DADE CITY — Get ready to start paying $2 parking fees at nearly a dozen Pasco County parks.
Commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday to impose the parking fees at 11 parks, plus new boat launch fees and higher league fees to help plug holes in the county budget. Commissioner Jack Mariano cast the dissenting vote.
Officials hope the new fees, which go into effect next month, will raise enough money to offset a drop in property tax revenue. Parks officials say the funding gap would otherwise leave them with no choice but to reduce the number of days the parks are open.
"User fees are really to maintain our current level of service," said parks and recreation director Rick Buckman.
Pasco officials project they could collect $876,290 through the new fees, based on prior traffic counts at the parks and participation rates.
Investing in the new fee collection system is expected to cost around $33,000. That includes parking meters at the larger parks, which have electricity, and an honor system setup, where visitors put their fee in an envelope, at the smaller parks.
Community surveys have indicated support for user fees, which commissioners see as a way to deal with tanking property tax revenue.
But Mariano, who previously had voiced no objection to the fee proposal, said he figured homeowners would rather pay a small increase in their tax bills —— about $8 for a home valued at $200,000 — than owe park fees.
"Why put the hassle into going in the parks?" he said. "Is it really worth chasing that?"
Commissioner Michael Cox said: "If I'm not willing to raise taxes to put more sheriff's deputies on the road, I'm not willing to raise taxes (for the parks)."
"A fee is a tax," said Mariano.
"But only if you choose it," said Commissioner Ted Schrader.
Hillsborough County imposed park fees last year. Pinellas County commissioners recently rejected proposed park fees, dipping into their reserves to cover budget shortfalls.
The parking fees will be charged at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, Anclote River Park, Anclote Gulf Park, Crews Lake Park, Withlacoochee River Park, Suncoast Parkway Trail Head, Eagle Point Park, Moon Lake Park, Robert K. Rees Park, Key Vista Nature Park and Robert J. Strickland Memorial Park, better known as Hudson Beach.
Visitors could pay $2 per carload, or get an annual pass for $60.
Other new fees include $5 a day (or $50 a year) to launch a boat at Hudson Beach. Children who play in co-sponsored youth leagues will also now owe $10 per season. (Kids on free and reduced lunch would pay $5; nonresidents would owe $15.)
Adult softball teams will see their team rates increase from $375 to $475, and camping rates are going up by $5 per night.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.