City staff to FBCC: We need a decision on paid beach parking.

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 30, 2019 – 8:24 p.m.

Main Beach Parking Lot

City of Fernandina Beach Commissioners (FBCC) devoted part of their annual visioning meeting on January 29, 2019 at the Fernandina Beach Golf Course Club House to the issue of paid beach parking. 

Please note:  No paid beach parking system will be implemented for the upcoming 2019 beach season.

City Manager Dale Martin stressed for the benefit of the attending public and media that any decision regarding implementation of a paid beach parking system for next year would not be made at this time.  Prior to any FBCC decision, which would be made at a Regular or Special Meeting, the city will provide the public with a 30-day notice.  The FBCC will also consider responses to a second citizen survey to be conducted in the spring.  In all probability the FBCC will consider this matter as part of the FY2020 budget formulation over the summer.

Dale Martin discusses paid beach parking at FBCC visioning meeting

The city is considering paid beach parking as a means to bring in revenue that would be dedicated to beach operations and maintenance.  All Florida Atlantic Coast counties have either implemented such systems, or are considering them including Jacksonville beaches and those in St. Johns County.  Paid beach parking is a means to provide the revenue needed to improve and maintain beaches without putting the entire cost burden on property owners.  If additional sources of revenue cannot be used for beaches, local taxes will need to rise to pay for things like dune walkovers, parking lots, restrooms and beach safety.

Martin said that based upon reports that the city has received from experts, a paid parking system would generate a million dollars its first year of operation.  This is equal to approximately one-half mil of ad valorem taxes.

Martin explained that city staff, which has studied the many aspects of implementing such a system over several commission cycles, has done extensive research into other Florida communities’ experience with paid beach parking and costs for hardware, software and enforcement.  He said that previous commissions have put off making a decision, but the time has come to either adopt the system or drop further consideration.  “All the staff work we have invested in this issue is not inexpensive,” Martin said.  He noted that Police Chief James Hurley and Fleet Manager Jeremiah Glisson have notebooks of material that have been put together as each City Commission demands more information prior to making a decision.  

Martin was clear that he and city staff supported the plan.

Under the proposed plan, which the FBCC would formally consider at a future date, an annual pass would cost $100.  However, because city residents already pay property taxes that support city beaches, the city would pay the fee for any city resident requesting such a pass upon proof of residency and vehicle registration.  Kiosks would be placed at key locations enabling beachgoers without annual passes to pay to park for a lesser time period.

The proposed plan would require paid parking at all city beach accesses all year long, between the hours of 8 a.m. – 8.p.m.

Enforcement would be done via license plate reader, not decal.  

Vice Mayor Len Kreger addresses commissioners on paid beach parking.

Commissioners discussed the costs involved for dune walkovers needed at 23 access points.  Vice Mayor Len Kreger reported that costs to repair, replace or build new dune walkovers are high, averaging over $200K each.  Kreger also expressed his concerns over the city’s arrangements for beach renourishment funded primarily by the federal and state governments.  “We have the best deal in the universe [for beach renourishment],” Kreger said, adding that one of the requirements placed on the city for continuing the arrangement is that all beach users be allowed access and be treated equally.  This means that all those who park at the beach must pay if a paid parking system is implemented.  The plan proposed by city staff, in which the city would pay for city residents, would seem to satisfy this requirement.  

Commissioner Chip Ross said that beach costs run into the millions of dollars.  He expressed his belief that it is unfair for city residents to bear all the associated costs.  “We need to make a decision,” Ross said.  “We have a schizophrenic approach to this issue.”

Mayor John Miller reminded commissioners that the city needs to prepare for what will undoubtedly be significant increase in beach visitation resulting from both increased tourism and development off the island.  “Competition for parking spaces is only going to get worse,” he said.

Commissioner Phil Chapman said that the key to selling a paid parking system to the public is a communication/education strategy to provide all the facts in advance of the citizen survey.  The survey, which will contain requests for citizen input on several topics, will be conducted randomly by a national firm and require online input from respondents.

When Commissioner Mike Lednovich suggested that all city residents be surveyed as opposed to a statistical sample, Vice Mayor Kreger demurred citing both costs and the job of the commission to make decisions on behalf of the entire city.  He believed that between the survey results and in person citizen input, commissioners would have sufficient opinion to consider.

Commissioners discussed how much study has already been provided both by outside experts and city staff, who are also experts on the matter.  They appeared to agree that while they might not agree with the experts, there appears little to be gained by commissioning new expert studies of the problem.

At the request of the commissioners, Fernandina Beach Police Chief James Hurley addressed potential enforcement problems associated with a paid beach parking plan.  He said that 3-4 part time employees would be needed to patrol the parking areas with license plate readers.  He also cited the need to find solutions for beach front businesses’ workforce parking.  He said that signage might also be added to residential areas to discourage beachgoers from parking there to avoid paying parking fees.

City staff agreed that there were details that would need to be worked out to accommodate a variety of situation.

At this time, no further discussion of paid beach parking has been scheduled. 

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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14 Responses to City staff to FBCC: We need a decision on paid beach parking.

  1. Robert Warner says:

    Time to do it. We all want to take. None of us want to give to preserve what we have.

  2. Dave Lott says:

    i certainly don’t understand the license plate reader concept in lieu of an inexpensive decal. Guess there will have to be “head in parking only” signs put up since FL only requires license plates on the rear of the vehicle. Readers are expensive and require wireless connectivity in lieu of the simple eyeball. Additionally, the enforcement officers are going to have to visually check the dashboard receipts of those doing daily parking and not having a decal. Seems to be making the process overly complicated.
    Would like to see the complete financials including the revenue assumptions with projections of over $1million the first year. If the TDC plan is adopted to assist heavily in the beach maintenance costs, does this lessen the need for paid beach parking.
    While I do support the concept of having non-citizens share in the costs of enjoying the beaches, this approach seems to be high tech and highly expensive. It would be interesting to see the revenue and expenses from some of the other coastal communities that installed such systems. It will be interesting to see how this progresses.

  3. Kathleen Noe says:

    How is it possible that all beach users have access and are treated equally if the city pays for parking for some and not others. I would expect a legal challenge.

  4. Louis Glauser says:

    The city should generate the needed revenue from sales tax, property tax and/or taxes on hospitality services. The infrastructure to collect these taxes is already in place and requires no additional overhead. A complex parking permit system would make Amelia Island a less desirable location as a vacation destination and negatively impact the tourist industry. If you visited an island and had to get permit for your rental car would you consider that a good experience ? I would much rather just pay the hotel or leasing agent an extra $5.00 per night. Sounds like an Inefficient bigger government plan to me. Employees are expensive, meter reader trucks are expensive. Parking tickets are the worst.

  5. Just so I understand, city residents will be surveyed and then vote on whether to put in paid parking, while those of us who live in the county, a few blocks from access 30 for example, would have to pay to park at our local beach access if CITY residents decide to go that way? Parking in residential areas adjacent to the beach will expand as those who live near by, want to go to the beach, but for whom a $10.00 a day fee (since county residents will not get the ‘resident break’ you’re proposing for the city residents) is more than our budget can bear for us to continue to go for an hour or so to walk the beach. We will have to walk a bit farther – on roads with no sidewalks – to get there.
    The restaurants, businesses, and motels at the southern reach of city beach (Sliders, Surf, Beachside, etc) would have the added expense of monitoring their lots to ensure only customers were parked there – otherwise their lots would fill up with beach goers.
    Outside experts do NOT know how our island functions – they have probably never been here. Jacksonville is a major metropolis, we are not. What works there is not necessarily a good idea here.
    The costs of such a system seem way out of line to cover the relatively few parking spaces involved – especially those not at Mail Beach itself. North beach has what, less than 10 parking spaces? Access 30 has less than 10 as do most of the others. You’re proposing paying someone to monitor these few spaces regularly – several times a day? Not cost effective unless you are charging much more than $10.

  6. Richard Kurpiers says:

    So property owners within the City but who do not have a permanent residence [yet] will be required to pay despite paying city property taxes?

  7. Joe Palmer says:

    It seems unfair that island residents who live outside the city limits by a few yards of the insanely drawn city limits boundaries – such as myself and many others – will be required to buy a pass. In addition to paying the sand tax, I have to pay for city utilities services. To say that I don’t contribute to the city is not accurate. If tag readers can be used to discern those who have addresses inside the city limits, the same could be done to discern those who live on the island but outside the city limits. In a previous column here a few months ago, one commissioner seemed to have lumped those of us who live on the island but outside the city limits as “invaders.”

    • Dave Lott says:

      Joe, for those that are outside the current city limits “by a few yards” can always request to be annexed into the City, Eazy-Peezy. The sand tax is for beach restoration costs, not for ongoing maintenance and operations.

  8. Christine Harmon says:

    I propose our beach is an example of the “Tragedy of the Commons”. I also propose it will be a long time before we agree beach goers need to internalize their costs- and not displace these costs onto others. Thank you, Suanne, for the summary and update.

  9. Vince Cavallo says:

    Joe, I believe you are commenting about the 25% surcharge imposed on city water. See, the City believes it was a good move to buy a private firm, at an inflated price which allegedly was computed on the back of a napkin, and then fund the purchase in part by imposing a surcharge on those on the island who were not in the city because of some liberal interpretation of a law. In effect, the city removed utility billing from the oversight of the PUC by this move. IOW, a private company was able to return income to its owners after paying all operational and fixed expenses yet the City had to stick it to out of city users who came along with the utility when purchased. Actually, the City decided it would go into the water service business with the intent of making money.

    Since the acquisition the rates have steadily increased and some might ask why because a large portion of the fixed costs of the utility is interest on the bonds used to acquire it. The misuse of impact fees settled through the court is also involved in their scheme but not addressed by me here. IMO, the ultimate plan was to extort those non city residents to annex to the City as the utility charge would go away. Perhaps if the state regs did not list a ceiling rate for a surcharge, one of more than 25% would have been imposed. Lastly, note that new developments are now “encouraged” to annex to the city before attaching to the water facility. Nice business when you have a monopoly.

    So, the upshot is I agree with you, those on the island paying a surcharge for water and sewer service have paid their dues as have those who paid the sand tax.

  10. robert riegler says:

    Yet another example of the ever expanding City of Fernandina Beach Gobernment. More programs, more employees, more to manage. It’s called job security folks for gobernment managment. Can’t you see this?

    Simple solution. City AND county residents who live ON ISLAND get a simple rear tag decal that says, whatever,”resident tax payer”, “resident “. A Big red “R” on a reflective circle,etc. They have already paid thru the teeth. The rest of the “beach users” I assume not sleeping on the beach nor in their cars stay in hotel rooms. So an addition to the existing tax structure rate an easy fix. No more $million dollar software systems nor meter readers or yet more additional City Employees. Heaven forbid!!! Yet another “committee” to study the “problem”.

    Every month it seems there is yet more madness coming from ” the planners”. Who is minding the managers? I rememberded a old definition of “managment” but that was in priviate indusrty…..getting people to do their jobs within budget and getting the project done and in on time~~and the employees liking it. More managment and less “pie in the sky” planning scheems seems to be inorder here on Amelia Island.

    The real joke is on us~~~the taxpayers for all this folly.

    • Robert Warner says:

      Not really. This city actually works quite hard to absorb public input and provide responsible solutions to our growing problems involving more people and increased development. Doing nothing is doing something.

  11. Betsie Huben says:

    If the purpose of paid beach parking is to provide for “maintenance” of our beaches and the TDC is willing to step up as described in your article ( why exactly are we looking for paid beach parking? As I understand it, the meeting to present the plan will not take place until 2/19. Would suggest everyone take a pause until then, attend the meeting and then let’s see where we are at. My tax bills in the city and the county went up this year. Paid beach parking is, in reality, yet another tax. If there is a way to cover the costs fairly we do not need another tax.

  12. George Jones says:

    It seems to me that the only person that’s pushing paid beach parking is city manager
    Dale Martin. We could use other ways for revenue to service the beach area etc. Why
    not use part of the bedroom tax or just add another amount to the bedroom tax to cover
    beach expenses. There are other ways too other than paid beach parking.

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