Opinion Piece By Samuel Strait – June 9, 2018 –
It has been several weeks since I came face to face with the effort to put a bed tax on November’s ballot to support the financial misadventures of the current Harbor Commission. I can remember at the time when I gave a rather curt “NO” to the signature gatherer requesting my signature, and his look of astonishment at my response. “Don’t you support our Harbor?”, he queried. Before he could go on about all the supposed benefits of bailing out the Harbor, I responded with, if it hadn’t been for the abysmal planning, cost over runs, failure to understand the future of the harbor going forward, I might have been more amenable to listening to his spin. The preposterous idea that I would be okay with throwing more money to repay the debt that the harbor had incurred while being party to the ill conceived and mismanaged rebuilt of the inner boat basin, wasn’t going to happen. I would think that a $65 million mistake was more than enough for this community to swallow without adding insult to injury with an increase to the bed tax.
Perhaps a clearer picture of where all of this anger is going, as there is far more to this picture and the collateral damage that Del Norte’s tourist industry will suffer as a result of the current fiscal mismanagement at the harbor. Since the 1988-1989 commercial fishing season ended and the peak of commercial landings occurred, Commercial landings at the port have experienced a steady decline in volume as well a a similar decline in numbers of vessels that call the Crescent City Harbor home. Much of this has to do with the absolute revulsion that the State of California has with any resource based economy. Fishing regulation, gear restrictions, MPLA’s and vessel buy back programs are just a few of the mechanisms California has utilized to make commercial and recreation ocean fishing economically challenging. Unless there is a dramatic change at the State level, this condition will only continue to decline. It made absolutely no sense for the Harbor Commission to spend the kind of money they did in 2014 for a harbor which has become vastly underutilized. As such, with what had become clearly, for a number of past years, a deteriorating financial situation why now is there a clarion call for them to do something about it. Seems to me that a bit of internal examination is well past due. When the previous tsunami came and years passed without economic catastrophe, what made it essential that an excessively expensive inner basin rebuild was vital to this community?
It has become clear that whenever an element of government, any where for that matter, finds itself in a financial quagmire, the go to solution is to ask for ANOTHER TAX. There is never the least consideration that they might look within and determine whether or not waste and inefficiency had occurred, sometimes for years, or bad decisions had occurred. No! It seems that the first response to bad actors in the public sector is pass a property tax increase, or more sales tax. Of course in the current climate at the Harbor Commission, they realized early on that that wouldn’t fly. Enter stage right! Let’s tax someone who has NO SAY in the matter, our out of town visitors. Hence, the collateral damage that I referred to earlier in the piece. The fact that visitors from out of town would initially bear the burden for paying the tax does not mean that our local tourist industry will not receive unexpected fall out.
According to recent economic data, our tourist industry returns far more money to the community, than anything we get from the Harbor. Job loss, harbor bankruptcy, and economic devastation are being sold by the Friends of the Harbor, to promote a favorable view of the “Bed Tax” being used to pay down the Harbor’s $6.5 million debt. This money will not be used to aid the tourist industry in any way. One of the Harbor commissioners, in order to justify this plunder from tourism, said, they still get the money already allocated out of the bed tax, we only want to increase it a bit. Earth to Harbor Commissioners, more tax means less money spent in the tourist based industries around town. We already suffer from the disparity between Oregon and California’s taxes. Addition to the bed tax will only add to that disparity, potentially causing far greater loss in revenue than gained by bailing out the harbor.
The Harbor has had years to see the way that their financial fortunes were headed and did nothing but make the problem more acute. Now that they are in a proverbial “Pickle”, it is well past time for the Harbor Commission to put on their collective thinking caps and diversify instead of talking about it. The going Solar to save money is a pretty meager start. The fact that Del Norte’s leading economic money maker, after government services, is tourism, might just give the Commission some kind of hint as to where the harbor should direct their attention. Focusing on harbor tourism, could be a much better place to direct energies to recover financial stability, rather than making tourism less inviting by upping the bed tax.