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Published: Sunday, 10/26/2003

Island ferry to set sail if tax passes


A shipyard in Sandusky is expected to become the home of the Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line if a controversial ferry tax passes in Marblehead next month.

Ferry officials said they're turning their shipyard into a new ferry dock, and they've vowed to leave Marblehead if residents vote in favor of the tax. The boat line operates the only ferry that runs between the Ottawa County village of Marblehead and the Lake Erie community of Kelleys Island.

“We just hope the people of Marblehead realize the impact this will have,” said Kelleys Island resident Scott Stevenson, manager of operations for the boat line. “We don't want to leave and Kelleys Island doesn't want us to leave.”

Mr. Stevenson said ferry officials would be prepared to head for Sandusky immediately if the tax is approved, although an exact departure date has not been set.

In August, 2002, Marblehead residents collected enough signatures to place the tax issue before voters on Nov. 4.

It was the second time in two years that Marblehead council had approved a departure tax and voters responded by running a referendum drive. Residents rejected an identical measure by 27 votes in November, 2000.

The measure imposes a tax of 50 cents per ferry passenger 12 years and older, 25 cents for children, and 50 cents per vehicle. Marblehead council passed the tax on Aug. 8, 2002, as a way to generate an estimated $100,000 more a year for their tourist community.

Village leaders have said the money will be used for streets and sidewalk repairs. Mayor Joe Ihnat, Jr., said the tax would be a way for visitors to contribute cash to the village, which he said is in dire need of a new funding source.

The mayor said he's aware of the controversy surrounding the tax. But he said he knows the issue has local support.

“I certainly hope that he would stay if it passes,” Mr. Ihnat said of the ferry company's owner. “But if he leaves, the village of Marblehead will survive.”

He's also mailing a letter to all of Marblehead's registered voters informing them of the potential ramifications of a yes vote. Mr. Quinn said that includes a longer ferry ride as well as a loss of revenue for Marblehead and even nearby Port Clinton.

“The letter is to alert all the folks in Marblehead the grim reality of the outcome of this thing,” Mr. Quinn said. “This would be devastating to both of us. The village of Marblehead's commerce would almost cease to exist.”

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