Raleigh, N.C. — Owners of most boats registered in North Carolina would pay higher annual fees to register their vessels under a bill that cleared the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday.
The bill is designed to generate $6 million every year to dredge "shallow draft" inlets used by recreational boats and some fishing boats.
Currently, all boats pay a $15 annual registration fee, regardless of length.
Senate Bill 58 keeps the annual fee for boats under 14 feet at $15, but it eliminates a $5 discount owners currently get for registering their boats three years at a time. It also creates a sliding scale for boats longer than 14 feet, ranging from $25 per year for those up to 20 feet to $150 for a boat longer than 40 feet.
"If I have a recreational vessel I use only on inland lakes, I'd still pay the higher fee?" asked Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus.
Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said that was correct. He said that the current fees have been going to pay for boat ramps and other facilities that help inland boaters for years.
"I'd say this is a leveling of the playing field," he said.
The extra state money is needed, Brown said, because the federal government has stopped paying toward the dredging of shallow inlets. He said local communities would have to match state dollars in order to use money to dredge in their area.
"They will have some skin in the game," Brown said.
According to staff for the committee, the bill would make North Carolina's fees slightly higher than Virginia, which also has a sliding scale, and track more closely with Florida. South Carolina would have much lower fees if the changes go through.
Brown said he didn't expect the fees to unduly burden boat owners or prompt them to register their vessels out of state.
"For someone with a larger boat, it's expensive to operate already," he said.
The measure heads next to the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the floor.