Posted on January 8, 2024
Rates for the Barnstable County dredge program will rise this year, but county officials are undecided on exactly how much and how the increase will be structured over the next several years.
The county is currently soliciting feedback from town managers across the Cape on three proposed rate structures to get the subsidized dredge program back to revenue neutral. The board of regional commissioners discussed developing an ordinance for new rates later in January, which would then be passed to the assembly of delegates, the county body in charge of setting the rates.
The dredge program began in 1996 and provides services to 14 of the 15 towns on Cape Cod—all but Brewster, according to the program website. Dredge demand has increased in recent years due to several factors, the site explains, including climate change and seasonal storms. The current dredge rate—$18 per cubic yard when a booster pump is required and $12 per cubic yard when a booster is not needed—is lower than private contractors but not fiscally sustainable; in Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024, the program received roughly $1.5 million in supplemental appropriations to cover operational expenses.
The second option would phase the rate increase more slowly, beginning with a jump to $23.60 and $22.10 per cubic yard in FY25 and increasing the rates annually until they hit $35.60 and $34.10 in FY29. Beyond FY29, estimated revenue would exceed costs and rates would have to go back down.
A third option would charge lump sums to cover the cost of mobilizing and demobilizing the program, alongside lower flat rates of $26.40 and $24.80 per cubic yard. Mobilization costs would range from $18,800 to $43,200. This scenario would play out similarly to the first, with rates likely needing to go up again after five years.
The county sent the options to its dredge advisory committee, which has a representative from each town, as well as town managers across the Cape, county administrator Elizabeth A. Albert told the regional commissioners on January 3. She also said she extended a comment period to the town managers through the middle of January.
Commissioner Mark R. Forest suggested discussing the issue later in the month and putting a recommendation in either a draft or proposed ordinance for the county assembly.
Ms. Potash said she told the committee the assembly had “already decided that the rates are going to be higher” and “that’s not going to be an option, to wait until next year. They’re going to go up.”
Mashpee delegate Michaela A. Wyman-Colombo said her town understands the need for a rate increase and a sustainable program but has “a lot of concern about how this is going to be paid for, particularly in year one.”
She acknowledged the preference to look at a 25 percent jump and spread the increase over more years, but suggested the second option would be “less painful and more doable” if one of the three had to be chosen.
Falmouth delegate Daniel Gessen suggested either stretching the rate increase over more than five years or setting a lower introductory rate for FY25 before “getting it up to where we want to see it long term by year two or three, and just kind of keeping it there.”
Multiple delegates voiced their belief that without the county program, towns would be unable to proceed with dredge projects.
“Overall, we’re the only game in town,” Dennis delegate John Ohman said. “Not only is it triple the cost to go private, [private dredges] don’t want to come here. So even if [towns] wanted to pay triple the cost, they can’t get it done.”