Recommendation on Marble Falls boat ramp fees launch council debate



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Connie Swinney/The Highlander
The city of Marble Falls boat ramp area on Lakeshore Drive in the so-called Hays Addition on Lake Marble Falls is undergoing several thousands of dollars in upgrades and improvements, including expanded parking and ramp improvements. At the request of some council members, city officials are researching the expense and possible gain of invoking boat ramp fees.






By Connie Swinney
Staff Writer

City officials debated the possible merits Jan. 15 of passing proposed fees for the public using two city-maintained boat launch locations to access Lake Marble Falls.

Within the city limits, boaters can access Lake Marble Falls using a ramp on Lakeshore Drive in the Hays Addition and a boat ramp in Johnson Park on Backbone Creek.

The city, opting to expand the two existing ramps, has closed a third ramp in Lakeside Park, to help clear the way for a planned hotel/conference center on Marble Falls Economic Development Corporation property adjacent to the park at Buena Vista Drive and Yett Street.

Councilman Dave Rhodes said the city's parks improvements efforts which are underway and the potential for “user wear and tear” of the amenities prompted him to request consideration of fees.

Both ramps are currently closed to accommodate the construction and adhere to a scheduled eight-week drawdown by Lower Colorado River Authority for lakeside maintenance and cleanup.

“Some things that may be occurring and recurring expenses,” he said, during the regular city council meeting. “We're building new boat docks, new boat ramps. You need maintenance on those things.

“Construction of new parking areas. We need maintenance on those things,” he added. “We haven't had patrols on the lakes for quite some time. That's also a financial and staffing issue.”

Rhodes compared and contrasted fee structures in other communities including Austin's Loop 360 boat ramps. Other communities presented as charging launch and/or parking fees included Grapevine, Lake Arlington, Hickory Creek.

Factors in a potential council vote may involve whether to charge residents versus non residents for use of the amenity; day-use passes and/or annual passes; vehicle and trailer parking fees; boat launch fees; exemptions for watercraft housed on the water; or enacting an “honor system” using a secured container such as one used in the city of Granite Shoals.

Concerns during discussion included the expense of providing cash and credit card payment options.

City officials estimated an electronic kiosk to accept credit or debit payments could total from $5,000 to $10,000.

“The kiosks are pretty expensive,” Parks and Recreation Director Robert Moss said.

Councilwoman Celia Merrill raised concerns about the perception that, “on our park side improvements our focus is bringing people into the community and not on serving the citizens.”

Two members of the community expressed concern to Merrill about the course of action the council may take as the multi-million dollar parks improvement projects take shape.

“A bit of feedback I'm getting about our parks work is we're focused on people living outside the community and leaving behind people who live in the community,” Merrill said. “To me these fees . . . it just feels like one more way where we're saying what you had in the past for free is no longer available.

“That's why I would not pursue it.”

City Manager Mike Hodge told council members he faced similar feedback.

“That has been some of the early push back on the park side project,” Hodge said. “Their concern is that everything new, for access, there's going to be a fee charged.”

Council member Craig Magerkurth asked, “Is there a consequence of boaters going to other lakes which don't cost? We also miss out on (local) bait sales.”

Mayor John Packer questioned whether the city would experience a return from the expense of managing a fee system.

“If you did the math on it, would it be worth the money?” said Packer, estimating a potential $5 maximum per-launch fee. “The cost of administering that, getting residents stickers printed?”

Rhodes contended that “adding millions of dollars in infrastructure” should justify the city charging fees associated with use of the boating amenity.

“There are plenty of other communities who are doing the same thing, considering such,” he said. “I would really recommend a parking fee. You never know how many people are going to use the parking area for other events.

“It's not that fees are great. I'd rather not do that thing, but we're incurring more and more recurring expenses all the time,” he added. “The more services you offer, people will come to use the facility and you have more maintenance.”

Councilman Dee Haddock requested more research from city staff prior to the item possibly being considered for a future vote.

At the end of discussion on the item, Hodge requested an opinion from Magerkurth about the proposed fees.

Magerkurth responded, “No, I don't want a fee.”


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