A state bill that proposes a way to raise funds for inlet dredging has drawn opposition from the boaters who would pay the price.
The Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS), the nation’s leading advocate for recreational boaters, has issued an alert to members about the hefty increase in boat registration fees on the way in North Carolina if the legislation as drafted is adopted.
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, introduced SB 58 last month to generate funds to support maintenance dredging of the state’s shallow-draft inlets. Revenue would come from increases in boat registration fees.
BoatUS isn’t contesting the need for funds for inlet dredging but says the bill as written places an unfair financial burden on recreational boaters.
"The big concern is that it is quite a drastic increase in the rates," said Nicole Palya Wood of the organization’s governmental affairs section.
Currently it costs $15 a year to register a boat with the state or $40 for a three-year period regardless of the vessel’s size.
The bill proposes a graduated system with the amount of the fee going up as the size of the boat increases.
While the fees for boats 14 feet and smaller would remain relatively the same, the increases are significant as sizes increase. And the hike in fees would make North Carolina’s boat registration fees the highest of bordering coastal states.
Registration for a 20-foot boat, which is close to the average size for recreational boats across the nation, would jump to $150 for a three-year registration, an increase of 275 percent.
Bill Tarplee, owner of Tideline Marine in Jacksonville, said boaters may be willing to accept a modest increase but the proposed hike is too high.
"If the increase was not quite as much as proposed it would be much more acceptable," he said.
But concerns are not over the fee amount alone.
Tarplee said that if there is an increase, boaters want to be sure that the money is going directly to inlet dredging.
"If they are going to pay an increase in fees, they want the money dedicated for that purpose," he said.
The bill establishes a Shallow Draft Inlet Dredging Fund but there are questions about whether the wording of the bill makes that clear.
Boat registration and titling fees now go into the N.C. Wildlife Resources Boating Account, which is used for boating and water safety activities.
Brown has said all newly generated funds would go to the dredging fund. The bill states that the commission shall transfer on a quarterly basis at least 50 percent of each one-year certificate and at least 50 percent of each three-year registration fee collected to the new inlet dredging fund.
BoatUS officials hope to see revisions to the bill.
In addition to the concerns over the increased fees, Wood said they believe the cost should be shared among all the users of the inlets and not just recreational boaters.
"As far as representing our members, we want to be sure all the boaters using the inlets are paying into the system," she said.
The are some boat owners who pay to register their vessels who never use the inlets. There are coastal boaters who never transit offshore and boaters who stay on the state’s lakes and rivers.