Kenai adjusts dipnet fee structure

As the Kenai River personal use fishery has grown over the years, the City of Kenai has had to adapt with it.

In an effort to clarify confusion on the fishery use fee structure, the Kenai City Council amended and approved a resolution to enact fee changes for the 2014 personal use fishery at the April 2 meeting.

Finance director Terry Eubank said one of the biggest misunderstandings people had last year was how a vehicle parking fee was not included in the camping fee.

For parking at both the north and south beaches users paid $20 from midnight to midnight. For participants with a vehicle or two all-terrain vehicles, camping is now defined as overnight parking with a cost of $55. Combining vehicle parking and camping fees into one fee is expected to eliminate the confusion, he said.

Eubank said he saw the young adults who operated the fee shacks bullied by fishery users because of the confusion with fees.

One of the proposals the council were at odds with was the addition of a $10 vehicle or all-terrain vehicle drop-off or pick-up fee.

City Manager Rick Koch said over the last few years the city has became aware of users being dropped off and avoiding paying fees for use of city services. The intention of having a drop-off fee is to make sure everybody who uses the dipnet services are charged accordingly, he said.

With more users being dropped off, another benefit would be a reduction of congestion on city streets caused by vehicles parking, he said.

Council member Ryan Marquis said he would have a hard time supporting a drop-off fee because it could be charging the wrong people. He asked why charge drivers dropping off dipnet users for using city services, if the drivers may not be using the services themselves. He said it is easy to lose sight of all the benefits in sales tax the city receives from the influx of fishery users.

“We need to try to figure out ways to take advantage, not take it for granted,” he said. “We want people to spend money while they’re here and share with the private sector, not all with the government.”

The council amended and approved fees, rates and charges for the 2014 personal use fishery by a 7-1 vote. Marquis cast the lone no vote.

Boyle motioned to delete the $10 drop-off fee. The council voted 6-2 to remove the $10 fee. Mayor Pat Porter and council member Brian Gabriel voted against the amendment to remove the drop-off fee.

Gabriel said the city is close to a break-even point in running the fishery. The city expends money before the fishery even starts without knowing how the season will pan out, he said. If the city doesn’t cover the expenses, the residents could be stuck to cover the costs.

Gabriel said over the years dipnet users have found creative ways to avoid fee stations. With Kenai residents making up only 5 percent of all dipnet users, he said he didn’t think it is fair for them to subsidize the cost.

“We have higher participation rates but are generating less revenue,” he said. “If we don’t cover our expenses, City of Kenai residents foot the bill and I don’t think they should have to do that.”

Koch said it is the city’s intention to collect more fees from all participants, not to increase the price of fees.

Council member Terry Bookey said more fees could cause other problems with people finding other ways to get to the beach as cheaply as possible.

Porter said it is important to her that Kenai residents not have to pay for the fishery while the people who try to avoid fees get charged for the services they use.

“It’s like getting into the movie theater and not paying for it,” she said. “We don’t ask for the fee because we want to. If we didn’t charge, our beaches would be a mess.”

Porter recommended city attorney Scott Bloom look at what the city can offer residents to access the fishery for free.

The council also unanimously passed an ordinance that prohibited camping, fires and parking on a section of south beach during dipnet season, in response to the complaints of private property owners. The prohibited area goes from the city boundary line at Old Cannery Road and extends north to the most northerly residence, an area of 2,200 lineal feet.

The ordinance suggested by Porter and Navarre is intended to decrease conflicts between private property owners and the public, decrease risks to environmentally sensitive areas and increase the city’s efficiency in cleanup.