OLDSMAR — With a fixed income, June Boda looks for ways to keep her grandchildren active for little or no cost.
"You try to go to the movies or Busch Gardens now," she said Wednesday afternoon as four of her grandchildren ran through Cypress Forest's free water park. "Everything is expensive. You spend a lot of money."
Soon, her free alternative will cost her, too.
The Oldsmar City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to begin charging people who come to Cypress Forest a $5 parking fee.
Parks users can expect to start swiping their credit cards or insert cash in a new machine when it is installed in the next 30 to 45 days.
Oldsmar residents will be able to get a big break. They can buy a $2.50 decal at the Senior Center, the Recreation Center or the Municipal Services building and have a year's access to Cypress Forest and Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve South Support Area, the town's other fee-based park.
The city will issue $30 citations to people without a decal or a parking receipt on the dashboard of their vehicles.
"I just don't understand why they want to charge you," said Boda, who lives near Leto High in Hillsborough County. "Where's all this money going where you have to pay for parks?"
• • •
The 1,500-square-foot "sprayground" area, which shoots water through colorful metal sculptures, costs $6,000 a year to maintain, leisure services director Lynn Rives said. And that's just the cost of supplies, not labor.
"That (parking) fee, in a roundabout way, comes back to help us maintain the park," he said. "It's really no different than what the county is doing."
For years, Rives said the city's leisure services advisory board fielded complaints from residents who reported that the 76-person sprayground was overrun with an "influx" of people from outside Oldsmar.
"Predominantly Westchase and those areas," Rives said. "We've had people from Pasco, Manatee. There was always a discussion to kind of control the amount of people because there are limitations to how many people are supposed to be there. We've been trying to figure out a way to collect a user fee."
In January, Oldsmar installed a pay parking station at another recreational facility, Mobbly Bayou, which offers beach access to Old Tampa Bay. The machine accepts credit cards or cash, then spits out a ticket that can be placed in vehicles.
In seven months, Rives said the city has already recouped 45 percent of the $10,600 it cost to install the device.
The fee has had another effect, too.
"By putting a user fee in there, it seems to (have) eliminated some issues with people trying to make it a place where anything goes," Rives said.
Before Oldsmar received grants from the Florida Communities Trust and the Florida Department of Community Affairs to buy and make upgrades to the beach area, he said "it was basically a big party place.
"Teenagers to adults would go there and put up tents and stay there for days. We just got a better handle on the operation of it."
Because the Mobbly Bayou model has worked so well, the advisory board recommended the city build a similar parking station at Cypress Forest. But Rives said, "It's not about keeping people out.
"It's about, 'Okay, Oldsmar residents, you pay taxes. The people that aren't paying taxes in the city, you want to use our facilities, help us out here.'?"
• • •
Judy Macaluso, Boda's neighbor, doesn't disagree with the new fee in theory. "I feel like, 'Yeah, we need to put money back in the community,'?" she said.
But she thinks the wrong people are going to be taxed.
"We are grandparents, and we try to do stuff that is free or that is very cheap," said Macaluso, who has brought her grandchildren to the water park twice this summer. "We live on Social Security so you can imagine. When it comes to children and the old people, leave those two alone. My 10 bucks isn't going to make or break the city."
She said when the pay parking station is installed, she's pretty sure of one thing:
"Guess we'll quit coming."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-5167.