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