DADE CITY — On his first day on the job, Pasco Commissioner Henry Wilson Jr. wasted no time setting his agenda:
He made a motion to exempt Hudson Beach from the dozen county parks that will soon begin charging $2 parking fees to compensate for declining property tax revenue.
The motion quickly got support from Commissioner Jack Mariano, who unsuccessfully pressed his colleagues in September to raise property taxes slightly rather than charge the parking fees. He argued, too, that Hudson Beach business owners would suffer because of the fees.
"We're talking about hurting businesses," he said.
The other three commissioners rejected the idea.
Commissioner Ted Schrader said it was unfair to exempt Hudson Beach, noting that the 2010-11 budget was approved on the assumption that the park fees would go into place.
"Nobody likes them, but fees have to go up," he said.
New parks and recreation fees, including the $2 parking charges, are expected to raise nearly $877,000 this year. County officials expect parking fees just at Hudson Beach to raise $14,420.
Rather than pay $2 for each park visit, residents can pay $60 for annual park passes. About 250 of those passes have been sold.
Mariano and Wilson argued that Hudson Beach was a special case because businesses might lose customers put off by the charges.
In making his motion, Wilson said he recently received a phone call from Mike Malacos, owner of Inn on the Gulf, an 18-room hotel and restaurant at Hudson Beach.
Malacos was an outspoken opponent of the parking fees, collecting signatures of other opponents and publicly criticizing the commissioners who had supported the fees. His Inn on the Gulf also made a $250 contribution to Wilson's political campaign shortly after commissioners approved the fees.
Officials say they plan to shut off enforcement in the early evening so that people who go to the parks to enjoy the sunset won't be charged. But Wilson said he's also heard from senior citizens who go to Hudson Beach to exercise.
Schrader and commissioners Ann Hildebrand and Pat Mulieri countered that was the case with the other parks, too.
After the commissioners took the vote, the debate continued.
Mariano suggested the board could have used savings from the construction of an animal shelter to cover the $14,420 that Hudson Beach parking fees are projected to raise.
Schrader shook his head.
"Why are we still discussing this?" he said. "So Commissioner Mariano can sit there and say we're bad people?"
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.