Speedboat race organizers balk at Ports Authority fee

Call it a nearly $4,465 difference of opinion.

That’s about how far apart organizers of the Augusta Southern Nationals speedboat race are from the Augusta Ports Authority on the matter of a new user fee imposed this year. Race organizers say the cost should be less than $35; Ports Authority officials have billed them for $4,500.

The fee, adopted by the Ports Authority in March, exacts a 50 cent-per-ticket charge from all events that use the authority’s riverfront facilities. The authority is empowered by state and local law to impose fees by resolution, passed by authority members.

Wayne Hawkins, the authority chairman, said the fee was necessary to maintain those facilities, such as the boathouse and docks, which are used at several events each year.

“Every time there is an event things get damaged,” Hawkins said. “That’s just the way it is.”

Hawkins said the city has reduced the authority’s funding in recent years, making it more difficult to keep up with maintenance and buy new equipment.

He said other events, such as A Day in the Country, the ESi Ironman Triathlon and Paddlefest have paid what was due without protest.

“I have not received a dime from the Southern Nationals,” he said.

Hawkins said the Southern Nationals chairman, Dayton Sherrouse, interpreted the Ports Authority’s fee resolution in a way that makes them responsible for a fraction of what they should be paying.

The resolution states that event organizers will pay 50 cents for “each registrant, participant or ticket sold” for any event or competition. It also states that in lieu of the participant fee, the authority can charge a flat fee of $1,500 per day.

Sherrouse acknowledges that he disagrees with the fee in principle, on the grounds that the Southern Nationals is a nonprofit event that promotes tourism in Augusta and raises money for charity. He said the event donated about $5,000 to the Special Olympics this year.

“We were against them passing that resolution to start with,” he said. “We started this race at the request of the city 27 years ago to get something going on the river. This is taking money away that we can give to the charity.”

Sherrouse points to other language in the resolution that states event sponsors can choose whether they will pay the participant fee or the day use fee.

“We decided we would select the option for a 50-cent charge per registrant,” he said, calculating that with about 65 boats registered for this year’s race, he would owe less than $35.

“(Hawkins) has sent an invoice for $4,500, which we have not paid,” Sherrouse said.

Hawkins said he was tired of fighting about the fee, but that doesn’t mean he will let it drop.

“You would think that after 27 years of having this event, with the Ports Authority still having to supplement it, they ought to be standing on their own by now,” he said. “I’m willing to let it go for $4,500.”

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