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Marine Board takes fee-increase plea to Medford

The Oregon State Marine Board is coming to Medford on Monday to stump for a proposed budget that calls for the first boater-registration fee hikes in a dozen years.

Combined with budget cuts and other savings, the increased fees are needed to keep the agency afloat during the next six years — otherwise it will face a $16 million shortfall over that span.

The agency's current budget request for the 2015-17 budget biennium is about $33.7 million, which includes a drop from 39.5 full-time-equivalent positions to 38 employees.

The agency charged with boating safety and enforcement gets no state general fund money controlled by the Oregon Legislature.

"The fee increase would eliminate the deficit and allow us to operate for six years," says Chris Gorud, the Marine Board's fiscal manager. "The $16 million shortfall over that six-year period is the gap to fill if we want to continue this level of service."

Powerboats and sailboats over 10 feet long would pay two-year registration fees based on the boats' length. Other possibilities include flat-rate registration fees, Gorud says.

The proposed fee increase could start as early as 2016, or it could get phased in over the next six years, if approved.

Boat registrations in Oregon are staggered over two-year periods, so some boaters would not see an increase until 2017 if any increases are enacted.

The Marine Board will make its budget pitch and take public comment at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Medford Room 330 in Medford City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St.

Comments from the public meeting will be reviewed by the five-member Marine Board when it adopts its proposed budget during meetings June 22-23 in Portland.

That proposal will be forwarded to Gov. John Kitzhaber for consideration in the overall statewide budget he will present in January to the legislature.

Fees for boat registrations, titles and other items account for 36 percent of the Marine Board's annual revenue, while motorboat fuel taxes account for 33 percent. The rest comes from grants, and from the $5 Aquatic Invasive Species Permit, which pays for that program to prevent threats from non-native species such as quagga and zebra mussels.

The number of registered boats in Oregon has dropped by 7 percent in the past five years, while less running time and more efficient engines have created a 17 percent drop in marine fuel use, according to the Marine Board.

Since 2011, the agency has cut 2.5 positions, reduced the boat fleet supported by Marine Board dollars and curbed programs such as boating under the influence of intoxicants patrols and loaner lifejacket programs, according to the Marine Board.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.