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County rejects fees at new boat ramps

The new Fort Island Trail Park boat ramps are scheduled to open July 3, but the gatehouse there will remain empty.

The gatehouse had been built to collect fees from people who wanted to launch their boats. Tuesday, however, the County Commission rejected _ for now _ a staff proposal to charge a fee and told Parks and Recreation Director Karen Barnett to fire six temporary workers who had been hired to collect the money and prevent vandalism.

The board's vote came after a lengthy, philosophical discussion about what would be accomplished by charging a fee, the desirability of collecting a user fee on ramps built with tax money, and concern that a charge would limit use of the facilities.

The staff had proposed a $5 parking fee for vehicles with trailers, $3 for vehicles without trailers and $25 for a six-month pass. Most county-owned boat ramps are free; at Chassahowitzka campgrounds, the fee is $2.

Commission Chairman Gary Bartell said the proposed fees for Fort Island Trail Park were "a little bit exorbitant" and questioned whether it was worthwhile to charge if only enough money to pay the fee collectors would be raised.

Barnett, however, said enough might be raised to defray some park maintenance costs. She said the rates had been proposed at that level so the county would not be undercutting private boat ramps.

"We might be able to generate substantial revenues," she said. "We won't know until we let this trial balloon go off."

Commissioner Frank Schiraldi, who is in the fishing guide business, objected to the idea that only boaters would be required to pay park maintenance costs.

Schiraldi also said he thought one of the goals of the new ramps was to encourage boaters to launch down the Crystal River, away from congested Kings Bay. If people have to pay, he said, they may not bother traveling to the new park, which is about 4 miles from the gulf.

At Bartell's suggestion, the board voted to open the new ramps July 3 but not charge a fee for at least two months. Meanwhile, county staff will monitor ramp use to estimate revenues if a fee were imposed.

Before Bartell's motion was approved, Commissioner Chet White Sr. proposed that the six temporary employees be kept on but that no fees be charged. Other commissioners said they saw no need for the workers if they were not to collect the fees.

In other business Tuesday, the commission:

Agreed to hire D.


B. Constructors to resurface 21 miles of roadway for $744,444.

Heard a presentation on the general fund portion of the five-year capital improvements program.

The board tentatively agreed to budget $3.5-million next year to construct an office building in Lecanto; $160,000 to buy land and design a community park in the Inverness Highlands; $110,000 to build a softball field at Bicentennial Park; $50,000 to construct amenities at a park in Beverly Hills; $165,000 to buy new public transit buses; $285,000 for courthouse restoration; and $100,000 to buy land for a new boat ramp in Homosassa.

Most of the money for next year's general fund projects will come from grants, impact fees and a loan that will be repaid with impact fees.

Commissioners said they want to hold a workshop next month to study the proposed expenditures on parks.

Approved a resolution supporting Floral City's efforts to be approved as recognized historic district by the National Register of Historic Places.