July 13, 2018 12:00 a.m.
One of the City Commission’s adopted goals for this year is the creation of a Beach Committee (by May 25, or Memorial Day weekend). Serving as the Chair of this Committee, I asked several staff members to nominate members to serve on the Committee.
I asked Police Chief James Hurley to appoint a representative of the newly-formed Beach Ranger Division (Walter Sturges was selected); Deputy Fire Chief Fino Murallo to appoint a representative from the Ocean Rescue Division (Haynes Cavender); Facilities Director Jeremiah Glisson to appoint a representative with an environmental perspective (Vice Mayor Len Kreger); and Maintenance Director Rex Lester to appoint an at-large representative (Lowell Hall).
The initial specific tasks charged to the Beach Committee included the refinement of the Beach Ranger Division, a review of the parking capacity directly associated with the beach, a recommendation to the City Commission regarding paid parking at the beach, a review of the recently enacted amendments to several beach-related ordinances. Given recent (and growing) concerns regarding beach trash, the Committee has added that issue for consideration.
The Beach Ranger Division (the development of which is another City Commission goal) was actually first deployed in early May, prior to the organization of the Beach Committee. This unit, staffed by trained professionals and trained volunteers, provides education and enforcement on the beaches. Previously, education and enforcement activities fell upon the members of the Ocean Rescue Division, detracting from the Division’s principal purpose. Beach Rangers have now assumed a key role in education and the leading role in enforcement. The Beach Ranger program will continue to grow in both presence and responsibility.
The task of examining parking capacity was somewhat simple, as a previous inventories had been completed, so recent changes/expansions had to be incorporated. Vice Mayor Kreger, through his previous involvement with beach renourishment activities, was a key source of information regarding beach parking capacity.
The City has nearly 900 public parking spaces that are directly associated to the beaches. In accordance with the terms of the Nassau County Shore Protection Program (beach renourishment), a minimum of 750 parking spaces must be provided, so the City exceeds that requirement. Most of these parking spaces are located across sixteen paved parking facilities in the City.
The most challenging charge to the Beach Committee is the consideration of paid parking. The primary rationale for paid beach parking is simple: generate revenue. With the increasing use of the beaches, especially by non-City residents, the costs associated with maintaining, improving, and protecting the beaches is increasing. Ocean Rescue and Beach Ranger personnel, trash collection, beach walkover and accessibility maintenance, parking facility maintenance, lighting, and signage all cost money. The related question is how are the funds for those programs, personnel, and services best provided?
Under consideration is the concept of paid parking at the beach. The revenues generated from paid parking fees (and violations related to noncompliance) can be restricted for the funding of the beach components delineated above. All of those components cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The City currently funds those components through property tax revenues in the General Fund, but as the need for other programs and services also grows, the pressure builds on what to fund and what not to fund- do I propose funding necessary repairs to park equipment or do I fund expanded Ocean Rescue or Beach Ranger personnel?
Paid beach parking can possibly relieve the pressure on the General Fund and offer a viable funding alternative. The developing discussion regarding paid beach parking is to consider a phased implementation, beginning first with the primary parking facilities: North Beach, Main Beach, and Seaside Park (including on-beach parking). This would leave the smaller beach access parking facilities free of charge (although the paid parking could later be expanded to those facilities).
Parking fees would be uniform for all users: City, County, and visitors. A critical feature of this aspect is that all of the beach costs described above will be funded from the parking revenues, not General Fund (property tax) revenues, allowing, in all likelihood, for a small reduction in property taxes. The burden of providing funding for the beach components, therefore, will fall upon the users of the beach, not the general City population and taxpayers.
The Beach Committee is charged with making a recommendation to the City Commission regarding beach parking by October 31. Until then, discussions will continue, costs will be examined, and other challenges identified. Much more work needs to be completed before making a recommendation and determining how to proceed.