PORT RICHEY — A proposed $7.50 per passenger boarding fee for casino and sightseeing boats, designed to raise money to spruce up the city's waterfront, sunk on Tuesday night.
Led by council member Phil Abts, the City Council voted 3-2 to ax the proposal.
Wednesday, Abts said the fee, proposed in November by Vice Mayor Mark Hashim, would hurt small business owners during a crippled economy.
"The economy is bad, so to try to shut down our waterways is ludicrous," he said. "It's crazy to try something that would literally shut down those businesses."
In addition to Abts, Mayor Richard Rober and council member Steven O'Neill voted to kill the proposed fee.
O'Neill, who voted in November to pursue the fee, changed his position Tuesday night without offering any explanation. He did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Hashim and council member Perry Bean voted to keep the fee idea afloat.
Ray Kelly, owner of sightseeing boat Miss Daisy, vehemently opposed Hashim's idea. Kelly charges $19 per person for two-hour tours through the mouth of the Pithlachascotee River, and would have had to tack the fee on top of that.
"I'm glad it got defeated and it's not going to go through," Kelly said. "If they had gotten it passed, I would have moved to New Port Richey. Nobody can afford to pay that much money for a boat ride."
Bean said he supported Hashim's idea because the fee was an alternative source of revenue for the city.
"It's a legitimate fee being charged practically everywhere else," he said. "It just seemed foolish not to take advantage of it."
Hashim's proposal would have levied the tax on vessels with no land destination, such as casino and sightseeing boats.
After setting aside 10 percent of the proceeds for the businesses generating the fees, the rest would have been earmarked for improving city infrastructure near the waterways, such as roads and street lights, or buying new city vehicles.
Before Abts made his motion during Tuesday's meeting, Hashim offered an amendment to his proposal to charge the fee only on boats with more than 50 passengers, exempting the smaller tour boats like Miss Daisy.
But Hashim's amendment further angered Beth Fifer, executive secretary of the SunCruz casino boat. Fifer said the amendment targeted her business in particular, since hers is the only large boat on the city's waterways.
Wednesday, Fifer said she was glad the fee is a dead issue.
"If they assessed this tax," Fifer said, "the small businesses would have been done, and we would have been done too."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.