Quincy city councilors approved the request of $35,000 for the police Maritime Division to winterize four boats, despite some controversy over the appropriation during a previous meeting.
Police Chief Paul Keenan appeared before councilors on Monday, in part to request the funding, but also to clear up some misconceptions, he said.
At a City Council meeting earlier this month, councilors decided to put off a vote on this appropriation, with some complaining that they were being asked to approve spending from the city's Waterways Improvement Fund after it had already taken place.
But at this week's meeting, Keenan said the funding being requested is not an amount that has already been spent and did not come from the waterways fund. The department has $71,000 earmarked for repair and maintenance for boats, motorcycles, and cruisers, and winterization work will be paid out of that account, he said.
The $35,000 appropriation will be to replenish the account for that work in order to have enough money in the repair account for other maintenance going forward.
“We’re not spending money we don’t have,” Keenan said, pointedly.
Although some councilors suggested in a previous meeting that drug-forfeiture money could be used to potentially pay for boat winterization, Keenan said that “wouldn’t be an appropriate funding source.”
The discussion on boat winterization soon turned to one on boat excise tax collection, since that’s the primary revenue source for the Waterways Improvement Fund.
A big problem is that the city is not collecting all the boat excise taxes it's owed. The percentage of boat owners paying their excise taxes rose from 62 percent in fiscal '07 to 66 percent in fiscal '08, to 69 percent in fiscal '09, to 72 percent in fiscal '10, but dropped to 63 percent in fiscal '11, which ended this past June 30.
Councilor Joseph Finn said that correlates to the deletion of the harbormaster’s position, which was absorbed into the police marine unit three years ago. Since then, the police have been in charge of ensuring the collection of boat excise taxes as well as policing the harbor.
Finn eventually was the only councilor to vote against the $35,000 appropriation in an 8- to-1 vote, due to the drop in taxes collected verses the number committed.
Although there is also a correlating decline in the number of boats, which could contribute to the overall low collection rate this past year, “this is one of the things we should take a close look at,” Finn said. “The nature of Quincy as a coastal community is that there should be a marine unit that’s active and engaged and evolved, and that should be financed through the budget in some manner. I will be opposing this, because … I stand in [support of] what value a harbormaster represents.”
Although there has been a recent decline, the council auditor did say that the bills went out late this past year, and so collection may have been pushed into the most recent fiscal year.
“It’s a function of the fact that less bills were sent out. There doesn’t seem to be any deterioration of performance from a collection standpoint,” Councilor Brian McNamee said.
The collection of the boat excise tax will be looked at closely in the future, as rate of collection become increasingly more important as the overall number of boats decline.