NH May Cut Marine Patrol Funds, Reallocate Boat-Registration Fees

The $5 million budget of the New Hampshire Marine Patrol may be cut by up to 20% under the state budget bill passed by the House and currently being considered by the Senate.

The cuts would eliminate the civilian Marine Patrol Auxiliary, and reduce the Marine Patrol force for 80 to 48 officers. Director of Safety Services David Barrett is quoted as saying that 25% of the mandatory boater-education classes would be eliminated and maintenance on the MP’s fleet of 94 vessels would be deferred if the budget bill passes.

The budget bill currently before the Senate also moves administrative control of the Marine Patrol from the Department of Safety Services, where it was funded by the revolving, dedicated Navigation Fund paid for by boat registrations, to the State Police. If the budget bill passes, boat registration fees would be placed in the general fund, to be used by the State Police and other agencies. (Last year the legislature raided the Navigation Fund of $700,000 to close the budget gap.)

Up to now the Marine Patrol has been funded exclusively through boat registrations, making it a self-sustaining agency. Boaters pay roughly $3 million in fees to operate the department. Boat registrations in New Hampshire have gone from a high of 102,258 in 2005 to a low of 95,402 in 2009, according to the Union Leader.

“This move by the Legislature actually imposes a tax on boaters,” says Scott Verdonck, President of Safe Boaters of New Hampshire. “By eliminating the user fees that are boat registrations, and transferring that money to the State Police, lawmakers, most of whom campaigned on no new tax platforms, have created a new tax on boaters.

“Safe Boaters understands that the state is looking to save money and balance the budget; however, doing it on the backs of an agency that is funded through boater registrations, not the general fund, and is responsible for law enforcement and safety on all of the state’s waterways, is very short sighted.”

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