Council approved charging boat launch fee at El Dorado
Harsh realities was the theme of Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, as city leaders faced up to shrinking budgets and increased fees for services.
Council members approved a $10 fee for launching a boat at El Dorado beach – something that for more than 20 years has been offered free of charge – as well as numerous other fee increases throughout every city department.
“It would be very nice if we could continue to have a free boat ramp,” said Judy Crawford, recreation superintendent. “But times have changed, and there just isn’t any way we can provide too many free things anymore.”
She said the department, which will endure $300,000 in budget cuts over the next two years, can no longer afford to maintain the facility without charging boaters.
The fee, which will likely be implemented after Memorial Day next summer, would yield between $5,000 and $10,000 annually for the department.
She told council members that the department could afford to pay someone to monitor the ramp during certain hours of the day and still make a sizable profit for upkeep of the facility.
While no members of the public spoke at the hearing, Councilwoman Judy Brown voted against the boat launch charge.
“This is something we can give to the citizens and tourists as a no-cost alternative to enjoy the lake,” she said. “I admire the recreation department looking for alternative income, but I feel it’s unfair to create a fee.”
Other council members seemed to feel that increased fees for services that were once free is an unfortunate but necessary aspect of the budget process.
“If this doesn’t bring the reality home to people, maybe it will when they have to write a check or reach into their pockets for the $10,” said Councilwoman Margo Osti. “Being able to subsidize services is just no longer a situation we have.”
“Ten dollars is still a heck of a value,” added Mayor Tom Davis.
The boat ramp was paid for through a grant from the California Department of Boating and Waterways, which required launching be free for at least 20 years. That time has expired, Crawford said.
The municipal ramp was the only completely free year-round ramp on the South Shore. Tahoe Keys Marina charges $25 for launching and the ramp at Cave Rock charges a fee on the honor system.
The council did not address the possibility of a season pass.
Crawford also announced that staffing reductions in the department has caused the cancellation of all special events, including the popular Halloween carnival and Thanksgiving Turkey Trot.
“It was a very hard decision, but it was something we had to do,” Crawford said. “It’s not something the city can be in the business of doing anymore – that’s the reality.”
In a separate discussion item, council members denied a request by Al Ochoa to extend his mail services contract with the city for three months. The agreement with AMO Delivery Service was canceled as part of Destination 2000, and Ochoa was given proper notice pursuant to the contract.
“It was a service we enjoyed for a long time, but it’s one of the things we had to do to be able to live within the resources available to us,” said City Manager Kerry Miller.
However, Ochoa pleaded with the city to give him a break and allow him to continue working for the city through December.
“I feel like I have been an employee of the city because I have been providing the service for 17 years – and without ever calling in sick,” Ochoa told the council.
Council members, with the exception of Osti who voted against the denial, agreed that they could not go back on the Destination 2000 plan.
“There were a lot of victims with this budget cut,” said Councilman Hal Cole. “I don’t see a reason that justifies making an exception in this case.”
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