NEW PORT RICHEY — Controversial parking fees at 11 county parks came up again at Tuesday's County Commission meeting, drawing angry residents and causing two commissioners to raise their voices at each other.
Last year, Pasco deputies cited nearly a dozen residents who didn't pay the $2 parking fee. But Commissioner Jack Mariano, whose district includes the popular Hudson Beach, called the system "voluntary" and said the county couldn't legally hand out tickets.
So commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday to amend the county parking ordinance and allow deputies to issue $20 tickets. Mariano was the lone vote against the move.
The fees have been contentious since commissioners adopted them in September to raise revenue. That animosity spilled into Tuesday's meeting as Commissioner Pat Mulieri got into a heated argument with Mariano.
"The reason there's the heartache out there about these fees is because they were supposed to be where people weren't forced to pay," Mariano said.
"We've listened to you long enough," Mulieri said, cutting him off. "I'm tired of listening to you, bottom line."
Mariano responded: "Listen to the people."
Mulieri said the county had to either raise taxes or create user fees to close a $800,000 shortfall in the parks budget. Otherwise, she said, the county would have to close some parks.
"Do you think that we would try to make up the $800,000 by saying to people, 'Aw, you know what, could you give us a couple bucks?' " she said.
The proposal again brought several angry residents from the Hudson area, including from Julia Stevens, who bought a $60 yearly parking pass last fall. She asked officials to credit her for the months they were working out enforcement procedures and said many residents were confused.
"You didn't know how to enact an ordinance properly," she said.
During later discussion, commissioners extended an olive branch: They voted not to enforce the parking fee after 5 p.m. at Strickland Memorial Park, better known as Hudson Beach. Mariano argued restaurants near the park would be hurt by a drop in business during dinnertime.
"I think you'll make a lot of people happy," he said.
Lee Logan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.