micki O'Connell and Village President Arvid "Pete" Petersen voted against decreasing the rate. Trustees Thomas McGreevy, Spadoni and Cynthia Wilson voted to lower it. Trustee Patrick Kenny abstained because he leases a village boat slip.

Spadoni brought the issue to the forefront after boat slip owners contacted him, he said.

During the meeting, he passed out thick packets with information regarding village fees and read from a prepared statement.

"I oppose this increase due to the fact that a number of village officials, when asked why the 31 percent increase versus a 3 or 4 percent increase, stated 'because we can' and 'because we have 160 names on the waiting list' and the best one of them all is 'if they don't like it, let them give their slips to someone else," Spadoni said.

In his prepared statement, Spadoni invoked past patriotic events including the Boston Tea Party, the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and former President Ronald Reagan challenging Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.

"I challenge this board to listen to 'We the people' and rescind the 31 percent increase and to consider an increase in-line with the hard financial times that this country and all of our residents, taxpayers and citizens are facing this year and for years to come," Spadoni said.

Why the increase?

Trustee Peg Pollitt said the Village Board's Finance Committee was given direction not to increase the village's tax levy, which would raise the tax rate for all property owners.

"It was also told not to cut personnel or services," she said. "Why, as a taxpayer, do I want to subsidize items that aren't being priced at fair market value?"

Lake Front and Harbor Commissioner Rick Pappas said the committee reviewed the going rate for boat slips in the area. The review showed the village was charging less than the market rate.

"Our feeling was to move it up to market rate. We felt, with such a long waiting list, those slips are going under market value in Fontana," Pappas said.

Pollitt said she received numerous phone calls about the issue, and she asked all the callers the same question.

"Do you think the slip is worth that money? Every single person refused to answer the question," Pollitt said.

On Tuesday morning, Kenny, who didn't speak during the debate, said he still believes the increase is too much.

"I was hoping it would go back to Lakefront and Harbor for them to discuss it and reassess it," he said.

Boat slip owners

Thirty people own boat slips in the village and an additional 160 people are on the waiting list.

Ray Fitzgerald, who owns a slip and contacted other slip owners about the increase, said when the village built the piers in the 1990s, the original boat slip owners paid for the construction. The slip owners paid off the construction for the piers within five years.

Fitzgerald didn't argue that the original slip owners own the piers.

"But does the village of Fontana own the piers? No, not really. They don't have any money tied up in it, either," he said. "The pier slip owners have a unique vested interest in it."

McGreevy said when he voted for the increase in September he didn't know the full history of the piers, which is why he changed his vote.

Fitzgerald said he feels boat slip owners need to fight the increase now because he is concerned the village is viewing them as "cash cows."

Bruce Wilkinson questioned why there wasn't an equal increase for people who rent buoys and ramps.

"I'll respect you more if you add 31 percent to the other areas you can pool from," Wilkinson said.

At the request of Petersen, Village Administrator Kelly Hayden described the other fees that were increased in the village last year.

Hayden said there were increases in buoy and ramps and beach passes. She also said parking meter costs per hour doubled.

Other solutions

With the waiting list for boat slips so long, McGreevy suggested that the village build another pier to accommodate the need.

"We have plenty of room to add slips," McGreevy said. "From what I've seen, we could put in a whole 'nother pier."

Kenny said the village erred by decreasing the number of parking spaces in the village to decrease boat traffic. He said the parking space decrease has had a negative effect on revenue.

"It won't decrease the amount of boat traffic in Lake Geneva, they will just go down to Williams Bay, Linn Pier or Lake Geneva," he said.