By ASHLEY HELMS
The countdown has begun. For the first time in history, summertime boaters will now be hit with a fine if they don’t pay their harbor dues on time.
Boat owners that use the Village of Mamaroneck harbor have until Feb. 15 to pay their dues or they will be hit with a newly implemented late fee of $50. The measure, implemented on Dec. 16, 2013, is aimed at improving fairness and limiting paperwork.
Prior to the $50 fee implementation, there wasn’t a penalty for late payments, according to Harbor Master Joseph Russo. The harbor master said he was in favor of the $50 flat fee and approached the village’s Board of Trustees with the suggestion.
There were some boat owners who didn’t pay their harbor fees until the season began in May, Russo said.
“This just makes our process a little easier,” he said.
The Board of Trustees considered whether to implement a $50 flat late fee or a charge of 5 percent of a boat owner’s harbor fee, which is based on the size of the water craft.
Russo said he put forth the idea of a $50 flat fee.
Calculating individual late fees based on the size of the boat‑which the 5 percent charge would have entailed‑would have been too much extra paperwork, Russo said.
If a resident wants a certain spot on the harbor that is usually occupied by another boat owner, Russo said he can now give it to them if another boater in the spot doesn’t pay his or her dues on time.
“No favoritism; it makes it more equitable,” Russo said. “It’s not fair for the people who pay ahead of time and request a certain spot, but there’s someone who pays late. Spots can be reassigned if they don’t pay, though we don’t like [to reassign.]
Trustee Leon Potok, a Dem-ocrat, was the only member of the board to vote against the flat rate proposal. He favored the alternative solution.
Potok said the Board of Trustees could approve the 5 percent fee for now, but revisit the issue in a year to see how many late payments there are and if the board should increase the fee to discourage late payments.
Potok said he doesn’t think the harbor master has done a financial analysis of what produces more prompt payment because he would have had to make assumptions about the percentage of people that would pay late. Only if the late payments were coming from small and lower-cost boats would the owner be paying a higher penalty with a flat fee instead of the 5 percent late fee.
“The question is if the 5 percent fee or $50 fee is going to encourage prompt payment,” Potok said.
Trustee Louis Santoro, a Rep-ublican, said he spoke with Russo, who said he doesn’t favor the 5 percent surcharge because, for some boat owners, the late fee would be relatively minimal and he felt it wouldn’t encourage people to pay on time.
“It [should be] $50 across the board; big boat or a small boat,” Santoro said. “Being that it’s $50, someone with a smaller boat would be inclined to pay on time if they know the fee is going to be $50 compared to $15 or $20.”
“It’s a penalty that you should pay on time. If you don’t pay on time, you pay [the late fee],” Rosenblum said.
According to Russo, there are about 700 boats registered for use at the harbor. Since the flat fee has been enacted, the harbor master said he has received triple the amount of harbor use renewals than in previous years.
Trustee Andres Bermudez Hallstrom, a Democrat, said he assumes the amount of village residents who own a boat is relatively small. The harbor master does his job every day, Bermudez Hallstrom said, and the board should trust that Russo knows his job inside and out and understands what the best course of action for late fees is.
“If we can get more money by charging a flat fee, I think that makes more sense to get our departments as self-sustaining as possible for the benefit of all taxpayers,” Bermudez Hallstrom said.