My Turn: It’s time to implement waterfront plan

Published 5:33 pm Saturday, August 10, 2013

On May 29, 2012, then City Manager Josh Kay proposed to City Council a new management model for the City Waterfront Docks.  Minutes for the meeting state, “BymotionofMayorProtemRoberson,secondedbyCouncilman Moultrie, Counciladoptedthe WaterfrontBusiness Planas presentedbytheCityManager(as a startingpoint). CouncilmanMercerinquiredifCouncilis goingtoadoptthe Planwilltherebean EnterpriseFundsetupforthedocks.

I was present at that meeting, and the plan seemingly received overwhelming support, with kudos as well as comments such as “hopefully you also can prepare a similar plan for the airport.”

What the public was not aware at the time is that Mr. Kay made the recommendation because he wanted to prevent major problems in the city marina which had been grossly mismanaged in the past as shown by the following financial results:

• From 2009-2011, the city spent $135,047 in taxpayer dollars that “went down the drain” on an expensive poorly engineered failed dock expansion plan that had no public input or support during its design and implementation.

• During the period 2006 to 2013, the financial results severely deteriorated. Waterfront dock revenues dropped by $31,441 (31 percent) from $102,033 to $70,592. Despite decreasing revenues, expenses were allowed to increase by $21,032 (24 percent) from $86,671 to $107,703. Net income dropped from a profit of $22,357 to a loss of -$37,111. These numbers do not include the wasted capital expenses mentioned previously.

The financial-market collapse in 2008 affected revenues, but the major drop in dock usage primarily arose from the fact that the Parks and Recreation Department after Hurricane Irene took months to restore electrical services at the docks when private marinas in the area only took about two weeks.

When no follow-up action had been taken in 14 months, and two days before Kay moved onto to a new job in South Carolina, I asked why he had not taken any action on the plan. He said that he couldn’t because of opposition to the plan and we had to “work the council.” Since that meeting, I have discovered that the mayor of Washington, Archie Jennings, and Joe Taylor, chairman of the Recreation Advisory Committee, both of whom live on the waterfront, have publicly expressed their opposition to the proposed business plan and have successfully delayed action on the plan. Are they acting in the best interest of Washington’s taxpayers?

If the proposed management model had been in place in the past, the financial results would have been radically better, and the increased economic activity at the waterfront would have helped to revitalize the downtown area.

Bill Sykes is a Washington resident and boater with an interest in the city’s waterfront.