A 1,025 percent increase for boat registration?
If S.B. 58 becomes law, boat owners may see registration fees skyrocket from $40 for a three-year registration to $450, an increase of 1,025 percent.
Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow County) introduced the bill in February as a way to fund maintenance dredging for shallow draft inlets.
Currently registration and titling fees go to N. C. Wildlife Resources Commission and are used for boating and water recreation purposes. Registration for all motorized boats, any sailboat longer than 14 feet or any titled boat costs $15 for one year or $40 for three years regardless of size.
Gerald Burchfield, who lives off Kennedy Road at Thomasville, is less than pleased with the proposed increase.
Last year Burchfield paid a $40 fee to obtain a three-year registration for his 20-foot Ranger bass boat. According to Boat Owners Association of the United States, that's the average size for a recreational boat.
If S.B. 58 becomes law, Burchfield’s three-year registration fee may rise as much as $150, a whopping increase of 275 percent.
For a 40-foot boat, registration will skyrocket to $450, an increase of 1,025 percent.
"I am a disabled veteran," Burchfield continued. "I'm on a fixed income. I can't make no more money. When the government keeps going up and up on things like that, that hurts us. Food, clothing ... we have to give up something."
Burchfield is a guide and bass angler who puts his boat in fresh water reservoirs such as High Rock, Tuckertown, Tillery and Kerr and also Lake Norman and Jordan Lake. Since his boat never goes in salt water, he doesn't feel that it's fair to make fresh water boat owners pay for work done to salt water inlets.
"There's a boat ramp up at Tuckertown called Graveyard Landing," said Burchfield. "It's a drop off of several feet at the end of the ramp. If you're not real careful, your wheels will drop off the end and there you'll be — you're stuck. You don't see the government stepping in and taking care of anything like that!"
Nicole Palya Wood, a spokesperson for BOATUS, agrees with Burchfield's sentiments.
"At BOATUS we strongly believe in a user pays user benefits system, but we would like to see the financial burden spread across the entire boating community, not just recreational boaters," she said. "For those folks who are out in the western part of the states, the rates will raise on those boats even though it is unlikely that those boats will ever see coastal waters."
While the organization feels that the dredging is necessary, Wood said they would favor alternative revenue sources such as a penny tax on marine diesel, which would call upon sports and commercial fishermen as well as transient boaters who use NC waters but don't pay NC registration fees.
Increases would make North Carolina registration fees much higher than neighboring Atlantic states. Three-year registrations range from $27 to $45 in Virginia and are $30 in South Carolina.
Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Pat Hurley (R-District 70) oppose putting the cost of maintenance dredging on the backs of boaters.
“We need to find a different way to finance [this bill],” she said.
Sen. Jerry W. Tillman (R- District 29), representative for Randolph and Moore counties, has already been contacted by his constituents about the bill. In general, people from coastal areas see the need but others who don’t use the area don’t like it.
Tillman feels it’s a complex issue.
"Economic survival depends on the Outer Banks and those channels staying open to sports fishermen, commercial fishermen and boats in general,” said Tillman. “Just charging the boaters who live in the area would not produce sufficient revenue, but it goes against my grain to charge everybody to fix a problem for one particular area of the state. But with insurance laws and other laws as they are, this has been done many times in the past.”
As of April 4, the bill remains in the Finance Committee of the N. C. General Assembly.
"Right now the bill has a long way to go," Tillman said. "It's not a final product by any means."