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Hernando County will reconsider enforcement of park fees

BROOKSVILLE — Months ago, the County Commission, desperate to keep parks and boat ramps open despite dwindling revenue, approved user fees.

Since the parking meters and pay stations were installed in mid October, the county has collected more than $39,000 in fees without enforcing the payments. Last week, commissioners considered an ordinance that would allow enforcement to begin, then rejected it.

Not long after, some people started asking for refunds for the annual fees they had paid. Also, someone reportedly removed the passes dispensed by parking meters so that even those who wanted to pay on the honor system couldn't.

On Tuesday, County Commissioner Jeff Stabins urged the three commissioners who had rejected the ordinance to reconsider. "What we're doing right now makes us all look terrible,'' he said.

Commissioners agreed to reconsider putting teeth into their park fee plan. The issue will land on the agenda again Jan. 11.

The commission had voted to spend more than $40,000 on parking meters for Rogers Park, Pine Island, the Centennial Rotary Dog Park and area boat ramps. Constituents questioned the expense for meters if the fees were not going to be enforced, Stabins said.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he was opposed to the enforcement ordinance last week because he was concerned about the safety of county employees who would have to issue the $40 citations.

After last week's vote, Dukes said he met with Sheriff Richard Nugent to find out whether uniformed deputies could swing by the parks to see whether people are paying the fees. Nugent seemed willing to consider that and promised an answer back to the commission, Dukes said.

Dukes then asked Pat Fagan, parks and recreation manager, to send a copy of the ordinance to Nugent's attorney for review.

Commissioner Jim Adkins said he would reconsider his vote against the ordinance only if the enforcement was done on a trial basis and a report was returned to the board.

In other business:

• Commissioners were reluctant to take the first step in making the difficult salary adjustments promised by County Administrator David Hamilton to reduce operational costs.

Instead of approving two pay increases and two pay decreases that Hamilton recommended, the board voted to ask Hamilton to bring back a broader recommendation affecting a larger number of supervisory personnel in late January.

• Hamilton was more successful in several other recommendations he made Tuesday concerning changes in the county's organizational structure.

Commissioners agreed to put current human resources director Cheryl Marsden into the position of director of administrative services. Hamilton himself had been doing that job, which oversees central services such as human resources, the budget, information technology and purchasing. He said the county needs a close connection between staff and budget, especially as the county works to reduce the cost of doing business.

• The commission approved an increase in the surcharge paid for both minor and major traffic offenses from $15 to $30. The funds are earmarked for maintaining and providing judicial facilities. There had been previous concern that the funds could go into state coffers, but Hamilton assured the commission that the money will go toward local projects.

The fund could have paid for the new courtroom that was recently constructed in the county government center, Chief Judge Daniel Merritt told the commission.

• After more than an hour of workshop discussion about Hernando County's approach to attracting tourists, Hamilton told commissioners that he will bring forward a candidate for tourism development director in January. He promised that, with a new person on board, a new marketing approach will be established, and measurable goals will be put into place. If those are not reached, Hamilton said, something else can be tried. Commissioners agreed with that course of action.

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

Hernando County will reconsider enforcement of park fees 12/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 8:11pm]
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