Grievances aired over Green Lake’s commercial boat launch fees

Brian Peppler of Ripon prepares to take his boat out on Green Lake back in 2010. Although this photo displays a county-owned boat launch, the city's boat launch fees recently became a point of contention for some business owners.

Boat launch fees were a hot topic at last week Wednesday's Green Lake Parks and Recreation Board meeting as one business owner felt the city is targeting commercial enterprises.

As a result, the board opted to table the discussion until next month’s meeting and will review the city’s boat launch fee policy with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Currently, Green Lake’s municipal code states that no one can use city owned or operated boat launch facilities without either a daily or annual launching permit. Annual permits are valid from April 1 of the year it was issued to March 31 of the following year.

For individuals, a daily permit costs $5, while an annual permit is $20 for city of Green Lake residents and $30 for non-residents. Meanwhile, for commercial boat launch users, daily fees are $5 per launch or an annual permit fee of $650.

During the Parks and Recreation Board meeting, Norton’s Dry Dock owner Chuck Hurley criticized the commercial boat launch fees, arguing that the annual fee violates DNR guidelines.

According to the DNR’s maximum daily boat launching fees for inland waters document, season passes for residents and non-residents should not exceed 10 times the daily fee. However, the document does not mention businesses or commercial enterprises.

Board member and former mayor Jon McConnell said City Attorney Dan Sondalle spoke with the DNR about the boat launch fee ordinance several years ago and the DNR told him it was legal.

Likewise, in speaking with the DNR, Police Chief Jason Reysen said the city’s fees were legal because a “business is not a person.”

“We're talking about commercial boat launch fees as opposed to a person with public access to the water; that's what I got from the DNR,” Reysen said. “The DNR says [for] public use, you're a business — you are an LLC [or] a corporation — [so] you are not treated the same as a person or a group of people.”

Hurley argued that the commercial charges are applied unevenly to marina owners who have clear signage on their vehicles and that some businesses without clear signage are getting away with not paying the $650 fee.

“We’re easy to identify, but your commercial charges should apply to every commercial business,” he said. “We all know [that] all the landscape guys are out there installing piers, are you charging them commercial fees?”

McConnell noted the fees were developed because the city was seeing damage to its boat launch, but wasn’t generating enough revenue to cover repairs to the boat launch.

He added that the city worked with businesses to determine how to increase revenues to cover the repairs and all the marina owners helped come up with the $650.

“It was nothing that the city just forced on everybody; it was unanimously approved by all the members that were at the meeting,” McConnell said.

McConnell motioned to keep the boat launch ordinance in effect, but to amend it so all launch fees have to go through the city clerk’s office. However, no other Parks and Recreation board members seconded the motion, so it failed to move forward.

Then, board member Steve Siders motioned to table the discussion until a future meeting to give the city an opportunity to research the existing ordinance and pertinent regulations from the DNR.

“I think the most important point is for us to get clarification between residents, non-residents and commercial,” Siders said. “That to me is at the heart of the difference.”

Siders’ motion was seconded by Ald. Diana Galster, who sits on the board, and the Parks and Recreation board ultimately voted 3-1 to move forward with it. McConnell cast the lone “no” vote.

“As it is sorted out at a subsequent meeting, I charge the board to do the homework on it,” Mayor Ray Radis said. “To make the calls and to take a look at the issues that were brought up.”

Written By

Joe Schulz served as the reporter of the Green Laker in 2019 and 2020, before being hired as a reporter for the Commonwealth in October 2020. He is from Oshkosh and graduated from UW-Oshkosh in December with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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