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Pasco County's $2 park parking fee is a bargain

A pay station at Robert J. Strickland Memorial Park at Hudson Beach tells visitors to deposit $2 per vehicle. Commissioners agreed to start enforcing the $2 parking fee at county parks, but officials say the enforcement won’t be heavy-handed. First-time offenders may receive a warning.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times (2010)

A pay station at Robert J. Strickland Memorial Park at Hudson Beach tells visitors to deposit $2 per vehicle. Commissioners agreed to start enforcing the $2 parking fee at county parks, but officials say the enforcement won’t be heavy-handed. First-time offenders may receive a warning.

Pasco County officially can begin enforcing its $2 daily parking fee at 11 parks, part of a series of surcharges intended to help balance the parks and recreation budget. Last week, by a 4-1 vote, commissioners amended the county parking ordinance to add violations at its parks. Though pay stations have been in place since last fall, the new ordinance becomes effective today. Deputies now can write tickets to non-paying park patrons and county staffers are expected to do likewise after appropriate training.

To his credit, Commissioner Henry Wilson, who objected to the fees previously, agreed with the majority in approving the ordinance.

''I still do not agree with having the fees, but the board approved them and we need to enforce them,'' Wilson said in an e-mail.

That left a petulant and pandering Commissioner Jack Mariano as the lone holdout. Mariano advocated a higher countywide property tax rather than a user fee for beachgoers and park patrons.

It is a contradictory position. Last year, Mariano balked at a special taxing unit for law enforcement when he realized it would mean a property tax rate increase for most of the county. His late support for a property tax increase for parks is an attempt to appease Hudson Beach business owners who fear lost customers.

The $2 daily fee is a bargain compared to rates charged at other area beaches, including in less affluent Hernando County to the north. At one-tenth the cost of a violation, it also is a wiser investment.

Here's welcome news: The county said it doesn't intend heavy-handed enforcement. Rather, the county will concentrate initially on warnings and informing the public why new funding is needed. Repeat warnings to the same motorists will result in citations.

Separately, however, park patrons who leave their vehicles in parking lots intended for boat trailers will face citations. The daily cost to park boat trailers is $5 and there is little room for discretionary enforcement. Those trailer lots are financed in part with a state surcharge on boat registrations.

That became an issue in Hudson last weekend when boaters complained about beach patrons monopolizing the trailer parking. The county intends to keep a portion of those lots available for late-in-the-day parkgoers and commissioners are expected to forgive the tickets issued by deputies after 5 p.m., the cutoff time for daily enforcement

The parking and boat launch fees are necessary by-products of attempting to maintain government services amid shrinking revenue from falling property values. It certainly beats the alternatives contained within the parks department budget: shorter operating hours at recreation centers, reduced maintenance and drained county swimming pools.

Charging for parking also allows the county to capture revenue from tourists and out-of-county visitors. For those reluctant to part with $2 every trip, annual park passes also are available for $60. The county also won't require paid parking after 5 p.m.

It's an important concession. It means an end-of-the-day trip to watch the sunset is still free.

Pasco County's $2 park parking fee is a bargain 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 8:43pm]

    

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