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City considering $5 fee on watercraft rentals to fund safety program

September 20, 2018

BULLHEAD CITY — Renters of personal watercraft may pay a fee next summer to fund a water safety program.

City Council members met Tuesday in a special work session to discuss implementing a $5 fee for watercraft rentals that would pay for the city’s water safety program.

The water safety program was launched as a pilot program in 2017, said Bullhead City Manager Toby Cotter in his presentation to council members. The city contracted with Contemporary Services Corporation to help patrol high-activity areas on the Colorado River with two lifeguards on personal watercraft and a CSC lifeguard assisting boating officers on police boats.

“This has become a very valuable tool for us on the river,” said Bullhead City Police Chief Brian Williamson. “We don’t have to put two officers on a boat — our officers can handle the boat and law enforcement part of it and the lifeguard is the deckhand and also a rescue swimmer if and when needed. So from our perspective this has become a very important part of our water safety program and I strongly desire to keep that going.”

The city paid for the program in its entirety this summer.

Cotter previously requested permission from council to seek funding reimbursements from both Clark County and Mohave County.

“They both understand the reasoning behind it but don’t have a mechanism to help fund it at this time,” Cotter said.

Cotter said when he attended a Mohave County Board of Supervisors meeting in April to ask for help, Dist. 2 Sup. Hildy Angius suggested the city consider a fee per watercraft to pay for the program.

It is estimated about 50,000 PWC transactions take place each summer, Cotter said, which would generate about $250,000 that could pay for the program, including $10,000 to $15,000 for administrative fees such as police and code enforcement.

Cotter’s PowerPoint presentation offered photos of CSC lifeguards rendering medical aid, assisting with disabled watercraft, providing police officers with assistance during law enforcement actions and providing renters with services such as assuring properly fitted and worn life vests, getting back onto PWCs after falling off, retrieving PWCs that floated away from their riders and slowing riders through no-wake zones.

“(CSC) said 90 to 95 percent of violations in no-wake zones are from renters of PWCs,” Cotter said.

The lifeguards have integrated well with the police officers, Williamson said, citing benefits to the department including saving manpower and overtime costs.

“Another kind of obvious benefit they have is they can get in the water and deal with people,” Williamson said. “Any officer we have out there is fully outfitted — gun, the whole belt. If they do jump in and have to save people’s lives they drop the belt and hope nobody does anything to it. They also may have a bulletproof vest, boots and other things that can make it difficult out there for them. These (CSC lifeguards) are swimmers, trained lifesavers.”

Council members were positive about the need for the program and directed Cotter to get feedback from Clark County and Mohave County regarding a possible intergovernmental agreement to collect the fee, as well as explore other funding options in case an IGA with Clark and Mohave counties could not be worked out.

Council members also heard a presentation on preparing for the 2020 Census and the importance of the city not having an undercount of its residents.

“If our base is undercounted, it’s an undercount for 10 years,” Cotter said. “This absolutely, specifically relates to the amount of money we get from the state and federal governments. Our money is based on the number of people who are here and counted on April 1 and leading up to that. It’s one of the more important things we’re going to do in 2020.”

Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady and Councilwoman Annette Wegmann will lead the formation of a “complete count” committee which will include 14 appointed city residents.

“It’s a lot of work and a two-year commitment,” Cotter told council members. “The job is to be the biggest cheerleader for the census you can be.”

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