Access to free boating privileges in downtown Toledo sounds too good to be true. But for the past three years, dozens of boaters have tied their vessels at no charge to Skyway Marina's 77 floating docks, and even gotten free electricity and water. The sweet ride needs to end.
The municipal marina opened in 2008 as an amenity to draw people downtown. City officials hope to link it to the long-delayed development of the Marina District. Plans call for an affiliation between the marina and the National Great Lakes Maritime Museum, which is scheduled to move to East Toledo next year.
Meanwhile, the city should have had a mechanism to recover the costs of the electricity and water it provided. It also could have collected at least token fees for dock space: The Ohio city of Mentor, near Lake Erie, charges $600 to $1,000 for space at floating docks for the boating season between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Toledo lost about $40,000 a year in the short time it tried to staff the marina itself. In 2010, negotiations fell through to have a private company manage the marina and boat docks on both sides of the Maumee River.
The company declined City Council's offer for a one-year contract after Mayor Mike Bell's administration failed to get enough council votes for a three-year contract worth $124,000 a year. Evidently, neither the administration nor council members considered closing the marina.
The actual dollars lost on utilities may not be that great; Deputy Mayor Tom Crothers says the combined giveaway for electricity and water is only about $300 a month, less than it would cost to staff or market the facility. But the reality that the city, in effect, continues to subsidize wealthy boat owners while other city needs go unmet for lack of funding is not merely symbolic.
Even if the amount of money lost on dock rentals, electricity, and water amounts to a tiny fraction of the city budget, the marina giveaway is the kind of thing that can hurt taxpayer confidence.