Portsmouth looks to fees for new revenue sources

Portsmouth residents would have to pay to use Sandy Point Beach — $30 for a season pass — under a recommendation by the New Revenue Working Group. Photo by Jim McGaw. Portsmouth residents would have to pay to use Sandy Point Beach — $30 for a season pass — under a recommendation by the New Revenue Working Group. Photo by Jim McGaw.

PORTSMOUTH — Local residents would have to pay to use Sandy Point Beach and for ambulance service, and shell out considerably more for a mooring, under a list of recommendations a new panel has made in hopes of boosting revenue for the town’s coffers.

The town could bring in more than $685,000 in additional revenue every year under the recommendations made by the New Revenue Working Group led by Town Administrator John Klimm.

The group presented its recommendations Monday night to the Town Council, which took no action. A special meeting to review the proposals at length will be held before the end of the calendar year so that any changes can be implemented in time for next year’s budget, council members said.

“After significant discussion, the committee made recommendations in four major areas,” said Mr. Klimm:

Beach

The revenue group is recommending that the cost of non-resident day passes to access the town-owned Sandy Point Beach be increased from $7 to $10 for weekdays and from $12 to $15 for the weekend. “This will result in approximately $15,000 of income,” the working group’s report states.

Additionally, the panel recommends the establishment of a resident season pass of $30, which would generate about $9,000 in income. (Portsmouth residents with a transfer station sticker on their car can currently access the beach for free.)

According to the revenue group, the town is running Sandy Point Beach at a significant loss. It costs about $66,000 annually to operate the beach, but the town is bringing in only about $10,000 in revenue, the report states.

“The committee understands that these changes (do) not make the make the beach operations self-sustaining, but does close the gap,” the report states.

Ambulance service

Unlike many other communities, the town does not currently charge local residents for ambulance service beyond what is paid by their insurance.

The cost to run the town’s ambulance service is about $3 million annually, but revenues are only $714,000, according to the report. “Ambulances in the past have received the support of our Volunteer Fire organization. These funds are neatly exhausted. The town must start to develop a plan for future replacements,” states the report.

The revenue panel is recommending that town residents be billed for ambulance service with the following exceptions:

• Individuals whose household income is less than $150 of poverty level would not be billed.

• All citizens would be allowed an annual deductible of $200.

Charging residents for ambulance service will generate an additional $171,000 in annual fees, according to the revenue group. The panel is also recommending the town bill for services at automobile accidents for an additional $65,500 in annual fees, bringing the total to $236,500 in new annual revenue.

Under the revenue group’s proposal, 10 percent of all ambulance and vehicle accident revenue would be earmarked for a special account restricted to fire/ambulance apparatus purchases.

Motor vehicle tax

Portsmouth is the only community in Rhode Island that assesses vehicles at only 70 percent, according to the revenue group, and one of the few towns that provides a $3,000 exemption.

The group is recommending the town lower the $3,000 exemption by $500, which it said would generate an additional $90,576 in annual revenue.

The panel is also recommending that the exemption amount be reviewed on an annual basis, with the possibility of a reduction of $500 every two years over the next decade. If the exemption is reduced by $2,500, the report states, the additional income would be $328,328 annually.

Additionally, under the group’s proposal, 10 percent of all motor vehicle taxes would be placed into a special revenue account restricted to road maintenance and repairs.

Moorings

The town currently charges residents an annual fee of only $5 for a mooring, compared to the state average of $146. Under the revenue group’s proposal, the town would charge residents an annual fee of $50.

Non-residents would pay $10 per foot for an annual mooring under the group’s recommendation. The changes would result in additional $44,000 in annual revenue, according to the report.

“These changes will generate the cost of operations of mooring fees and no longer be subsidized by tax revenue,” stated the report.

Council members said they were impressed by the amount of effort that went into the recommendations that are needed to improve the town’s long-term financial health. They also liked the fact that much of the additional revenue would go back to funding the related services.

“This is very important to us,” said Council President James Seveney, adding that the town continues to struggle with finding revenue streams and holding the line on taxes.

Noting that some people may not make a distinction between taxes and fees, Mr. Seveney said, “Remember this, if you put it into the tax rate, you’re stuck with it. If it’s a fee, it’s an option for the resident to pay that fee or not.”

Other business

In other business Monday night, the council:

• voted to advertise a public hearing on a request by Bracky Limited, doing business as the Island Tap bar at 568 Park Ave., to expand its liquor license to allow patrons to eat and drink on its open air deck. The bar used to operate an outdoor volleyball court, but after some neighbors complained of noise, the license was later limited to the four walls of the building. “From the Police Department’s perspective, we’ve received no recent complaints of noise,” Police Chief Thomas Lee told the council.

• voted unanimously to spend $98,618 for the purchase of two, one-ton Chevrolet Silverado plow trucks. They will replace two Chevrolet dump trucks — one a 1997 vehicle with 120,279 miles on it, the other a 1999 vehicle with 85,099 miles on it. According to Finance Director James Lathrop, the purchase price is $12,000 under what the town had budgeted for.

• agreed to discuss at a future meeting a request by Kuno Grosskurth to install a bocce court in the Francis T. Carson Jr. Playground on Redwood Road. The court would be 80 feet long and 13 feet wide if approved. Mr. Grosskurth said the court would enhance the many family activities the neighborhood already sponsors.

• declared Sept. 17-23 as Constitution Week in the town of Portsmouth. The council did so on the request of the Aquidneck Island chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The week will mark the 227th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

• scheduled a special meeting to discuss repairs to the town’s wind turbine for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

• held an executive session to hold a performance review and contract discussions with Mr. Kilmm.

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