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County may add to fees for boats

Hillsborough County boat owners soon might face a hefty increase in registration fees to pay for local marine law enforcement efforts. County commissioners Wednesday scheduled a public hearing March 21 on whether to increase registration fees for most boats by 50 percent by establishing a county fee in addition to the state fee boaters now pay.

The money would go to boost marine patrols by the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and for other safety measures.

But boat owners already are letting commissioners know they don't like the idea.

A. L. "Red" Stamond, president of the Hillsborough Wildlife Federation, said boaters are tired of new fees, such as the recent requirement for a state saltwater fishing license.

"It just really isn't fair to dump that on the boater," Stamond said.

County officials said the need for the extra enforcement is prompted by a high number of boating accidents and deaths. Four people died in Hillsborough County and 14 more were injured in boating accidents last year, according to a county report.

Pinellas County recently enacted a similar registration fee. Polk, Dade and Sarasota counties are among those that also have the fee.

The proposal would create a county registration fee equal to half the current state fee. For example, the owner of a boat between 16 and 25 feet long now pays $18 but would see a 50-percent increase to $27, and the owner of a boat 40 to 64 feet long would pay $123 instead of the current $82.

The county is not proposing adding to the current $3 fee for canoes or boats less than 12 feet long.

State law requires that $1 of the new fees go to the state's manatee protection program. The county's portion is expected to bring in $230,561 a year, which will go toward hiring more officers, buying equipment and speed markers.