Port officials postpone considering new options for operating facility, job of harbormaster until Jan. 3
Plans to have the Port Washington Harbor Commission and Common Council discuss in closed session changing the way the marina is operated and the job of the harbormaster were abruptly cancelled this week.
City Administrator Mark Grams said the topic will probably be on the Tuesday, Jan. 3, Common Council agenda.
Harbor Commission members will likely be invited to the session to participate in the discussion, Grams said, since they will not have a meeting before that date.
Both the Harbor Commission and Common Council had been scheduled to discuss the topic in closed sessions and cited on their agendas as an exemption to the open meetings law that allows closed session discussions of personnel matters.
But after Ozaukee Press objected to the closed session, Grams said the decision was made to delay the discussion since the wording on the agendas did not allow it to be considered in open session.
The Jan. 3 discussion will be held in open session, he said.
Officials have said the potential changes to the marina operation are prompted by the fact the facility has lost money for the past two years and, despite a robust summer season, is expected to lose money again this year.
Grams told the Harbor Commission on Monday that the marina is expected to be $25,000 to $30,000 in the red by the end of the year.
The commission also reviewed audit reports from the last 14 years, which showed that while the facility had maintained a surplus for many years, it has had a couple of rough years recently.
Commission Chairman Gerald Gruen Jr. noted that a contingency fund was to have been established during profitable years so that when unforeseen expenses and shortfalls arose the marina would have money to address them.
“When we were prosperous, we thought there are going to be issues ahead and we need to have some cash set aside,” Gruen said.
That could have helped the marina through recent issues, such as the unexpected $75,000 cost of repairing a leak in the fuel tanks in 2014.
There is such a fund, Grams said, and it has about $154,000 in it — significantly less than the $374,000 that was in the account in 2011.
Unless things turn around, he added, “It’s not going to be long until that is down to zero.”
The Common Council has always stressed the need for the marina to pay its way, he added.
During budget talks this year, the Finance and License Committee and some aldermen brought the issue up, suggesting it may be time for changes in the operation of the marina to save money.
Ald. Bill Driscoll, a member of both the Harbor Commission and Finance and License Committee, said the time to act is now.
“If you lose money for 10 years and have to close down, people are going to ask, ‘Why didn’t you see thing coming and do something?’” he said. “Somewhere along the line, we have to ask, ‘How many years do we have to lose money before something has to be done?’”
But Gruen suggested the city look at expenses other than personnel to trim the marina costs.
“There are a lot of ways we can cut expenses. It doesn’t have to be employees,” he said. “This marina has made money almost every year.”
A few bad years, he added, aren’t a reason to panic, especially since the reasons were largely out of the city’s control — cold weather, poor fishing and the leaky fuel tanks.
Dick Laske, who has a boat in the marina, concurred.
“If you make the harbormaster a part-time function, the quality of the marina could suffer,” he said. “I don’t understand the logic of that.”