DEPOE BAY — Citizen outcry over the rise in the price of fuel at the Depoe Bay Harbor Marine Fuel Station took a turn toward potential litigation during Tuesday evening’s Depoe Bay City Council meeting at Depoe Bay City Hall.
The debate stems from July, when the city, already reeling from accounting and financial reporting insufficiencies in previous years and the COVID-19 pandemic’s limitations on the seasonal tourism industry, moved ahead with a 99 cents-per-gallon increase to $1.34 per gallon for fuel at the city dock. At the time, Depoe Bay staff informed the council the additional charges would help counteract maintenance and operating costs to the city.
Those objecting to the fuel-rate hike — harbor fuel customers who’ve reported substantial operating cost increases since the rate change’s approval July 7 by the Depoe Bay City Council — argue the council passed the measure based on bad data.
Additionally, those fighting the council-approved fuel charges, spearheaded by part-time charter company owner/operator Mike Jespersen Jr., say the title of the city council meeting agenda item that invoked the price change failed to note the potential fuel-rate hike, essentially blocking this public from commenting.
Jespersen attended Tuesday’s council meeting by phone, and used the public comment period to plea with the council to place a moratorium on, or invalidate the new fuel rates until analysis of the numbers the council based its decision on could be examined.
“I know it seems contentious at times, but I’d like to reassure everybody that I only have the City of Depoe Bay and the harbor at my heart,” Jespersen told the council. “There’s no ill will or attempt to be confrontational other than I want a resolution that invalidates this (fuel price) resolution because it was based on faulty information.”
Depoe Bay Mayor Robert Gambino, not running for re-election in November, quickly responded by telling Jespersen that further communication on the subject would be directed to the city attorney.
“Our city’s lawyer reviewed your assertions, and he is of the opinion that there is no legal basis to capitulate to your demands (to invalidate the rate increase), and if there’s anything further from these demands that you made in two emails, they will be directed to the city council and forwarded to our attorney,” Gambino said. “And, if that is the case, you should probably get legal counsel to assist you with that.”
On Wednesday, Jespersen told the News-Times that an attorney was consulted and “waiting in the wings.”
“We’re ready to take that next step if we have to go that way,” he said. “But that’s the last thing we want to do. That’s just going to waste a lot of the city’s time and money, when all we’re looking for is some transparency.” Jespersen said he’s become the face of dissatisfied harbor fuel customers because Nalu Charters isn’t his main source of income, and he can dedicate time other boat owners can’t afford to spend.
City Recorder Barbara Chestler, hired late last year in part to help clean up the city’s books after years of financial mismanagement, reported to the council in July that last year the harbor cost the city $47,333 more than it took in from users.
Councilor Jerome Grant, initially scheduled to present an analysis of the fuel-rate increase numbers during Tuesday’s meeting, requested and was granted an additional two weeks to give his report after his initial findings left him with “more questions than answers.” Grant is now slated to present on the topic at the Sept. 15 council meeting.
Jespersen remains unsatisfied.
“We never exceeded $29,700 in operating expenses for the fuel dock until this year, when operating expenses are over $78,000 calculated,” he told the council. “Somebody needs to answer why (that is) and doing it after the fact, with due respect to Councilor Grant, is not proper. This should have been looked at before, and every day that fuel is pumped is too late. Everyday, more dollars are wasted.”