TREASURE ISLAND — Seventy-five dollars may not be a lot for most city residents to pay for a yearlong beach parking permit, but that doesn't seem to matter to the many who telephoned, emailed and showed up at commissioners' homes to protest the increased fee.
Despite warnings from City Manager Reid Silverboard last week that backing off the fee could endanger beach maintenance funding, a chastened commission now wants to give residents a reprieve.
A majority of the commission favors reducing the fee to $40 for a limited period — possibly until the end of February — and refund $35 to the residents and nonresidents who have already paid the full fee.
The issue was debated at length last week and will be considered again at the commission's Feb. 5 meeting.
Until this year, residents and Treasure Island property owners had to pay only $5 to purchase a yearlong permit that allowed them to park in beach-front lots without having to pay $1.50 an hour at parking meters.
In 2012, about 1,400 passes were sold for $5 each, generating about $6,500 in revenue. The permits were not available to nonresidents, including people working at Treasure Island businesses.
Then in December the city received a notice from the state Department of Environmental Protection warning that if the permits were not made available to the public, the city might lose millions of dollars in beach renourishment funding.
In exchange for those millions of taxpayer dollars spent to rebuild the city's eroding beaches, the state and federal governments require public parking.
"We are putting $3- to $4 million a year (in beach renourishment) in jeopardy if we don't do this right," Commission Alan Bildz said last week in opposition to the proposed reduced fee. "We need the money for beach maintenance."
Silverboard agreed, arguing that the $40 reduced fee, even for a few weeks, is too low — and would result in people "beating at us, yelling at us" when the rate returned to the full $75.
"We need that money. We have so few sources of revenue," Silverboard reiterated last week. "Rather than shrinking our revenue, we ought to be growing it so that we can afford our facilities, our infrastructure."
Concerned that opening the permits to nonresidents could affect the $255,000 in parking meter revenue, Silverboard recommended the higher fee to offset some of that loss.
The commission agreed and last month raised the fee to $75 and made the permits available to all.
By mid January, 117 residents and 37 nonresidents purchased the new permits.
Others, however, howled in protest.
"The staff was yelled at and treated abusively," Silverboard told the commission last week.
Commissioner Carol Coward said she had received "numerous calls" and even had residents coming to her home to complain.
When she explained the reason for the increased fee and asked if it wasn't reasonable to assume they could afford it, most said they could.
According to the 2010 census, the median family income at the time was $64,158, while the per capita income was $34,965.
"Most said it was the principle. I got a lot of emails from friends who economically I know can afford it," Coward said.