(Delmarvanow.com) -- Boat slip rental fees at the Curtis Merritt Harbor of Refuge on Chincoteague's southern end will go up nearly 44 percent after the Town Council voted without dissent Monday to raise the rates.
Vice Mayor Denise Bowden was absent from the meeting.
The increase is needed to pay for work needed at the harbor, Harbormaster Vernon Merritt told the council.
"It started in the spring, when the bulkhead blew out" in one area, he said, noting the cost was almost $22,000 to make repairs.
During subsequent inspections, "we've seen several other places around the harbor that were getting ready to blow out. ... We can either let that go and then for 25 feet pay $22,000, or we've got a price of $125 a foot" for a preventative fix, he said.
"It's pay me now or pay me later. ... We can get 200 feet done for the same $25,000," Merritt said.
With the inlet at the island's south end becoming wider and the marsh that protected the harbor in the past "just about gone," the water surge coming into the harbor is "terrible," he said, adding, "It's borderline now whether it's a safe harbor or not."
Town officials are hoping the next state budget will include $1.5 million as the non-federal share for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of the area.
A jetty is needed to deflect the wave action off the harbor, Merritt said.
The total revenue for the harbor last year was $97,000, while expenses totaled $140,000.
"You just can't do that, and that's not counting what we'd like to put in the budget to do 200 feet a year of the preventative work," Merritt said.
The new rates will be included in a budget amendment to the current year's budget and the rates will be applied to the upcoming rental season. Rental payments are due in June.
The Harbor Committee approved the rate increases at its Nov. 2 meeting. At that meeting, Merritt also spoke of the immediate need for a jetty due to the rapidly changing conditions at the inlet, and he told the committee five boats had broken loose at the harbor the previous weekend.
The last time slip rental rates were increased was in 2013.
Two speakers at a public hearing Monday objected to the increase.
David Cooper called the amount of the increase, 43-plus percent, "an unbelievable number," and Charles Carter called the increase "drastic."
Councilman Jim Frese noted the harbor was built primarily with grant funding and had "a very reasonable rate of rents," but unfortunately the need for future maintenance was not adequately taken into account.
"It's hard to say, but we've got to catch up a little bit," he said.
"The place needs to be maintained," said Councilman Ben Ellis, who made the motion, seconded by Frese, to approve the new rates.