A $35,000 independent audit of Gloucester’s Harbormaster’s Department has outlined significant flaws in the mapping and tracking of boat moorings, poor handling of the mooring waiting list, and gaps in patrolling and enforcement.
The auditors recommend the city carry out a “complete overhaul” of its harbor management system.
The study —which covers 90 pages, including current harbor management policies, minutes of city Waterways Board meetings and other documents — was commissioned earlier this year by the Waterways Board, which sets harbor management policy, oversees harbor-related spending and approves or rejects additions or other changes relating to Gloucester’s 1,200-plus moorings from the Inner Harbor and Smith Cove to the Magnolia Pier and Lane’s Cove.
It was carried out by CLE Engineering Inc. of Marion, whose associates examined the city’s harbor management and interviewed 29 people, including Harbormaster James Caulkett and other department personnel, harbormasters from seven other Massachusetts communities, local boat owners and Waterways Board members.
The report does not hint at any mishandling of appropriation of funds, but cites a need for more “secure storage” of cash and other receipts handled by the department, which is expected to reel in $148,000 in revenue from the city’s mooring fees this fiscal year, according to department budget figures. It also attributes a number of the record-keeping issues to outdated and poorly integrated technology systems, with only Shirley Edmonds, the harbormaster’s clerk, for example, having access to the primary database that tracks the use of moorings and their placement.
“Our own two computers can’t talk to each other,” Caulkett conceded Tuesday.
The report cites a number of positive aspects within the department, notably its responses to emergencies on the water.
But among other management issues, the audit found:
“There are a significant number of moorings that are not in use and have not been reassigned by the department. The underutilization of the mooring fields is a major issue within the department and is due in part to the lack of accurate (mooring) records.”
“Due in part of segmented databases for moorings, it is not clear where moorings have been abandoned and/or not reassigned.” The report calls for the department and the city to developed maps for the moorings and mooring fields based on Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.
The city’s waiting list policy for open moorings calls for any mooring to be “allocated to the applicant with a suitable boat who has been waiting longest.” But separate lists are maintained for each location, “and applicants can apply for more than one location at a time.” The city has 31 locations, and “clarity is needed to better understand the department’s process for determining what constitutes a ‘suitable boat’,” the report indicates. The department also does not maintain needed records of information or the vessel size for which applicants are seeking a mooring, the report found.
The department does not sufficiently secure cash, checks or other payment receipts. Strong internal controls are necessary to prevent mishandling of funds and safeguard assets,” the report reads, though it does not identify any instances of impropriety.
‘It’s very critical’
“It’s very critical, we know it’s critical, and we’re giving it serious attention,” James Destino, the city’s chief of administration said of the report. “There is a lot to go over, but we are and we are addressing it.”
Waterways Board Chairman Tony Gross, who had sought the first such thorough harbor management audit in several years, said that the board welcomed the report.
“Mooring management has been a point of frustration for the board and I know for the residents of Gloucester for some time,” Gross said, “and a big part of the problem is that we have a very rigid, old outdated Lotus software system that doesn’t track very well. I’d say (the report) primarily shows that we have a lot of technological challenges ahead of us, but we’re aware there are other issues as well.”
He said he does not foresee the department adding personnel, though he added that it needs more “boots on the ground and boats on the water” to more effectively monitor moorings.
Caulkett said he also welcomes the report and its findings.
“We’re going to look at everything (in the findings) and work on creating a program that makes it easier for us to verify the use of moorings, that the moorings have the right boats on them, he said. “... All of this is something we’ve been working on for several years now, anyway.”
The Waterways Board and harbormaster’s office function as a self-sustaining city enterprise fund, with revenues and expenses maintained outside of Gloucester’s $103 million fiscal 2016 operating budget.
Yet the report notes that, while the Waterways Board — appointed by the mayor — sets policy for the city’s harbors, coves and the Annisquam River, Caulkett as harbormaster reports directly to the mayor’s office. Gross and Caulkett, who was appointed to a new three-year term as harbormaster by then-Mayor Carolyn Kirk in 2014, conceded that the board and Caulkett have taken on more independence from City Hall over the years.
“One of the big recommendations is to get that squared away, so the harbormaster knows who he’s reporting to,” Gross said. “Basically, the board has been enabled to operate on its own, and was probably tasked with more responsibility than it should have had, just because of a vacuum. We will fix that.”
“I have two bosses — the mayor’s office and the Waterways Board — and it’s just a matter of how we can make that flow even better than it has,” Caulkett said. “I always say I have 28,000 bosses anyway — all of the people of Gloucester. A lot of the people have moorings, and all of Gloucester has interest in the harbor and in our waterways.”
What’s out there
The city offers three types of moorings: personal, for use by individual boat owners for their own vessels; municipal moorings for public use; and transient moorings for use by waterfront businesses and yacht clubs for visiting vessels. The city charges residents $6 per foot of boat length for annual moorings for city residents, $8 a foot for non-residents holding local moorings, $200 a year for each transient mooring, and $25 a day for use of the municipal moorings.
The report comes as the city looks expand its number of transient moorings in or around the harbor and elsewhere to attract more boating visitors who would come to the city for the day to visit its downtown and other businesses.
“The idea of having open and available moorings is huge when it comes to our own economic development,” Destino said, adding that Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken is in the process of developing an advisory recreational boating committee for the city. “We want to present ourselves as having a user-friendly harbor,” Destino added. “That’s one of the things we have to look at.”
Vito Calomo, who serves on the Waterways Board, said that, while some people thinking we can have “thousands of moorings out there, the fact is, we don’t have that kind of room.” He also praised the work of Caulkett and his assistants.
‘Use it or lose it’
Gross also said the fact that the audit found a number of moorings vacant and their use unaccounted for doesn’t mean the city is leaving potential revenue on the table.
“The moorings are paid for, but in many cases, they’re just not being used,” he said. A city waterways ordinance, however, requires that mooring holders dock a boat at their mooring for a minimum of 30 days between April 15 and Oct. 15, with a mooring to be reassigned if that’s not the case.
“It’s use it or lose it,” Gross said, “but the truth is, that hasn’t been getting tracked very well.” Calomo noted that some people have remained on the mooring waiting lists for “years and years.”
The report also touched on the Harbormaster Department’s customer service.
“The hours of operation and access to the office were consistently cited as an issue,” the report reads. While weekend closures were common with harbormaster’s offices in other communities as well, it noted, “the Gloucester harbormaster office is randomly closed and the public inconvenienced during times that the clerk goes to City Hall, is on lunch breaks or out of the office on benefit time, without prior posting.”
Staff writer Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.