MRC Hopes Pamphlet Will Produce Votes

            The Marion Marine Resources Commission hopes soon to be distributing a pamphlet intended to dispel false rumors about funding for the new Maritime Center that the commissioners say persist despite facts on public record.

            “It’s a checks-and-balances thing at Town Meeting, it’s not really from the taxpayers. I still hear people say the harbor uses a lot of our tax dollars. I keep telling them …,” said MRC member Tad Wollenhaupt during Monday night’s public meeting at the Police Station.

            The MRC wants Marion citizens to understand that votes at the October 23 Special Town Meeting supporting the appropriation of $1,200,000 for the construction of the new harbormaster’s operations building will not come from tax dollars but from the Waterways Account, which is supported entirely by harbor-related fees.

            “The funding is already there for the project,” said Marion Interim Harbormaster Adam Murphy. “The grant funding is the real issue for me. I think we’ve spent $300,000; we could be turning back ($1,300,000.)”

            Under Governor Baker, the state-sponsored Seaport Economic Council pledged $1,600,000 in support of the new harbormaster building at Island Wharf, and a Town Meeting vote approved a redesign of the then, $2,000,000 construction project.

            In the past two years as construction costs have skyrocketed, the town has submitted approximately $300,000 in related invoices and receives reimbursement accordingly. Not following through on the project would forfeit the remaining $1,300,000 in SEC grant funding.

            The fact the SEC did not come through with the entire $3,000,000 applied for has, according to Murphy, spawned an assumption that the taxpayers are being asked to make up the difference. He says that is flat-out wrong. The bidding period for construction closes on October 12.

            The MRC knows less about the town’s 17-year-old patrol boat, which is out of the water and being evaluated at Barden’s Boatyard.

            “We’re waiting for a report,” said Murphy, who told the commissioners that cracks in the boat have widened, that a port-side fuel leak is further compromised by the two tanks’ separation from their connections to the boat.

            Even if the cost of fixing that problem is palatable, weighing the value of a probable $200,000 repair is questionable after Murphy was told that he and former Harbormaster Isaac Perry made the patrol boat last five more years than every other known community to own the same model.

            The alternative is a new patrol boat that would cost approximately $720,000, but that figure could increase based on features. A new patrol boat was anticipated with fee increases made earlier this year, as that money would also come from the Waterways Account.

            Murphy and Assistant Harbormaster Dave Wilson are closely studying a 33-foot model that they say the Town of Scituate was able to fund 75% of the cost with a matching grant.

            Murphy said that the chief of police (Richard Nighelli) is trying to get the Port Security Grant sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA.) A new boat would take 18 months to build. Shortening the boat to less than 33 feet would result in the loss of critical storage space for tools and equipment, said Murphy.

            Vice Chairman Greg Houdelette, who presided in lieu of Chairman Vin Malkoski, asked Murphy about a timeline on staffing. Murphy said he expects to learn within the next few weeks what Nighelli decides to do with the harbormaster position. Statewide police reform has led to demanding training time, the elimination of many part-time officers and reorganization of harbor departments.

            Administrative Assistant Lisa MacLean was on hand to answer questions about the Harbormaster’s new database, which is only partway toward function starting with the import of individual mooring information. After that comes dinghy dock, float and kayak information. The data-import process will take months.

            The secure, web-based program features a color-coded moorings map “so that we’re not looking at three of four spreadsheets. … That’s going to be a huge savings in time for us,” said Murphy.

            Each mooring holder will be listed in the right margin of the map page, and from there a town representative or boatyard with user credentials can click on a mooring and check inspection status.

            The other byproduct is the elimination of dormant accounts. Murphy says some outstanding excise tax dates back to 2007. “The people are just gone, they’re not even in the database,” he said. “We’re working with the assessors to get those off the books.” The new system, he says, will flag any action and delinquent account holders will not receive their permits.

            Inspectors will be able to enter notifications on the site. MacLean is telling the inspectors she wants all of the inspections done by the end of the year.

            “Lisa’s working really hard to get this up and running. This program is going to be able to get us to do online payments,” said Murphy.

            While Marion will save over $5,000 in the first year just by switching systems, it also stands to lose $7,000 to $10,000 in late fees that are likely to be avoided with the convenience of online billing.

            Due to the massive amount of data left to upload, Murphy does not expect the system to go live this year.

            In other business, Commissioner Cheryl Souza agreed to serve on the MRC’s Planning subcommittee.

            The next meeting of the Marion Marine Resources Commission is scheduled for Tuesday, October 24, at 7:00 pm.

Marion Marine Resources Commission

By Mick Colageo

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