CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners approved a final version of the 2012 budget Thursday.
The budget, which includes a general fund of about $445 million, features new park fees and an increase in the tax used to pay for emergency medical services.
Commissioner Norm Roche was the only dissenting vote. He said he wasn't comfortable with new fees for visitors to Fort De Soto and Fred Howard parks.
"I can't and won't support the budget," Roche said.
Cars will now be charged $5 to get into the park. Annual passes will cost $75 or $55 for seniors.
The county staff said the new fees are needed to help maintain the parks.
"Something has to be done," said Commissioner Susan Latvala. "I don't like charging it either, but something has to be done."
Latvala said the park fee is a way for the county to recoup money from tourists who use the parks.
That didn't satisfy the few dozen people who showed up to protest the budget.
"It's the last time when we can put our two cents in," said Largo resident Beverly Schmitt. "We're not happy."
Schmitt was part of a group of about 30 people who rallied outside the county courthouse before the meeting. The group, many of whom said they were members of the tea party, waved flags and held signs. They then filed into the courthouse for the meeting.
Many were against the park fee and the emergency medical service tax hike, which will increase about 46 percent. A property owner with a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would see that tax rise from $58.32 a year to $85.06.
The tax pays most of the costs of the cities and fire districts that provide first responder service.
Commissioners also groaned about that, but said there was nothing they could do about it right now — though they hope the issue of that funding will be studied and resolved over the next year.
"I will only support this for one year," Commissioner Karen Seel said. "This is the year we need to embark on studying anything and everything we can. We need to find a … solution."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.