Harrisville Harbor still faces tough economic times

HARRISVILLE-Residents and boaters alike treasure Harrisville’s Harbor of Refuge and its modern facilities. They also acknowledge that Michigan’s rocky economy has made it rough going for the marina.

But signs indicate things are getting better.

“The reality is that we added to that wonderful asset one to two years before the bad economy hit,” Harrisville Mayor John Dobis said Thursday. The city’s goal since then has been to maintain the facility until conditions improve.

Although the harbor is owned by the city, it is managed by the autonomous Harrisville Harbor Commission, Dobis said, filling in the background. About eight years ago, council provided a $100,000 match to some $800,000 or $900,000 in additional funds to the commission. This allowed facilities to be rebuilt, including a comfortable waiting room, hot showers, a modern laundry area and public restrooms.

Alcona County property tax records now value the facility at $1.2 million.

Then the recession hit and the city’s 2012 audit documents the damage. The harbor commission had operating losses of $71,500 for Dec. 31, 2009; $42,000 for Dec. 31, 2010 and $76,000 for Dec. 31, 2011.

However, the examination by Stephenson, Gracik & Co., concluded that plans to monitor its budget, along with subsidies and support from the city, would be adequate for the harbor to continue as a growing concern.

“We feel comfortable with the assumption that the harbor is viable and that the economy is coming back,” Dobis said.

Last year, the commission reduced staff, and let contracts expire with companies such as Culligan Water and Tru Green to cut costs. The city also agreed to delay collection on a loan and defer other costs to keep the operation afloat.

Jeannette Schultz, commission secretary and bookkeeper, said in its heyday, the facility’s 2007 annual operating revenue was $333,000.

This year’s budget is $258,000, and spending is in line with projections, she said.

“We’re praying for warm weather,” Schultz said. “If we have a nice warm summer, we’ll manage just fine.”

The city provided a $24,999 grant to the harbor in March so that emergency repairs could be made to the north dock. The step was taken after a $35,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fell through.

The harbor also is slated to be dredged, with that $280,000 cost being covered by the state, Dobis said.

Meanwhile, lake levels have risen and boats have been able to enter the harbor without problems. On Thursday, about a dozen vessels occupied slips.

Bill Kleinert of Bay City was washing the deck of his 35-foot sailboat, and said he had no problem getting in, because a channel at the entrance to the port is clearly marked. He said he moors his yacht at the harbor for the season.

“The harbor’s value to us and a lot of boaters is because of its central location,” the retired controls engineer said. “It’s easy to get to.”

A boater for 21 years, Kleinert said he prefers the harbor because of its amenities and service, and recalled a time when the marina was so popular he couldn’t get a slip after 2 p.m.

“This used to be a big fishing harbor, too,” he said. “But since then the salmon have disappeared.”

Despite the economy, Kleinert said he noticed improvements at the marina this year. Docks that appeared to be sinking have been repaired with new floats. Decks have been powerwashed and “the staff is really good,” he said.

Harrisville businesswoman Judie Labadie also considers the harbor “very valuable to the state, the city and the county. People have come into the harbor due to inclement weather and they have wound up buying homes here,” she said. “The grocery store, the drug store, every business in town benefits.”

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.