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Hernando commissioners expect park users to continue paying fees without enforcement

BROOKSVILLE — Will the County Commission's decision this week to not enforce its new park and boat ramp use fees cost them in the end?

Only time will tell.

The fees were imposed earlier this year by the county at the commission's order, and users are still expected to pay them. But on Tuesday, when a divided commission rejected an ordinance needed to authorize enforcement, the county announced there is no penalty for not paying.

In retrospect, Commissioner Dave Russell said, it might have been better to not bring the ordinance forward at all and instead just monitor compliance. Russell and Commissioner Jeff Stabins were the two commissioners who supported the ordinance.

The commission might have also approved the ordinance but made it clear to staff that enforcement was not a high priority, he said.

"But now the lid is off," Russell said.

Still, he was confident that most people will pay the fee, though not as many as would pay if they thought payment was being enforced.

Land Services Director Ron Pianta, who oversees parks and recreation, said he, too, expects people to do the right thing. The honor system is in place in parks in many places, he said.

"I think that park users are a pretty dedicated group of citizens," he said. "Park users value the parks. They will pay to keep parks open and maintained."

Evidence seems to support that faith.

Since the parking meters and pay stations were installed in mid October, the county has collected $39,648 with $12,590 of that total coming from the sales of annual passes for the boat ramps, Rogers Park, Pine Island and the Rotary Centennial Dog Park in Spring Hill, according to recreation manager Pat Fagan.

At the boat ramps, those who wish to launch their boat take an envelope out of the box, slip in the $5 fee and put the envelope in the slot. An attached ticket from the envelope is placed on the vehicle dashboard. In the other parks, patrons can use credit cards, cash or coins to pay the fee at the meter provided. They also receive a ticket to put on the dashboard to show that they have paid.

The various meters cost the county approximately $42,000.

In recent months, there have been several instances in which Hernando residents demonstrated their willingness to pay to use the services they appreciate.

After a summer budget hearing where Pianta and his staff presented a proposed parks and recreation budget with slashed staff and a long list of parks that would have to be closed, Russell got e-mails from residents who wanted to pay to use the dog park rather than see it closed.

Ultimately the county implemented a $1 per day or $30 annual fee for parking at that park.

Similarly, residents who use the Little Rock Cannery asked to pay more for the privilege to try to keep it off next year's chopping block. A private donor has saved the facility for the last two years.

Even boaters who never before had to pay to use the county's boat ramps and leagues that use the county's fields have agreed to pay but asked the county to come up with more reasonable fees. The county has held the field use fees in abeyance for several months and officials have been meeting with league representatives. A new fee proposal is expected to come back to the County Commission in January.

County officials had projected raising hundreds of thousands in additional revenue through the user fees, but how close they will come is unknown.

"We don't know the answer to that question. We'll just have to monitor the budget as we go along," Pianta said. "Revenue projections are just that: revenue projections."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando commissioners expect park users to continue paying fees without enforcement 12/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 10, 2010 2:16pm]
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