Report triggers more questions than answers
By Jane Kent
Gravenhurst council has voted to conduct a third-party business review of the wharf marina and to not implement a non-resident boat launch fee for 2021.
The narrow vote and numerous questions by council about the wharf highlighted just how wide-ranging and complex the issue is.
A report was presented at the June 15 Committee of the Whole meeting, stemming from a Nov. 2020 motion made by Coun. Jo Morphy. The motion was for administration to report back on a boat launch fee system for non-residents of Gravenhurst to begin spring 2021.
Councillors have said they receive multiple complaints about unsafe boating activity and environmental concerns. They wanted to look into a fee system for non-residents that, paired with education, could potentially improve behaviour.
The report notes that since the marina has been managed exclusively by the Town, “the business model review has not been completed largely because of resourcing issues. The marina is currently staffed utilizing a student workforce model, and no new management has been added.”
Attracting and retaining student staff has been an ongoing issue each year and that “providing even the minimum of adequate services, and service levels to the customers of the marina is often a challenge.”
Over 400 municipalities throughout Ontario were surveyed to see if they operated a marina, and if so, if they had fees. Larger urban centres, such as Barrie and Orillia did charge fees. Small to mid-sized municipalities cited negative public perception and a lack of staffing as common reasons for not charging fees. Currently boat launch fees are not charged by any Muskoka municipality.
Council was asked to vote on two options.
Option one was to conduct a Marina Business Review that could include an analysis of all elements affecting the business, including the desire to control access, parking and enhance revenues. Such a review could be undertaken in 2022.
Option two was to take an ad hoc experimental approach. Administration would establish a fee structure for a non-residential boat launch fee at the two sites at the wharf. Signs would be erected directing non-residents to pay by credit card only at a kiosk. Residents would be required to show proof of residency before being permitted to launch. The proposed amount would be $20 and on-site parking be on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis.
The report said that administration should consider that option two presented some “high-level risks,” including inadequate staffing to collect fees, detracting patrons and therefore a loss of fuel sales, and creating potential conflict for the student workforce.
Option one was recommended in the report, that a business review “should first be undertaken to ensure long-term viability of the desired program. “
Deputy mayor Heidi Lorenz spoke in support of option one, saying “if we charge, people will go to smaller launches with no fees.
She also expressed safety concerns over private companies using the dock, giving quick training, resulting in “people running around on the lake who don’t know how to drive boats.”
Coun. Sandy Cairns asked why only students were hired to staff the wharf, suggesting maybe other groups such as seniors might be interested. Andrew Stacey, Director of Infrastructure Service replied that it was because of union and pay equity.
Coun. Jo Morphy argued that “doing nothing is not an option…to get on the three big lakes is a war.”
Deputy mayor Lorenz posed questions about liability: “What responsibilty do we have? We are not Transport Canada. What kind of precarious situation are we putting ourselves in if someone gets a lesson and then runs someone over?”
Coun. Terry Pilger weighed in, saying $20 is not a solution, but to kick it off for another year isn’t an option. “Twenty dollars is part of the solution.”
Andrew Stacey reminded council that the focus of the report is “a wharf fee, not controlling of the lake.”
Deputy mayor Lorenz argued that “$20 won’t change anything…the issue is crowding, inexperience…this is going to be a gong show.”
Lorenz requested that the clerk take a recorded vote.
Councillors Varney, Murray, Gordon and Lorenz supported option one, to conduct a business review.
Councillors Morphy, Cairns, Klinck and Pilger voted for option two, to implement a 2021 non-residential wharf fee.
Mayor Kelly broke the tie with a vote for option one.
The next Committee of the Whole and council meetings will be held on July 20 at 3:00p.m.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!