Council delays action on docks proposal

Published 5:22 pm Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A proposal to establish the city-owned docks along the Washington waterfront was discussed at the City Council’s July 1 meeting, but took no action other than choosing to return to the matter later.

The maritime committee of the Washington Harbor District Alliance wants the city to set up the docks as an enterprise fund, meaning it would be operated like a business trying to make a profit.

“We feel our harbor is an economic engine for Washington. That committee is doing everything it can do to promote that and foster that thought process and bring that along so we can realize the economic benefits that waterfront brings,” said Beth Byrd, WHDA director, at the July 1 meeting.

“No disagreement here,” replied Mayor Archie Jennings.

Byrd, who said WHDA views the waterfront as an “economic driver” for the city, said the proposal came about after former City Manager Josh Kay developed a business plan for the docks.

“Basically, what we’re trying to do its get that plan kick-started. The purpose of the plan is to restructure the management of the waterfront docks. The enterprise fund would be one way to keep track of funds and expenses associated with the waterfront docks,” Byrd said Wednesday. “We very much feel that the docks should be creating revenue for the city. We think that this plan is right on track for doing that.”

“The maritime wants the docks run more like a business as opposed to a parks-and-rec department (approach),” Byrd said.

That business plan, on which the council has not acted, calls for increasing boat-slip rentals, creating a dock master’s position and possibly adding a fueling station. It did not specify how much to increase boat-slip rentals.

The maritime committee supports the idea of having fuel pumps at the docks to provide fuel for area boaters and boaters who come to Washington as they traverse the Intracoastal Waterway.

“Those plans have been talked about. The team, that is one of their priorities, to see if something like that could happen at the docks. One of the hurdles that we have to overcome is the fact that we’re so far off the ICW. Then when you get here, there’s no gas,” Byrd said.

During the July 1 meeting, Jennings asked John Rodman, the city’s director of planning and development, if setting up the docks as an enterprise fund would be helpful to his department’s efforts.

“In some ways, yes. In other ways, it won’t change what’s already there,” Rodman said. “It’s already a separate line item in the budget. … It would help separate the some of the waterfront docks and some of the management entities, which I think the Harbor District Alliance is heading in that direction.”

Jennings said, “The reason I asked that question, as you know as a department head, when something gets identified in an enterprise fund, all the scrutiny that goes with it is something we have to deal with…. There are other enterprise funds that will never turn a profit. This one likely will likely will never turn a profit. Its strength and weakness would really have a light shining on it, which I don’t have a problem with. I just want to make sure everybody knows it’s not a promotion in having it identified (as an enterprise fund). Extra scrutiny comes with it, good and bad.”

Councilman Doug Mercer noted the docks have never made money for the city, adding that the city has subsidized the cost of operating the docks.

“If we set it up as an enterprise fund, we expect it to become self-sufficient. I don’t see that happening,” he said.

Jennings asked Rodman if allowing WHDA’s maritime committee to serve as an advisory board regarding the docks would be helpful. Rodman said yes, saying he finds advisory boards provide him needed input to help him do his job.

Fred Watkins with the committee explained how the proposal developed.

“It consists of a lots of people that are very interested in the waterfront that are boaters. We really got focusing on this concept, not necessarily as an enterprise fund per se, because of the proposal that you, the City Council, approved last May 29 … that was a business plan that the prior city manager put together, which was a beautiful plan to make the waterfront docks (more self-sufficient),” Watkins said. “You say it will lose money. I say it will break even, or possibly make money for the city, if it’s run properly. This team really wants to see that happen. We’re not official. We have no official say so. The proposal that was put together did say that there would be an informal advisory group that would consist of certain people.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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