BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County is poised to raise a variety of fees for use of county parks and impose a $20 fee per person for those involved in youth and adult leagues that use those parks.
Commissioners discussed the new fee schedule on Wednesday in advance of a public hearing on the increases slated for their regular meeting on Tuesday.
Although they were largely in favor of passing the fees along to people who use the facilities the most, they had a few areas of concern.
Commissioner Dave Russell said he has a problem with charging the fees to league participants, an idea that has been controversial with league leaders who fear the economic hardship may force families to withdraw from the teams.
A survey asking whether league members were willing to pay or willing to volunteer to provide upkeep for the parks showed mixed results, with some people willing to help and others not adamant in their opposition.
Pat Fagan, director of parks and facilities for the county, did an analysis of how much it costs to maintain the county's athletic fields. "The county has put millions and millions of dollars into these assets,'' he said. "All we're asking for is for them to help.''
Commissioner Rose Rocco said that the county has an obligation to maintain the parks at a high standard. She downplayed the impact of a $20 fee per league member, pointing out that a movie ticket and a popcorn could set a family back just as much.
She also wanted to know more about how much other money the leagues raise through their own fees to players, through sponsorships, fundraisers and concessions.
Commissioners Jeff Stabins questioned whether the county has to maintain the parks to the same standards they have in the past.
Fagan's response was that a lower level of maintenance was on the table. He has said that if the fees aren't increased, he will have to trim four positions out of his operation.
Commissioner Diane Rowden asked Fagan to return to next week's public hearing with some idea to ensure that no one is barred from playing because they cannot pay the fee.
The proposed league fee isn't the only one that has the attention of the community.
Fees for special events in the parks are slated to increase as well. Roger Davidson, who heads up the annual Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest, was concerned about the festival's fees rising from $1,500 to $2,500.
"That is not insignificant,'' he said, arguing that his event raises money that goes back into the community in the form of donations to a variety of causes.
"This group does give back,'' Rocco said, suggesting that the county might consider some relief for groups of that sort. Fagan agreed that the idea can be considered.
Boat trailer parking fees are also proposed at $5 a day and $100 for an annual pass. Commissioners questioned how those fees would be collected, and Fagan said the county would likely start with the honor system but has some other options as well. Code enforcement has already agreed to monitor the parking periodically.
Also under the proposal, daily fees for Rogers Park and Pine Island would double from $2 to $4. Fees for use of park pavilions, buildings, and even classes offered through the parks department would also increase under the proposal.
In other business:
• Commissioners agreed to a stop-gap plan for operating county development services after this week's retirement of longtime director Grant Tolbert. The county will expand a contract it has with Quorum Services, which will provide a qualified building official at $9,408 per month until the county's planned reorganization is completed in 2009.
• Commissioners decided to keep a special benefits district for fire hydrants in Dogwood Estates for a year. Residents near Brooksville Golf and Country Club have been paying $20 a year for years to get hydrants, but the fund is well short of what is needed. Utilities director Joe Stapf said he wants more time to find a way to get residents the fire protection.
• Commissioners agreed with their staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission to reject a rezoning to accommodate a 86-unit apartment complex on State Road 50 west of La Pine Road. Commissioners and staff were concerned the property's only access was a substandard road and that the high-density project was "premature'' for the area. Residents voiced concerns about the project destroying the rural nature of their neighborhood.
After the vote, deputies had to step up to quell a loud exchange between the landowner Anthony Jacobs and the area residents who spoke out against his project.
• Commissioners recognized a $48,759.61 donation to county animal services which was a bequest from a Spring Hill resident named Else Auweter, who died in January. The money will be used to buy a generator to keep power on at the animal services building in case of an emergency, according to Mark Caskie, interim code enforcement director.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.