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Hernando rightly reconsiders ban on enforcing new park fees

Kudos to Hernando commissioners who are poised to do an about-face on last week's illogical decision banning enforcement of the new parking fees at county parks.

After a week of near universal criticism, commissioners said they will revisit the issue Jan. 11. The flexibility is wise and comes at the urging of Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who had supported the ordinance setting $40 citations for people parking illegally at the county parks, where daily charges range from $1 to $5.

"Let us give it a chance for a year,'' said Stabins. "What we're doing right now makes us all look terrible.''

In May, a previous commission — minus recently elected Wayne Dukes — approved the fees and authorized the purchase of parking meters, the installation of which coincided with the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year. However, last week, the commission voted 3-2 to defeat an ordinance that would have allowed deputies, code enforcement officers or park workers to issue citations to vehicles without valid parking permits.

Stabins and other commissioners acknowledged that the vote raised the ire of park patrons who already had bought annual passes, and Stabins suggested the possibility of the board being forced to consider reimbursements.

Instead, Dukes agreed to a reconsideration after meeting with the Hernando sheriff's office and asking it to review the ordinance and to send deputies to parks for occasional spot checks of the parking lots.

He was joined by Commissioner Jim Adkins, who said he could support the idea if it had a trial period of perhaps six months. Adkins also advocated for an annual permit at the Rotary Centennial Dog Park, something the board already approved and has been available to the public since Nov. 1. Only Chairman John Druzbick affirmed his opposition, saying he couldn't support new fees until the county had exhausted its quest for greater cost savings elsewhere.

Regardless, the parking rules at county boat launches and at Rogers, Pine Island and Rotary Centennial Dog parks need to be enforced. The park meters, boat ramp pay stations, annual permit sales and athletic field rentals were projected to generate $678,000 to help stave off deeper cuts in the parks and recreation department budget.

Expecting the public to voluntarily feed the meters with no threat of penalty was a ridiculous notion. As proposed, chasing illegal parking will not fatten the county budget. Staff estimated income at roughly $2,500, or the equivalent of fewer than 65 citations annually.

Commissioners are smart to reconsider. Punishing law-abiding park patrons to curry favor with just more than one scofflaw a week indeed does make the board look terrible.

Hernando rightly reconsiders ban on enforcing new park fees 12/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 7:45pm]
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