Pasco County correctly is stepping up enforcement of its $2 daily parking fee at 11 county parks not because its hungry for more cash, but to curb the great potential for abuse.
As Times staff writer Lee Logan reported, county staffers now have the authority to write parking citations, relieving deputies from the low-priority chore of policing parking lots.
Without proper enforcement - and county staffers acknowledge their personnel will only make spot checks, not regularly scheduled patrols - the public temptation to skip the $2 fee is unfair to those obeying the rules and to the regular park patrons who paid $60 for their annual passes.
The county adopted the parking fee in fall 2010 as a way to help offset a parks department budget whacked by $2 million, or more than a third of its total, and the loss of 46 positions over the past four years. The fees, however, only brought in half of the projected $650,000 over the first year. Park volunteers told of frequent scofflaws and Parks Director Rick Buckman admitted plenty of public questions about the lack of uniform enforcement.
That should now change with parks employees trained as parking enforcers working under Pasco Sheriff's Office authority, much the way citizen patrols issue tickets to cars parked illegally in handicapped spaces.
The chagrin from scofflaws and the grumbling from those paying under protest should be tempered, however, by a fact they don't like to acknowledge - Pasco's parks remain a bargain. Pinellas County now charges $5 daily to park at nearby Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin charges $8 per vehicle and Hernando County's Pine Island Park charges $5 daily from Feb. 15 through mid-November ($2 the other three months of the year) and an annual pass there costs $75. Even the charge to park at the Suncoast Bike trail is cheaper in Pasco ($2) than Hernando ($3).
Maintaining valuable public assets like parks and libraries becomes more difficult each year for local governments in the wake of sliding real estate values, spending limits and property tax exemptions. A modest fee is a prudent way to pass on some of those expenses to the people using the service.
Issuing parking tickets isn't politically popular, but its a prerequisite to preserving Pasco's acclaimed park system.