CHATHAM — Saying it's time for the town to once again have a mooring officer, waterways advisory committee Chairman Peter Taylor has asked the harbormaster to quantify the cost of managing the town's mooring permits each year.
“Things aren't getting done because we don't have a mooring officer,” Taylor said at last Thursday's meeting. He had asked the committee to consider requesting an audit of mooring fee revenues, saying the $227,403 raised in 2015 is more than sufficient to fill the post left vacant when former Mooring Officer Wayne Julin died.
Health and Environment Director Robert Duncanson told the committee that the mooring fee revenues, by statute, go into the town's waterways improvement fund, which can be spent on a variety of water-related needs. “You can't use them to build a school or buy a fire truck,” but they can be used for dredging, to improve public access to the water, or for improvements to docks and piers, he said. The funds aren't just intended to offset the cost of managing moorings, Duncanson said.
“You still can't raise more money than it costs to run that program,” Taylor countered.
Harbormaster Stuart Smith said the town raised mooring fees years ago to pay for the new mooring officer position, but when the position became vacant, fees didn't go down. The mooring officer position “was changed by town hall,” Smith said.
“All of us have spent a lot of time on mooring management in general, and the administrative end runs relatively well,” Smith said. “But you have to take that information and apply it to the water.” Enforcing mooring assignments is a challenge, and the department has also been struggling to use new software to manage moorings.
“That seems to be on the mend and resolved, so that's a good thing,” Smith said.
“You guys are understaffed,” Taylor said. The mooring employee position was created by a vote of town meeting in 2002, and there is a need for the position to be filled. Since there is money to do so, “why don't we have this?” he asked. If necessary, he will ask for a reduction in mooring fees to match the actual cost of administering moorings, Taylor said.
“I hope we don't have to go down that road,” he said.
Smith said the harbormaster's department is not seeking to hire another staff person to fill the mooring officer position. “We have that person. We have the position. We need to clarify the position's role and what their responsibilities are,” he said. The best candidate is current Wharfinger Mike Ryder, he added.
“Mike is our wharfinger. He can't do both,” committee member Dave Davis said.
Smith said that by revising Ryder's duties, and by ensuring there are sufficient “qualified, properly compensated seasonal workers” to help with wharfinger duties at the fish pier, “we can fulfill the mission without another person.”
Former commercial fishermen like Ryder are well suited for the job because they are qualified in boat handling and only need training in law enforcement and first aid, the harbormaster said.
Under the town's home rule charter, the responsibility for reorganizing or restructuring town departments, and for hiring employees, rests with the town manager. In 2010, following Julin's death and the departure of another full-time assistant harbormaster, Town Manager Jill Goldsmith realigned the harbormaster department under the supervision of the chief of police. She said she took the action under the direction of the board of selectmen, which asked her to review department operations when vacancies occur. The department is now under the natural resources department.
Duncanson said the town increased the number of new seasonal employees last year, and there is an effort to raise their pay rates in the upcoming fiscal year. The pay increases would be the first in several years, and “so far it has the support of the administration,” he said. The challenge is finding qualified people for certain positions, in a time when the economy is improving. “Less people are looking for seasonal jobs,” he said.
At an upcoming meeting of the waterways committee, Smith will report on the actual cost of mooring management efforts.