A lakes area lawmaker is again asking the Michigan Legislature to revise the criteria for doling out boat registration fee money to county marine patrols.
State Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-White Lake, Highland) has introduced legislation similar to a bill she sponsored in the last legislative session after many Oakland County communities lost their marine patrols due to budget cuts.
Administered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE), current funding for marine safety is provided through watercraft registration fees, Coast Guard grants and local county funds. According to Kowall, less than half of designated registration dollars collected statewide make it back to local marine safety programs.
“Funding for boater safety training is already there, we just need to make sure it gets into the right hands,” Kowall stated in a press release. “This bill will ensure that our counties have the resources they need to improve aquatic public safety efforts.”
Kowall’s House Bill (HB) 4036 would require the DNRE to increase the percentage of watercraft registration fees allocated to participating counties, improving the formula for dispersing funds to communities that emphasize boater safety programs. Currently, state law requires that no less than 49 percent of watercraft registration fees must be provided for law enforcement and education. HB 4036 requires 49 percent of boat registration fees to be allocated to participating counties for marine safety education and marine patrols.
The bill also requires the DNRE to bolster transparency by annually posting the funding formula on its website and the amount of watercraft registration fees collected annually by each county.
Kowall’s bill also calls for changes in the formula used to determine how much funding each county receives. The DNRE would have to employ a distribution formula based only on the following criteria in a descending order of priority:
• The number of watercraft registered in the county;
• The number of calls for marine service handled by the primary responding law enforcement agency during the previous year;
• The number and type of boat access areas requiring a county marine safety program;
• The number of livery inspections conducted; and
• The number of students certified in a department-recognized boating safety class.
Given Oakland County’s status as No. 1 in the state for the number of registered watercraft, dozens of boat access sites and the thousands of students who enroll each year in county-provided boater education classes, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department Marine Division stands to get a bigger share of the available state funds for education and marine patrols under Kowall’s bill.
State Rep. Bill Rogers (R-Milford) said he’s inclined to support the bill.
“It doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all,” he said. “We’re the land of water. If you look at Livingston and Oakland counties, we have a ton of lakes. This does appeal to me, yes.”
HB 4036 has been assigned to the House Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee.