At Thursday’s Regular Meeting of the Cape Charles Town Council, interim harbormaster Barbera Michaux noted that the Town Harbor has been losing slip holders, as well as staff to Smitty at the Oyster Farm. When questioned by members Steve Bennett and Frank Wendell, Michaux said that the exodus was due to folks that had built a relationship with Smitty Dize over the years, and had decided to follow him (Dize resigned as the Town’s harbormaster last year, and accepted the harbormaster position at the Oyster Farm marina). The total amount of full time slip holders that have gone to the Oyster Farm was not made available, however Michaux did note that only one full-time staff member had left to work with Dize. The other staff members that had made commitments to the Oyster Farm were seasonal.
During the treasurer’s report, with the harbor on the table, Councilman Wendell questioned the financial viability of the harbor. Wendell noted that, for some time, the town had promoted the notion that the harbor was somehow self-funding, however that was, at best a myth. Wendell pointed out that the harbor actually operated at $17,000.00 annual loss, “So, where does the money come from to make up for that?” Treasurer Deborah Pocock responded that the funding to make up for the loss comes from the general fund. Mayor Proto quickly added that the Town budgets for any shortfalls each fiscal year.
As the graphic below indicates, the harbor is on track to once again be well into the red. Looking at the General Fund, the $107k surplus is dropped down and added to the harbor as a way to limit the shortfall. Certainly creative, it should be noted that it is the general fund that is actually keeping the floating docks floating.
In a phone call from the Mirror, Councilman Wendell said, “Look, for a long time, they implied that the harbor was doing fine, was paying for itself, but that just isn’t the case. So, what you have is system that is taking money from the General Fund, that is taking from taxpayers, most of whom cannot afford an expensive boat, to finance the recreation of much wealthier citizens…this hardly seems equitable or fair, and the town needs to start paying a little closer attention to how they not only manage the money, but also how and why we incur so much debt down there. Like the breakwaters, which are, we are told, calming the waters to make it more enjoyable for boaters…when you talk to other people, other harbor masters around, that theory is…well, it is up for debate…”
Councilman Godwin questioned whether it was amenities that was causing boaters to leave, “I mean, could it be that it is a lack of, or whether the amenities that we have are not up to snuff, that they have more over there (Oyster Farm)?”
Michaux responded, “They do have more, they have a store. But we have our own, we can get them golf carts too.”
Assistant Town Manager Panek added, “We have made improvements, we added the floating docks, we added the bath house.”