PHOTOS/POLL: Collier County considering upping beach parking rates

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— Collier County has included an option to increase the price of county beach parking passes in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2010.

Collier County residents receive the pass free now but would pay an annual fee of $75 if the county approves the proposal.

Non-residents currently pay $50 for the annual pass that would increase to $75.

“The price was chosen because county officials felt that the beach permit and boat permit were on the same playing field and the boat permit is currently $75 so that’s how we chose the amount,” said Camden Smith, public information coordinator for Collier County.

Some residents said they felt that it was unfair to charge so much for something that used to be free.

“The beach is supposed to be one of the few free things left to do here,” said Naples resident Natalie Petrarca. “If they need the extra money, they should just raise a fee that we are already paying instead of creating a whole new one.”

“I’ve been here since 1972 when there weren’t even any meters you had to pay,” said Joyce Forsyth, of Naples. “Now they want to charge all of us for parking no matter what. That’s just stupid.”

Other residents said they felt that the fee should be divided differently for residents and non-residents.

“If they are using the money for beach maintenance then I think it’s justified,” said Naples resident Paul Shaughnessy. “But I don’t think residents should be paying the same as people who don’t even live here. “Maybe charge the resident $25 and everyone else the full $75.”

The beach permit fee could be approved despite the 15 percent budget reduction proposal where the permit option appears, according to Collier County officials.

The fee is expected to bring in about $1 million per year to fill a shortage in the beach maintenance fund.

During the 2008 fiscal year, nearly 40,000 people bought the annual boat launch permits and Collier officials said this number is representative of the number of parking permits sold if the fee is approved.

Smith said the resident permits are free now because they are paid for out of property taxes but, as the real-estate market declines, so does money for beach maintenance.

“Staff recommends that everyone pay to park. The beach and water operation should be a self-sustaining one that is reliant on user fees,” according to the proposed budget.

Smith said there are several programs in the county that are self-maintained but the beaches are not one of them.

“When you have this type of downturn in the economy we have to decide what to keep and not and the staff came to conclusion that this fee was reasonable,” Smith said.

The recommendation also includes a proposal to increase to the daily boat launch fees from $5 to $8 per day.

Naples City Manager Bill Moss said there has been no talk of increasing the beach parking fees in the city of Naples.

“To my knowledge there has been (no discussion) of charging residents for stickers,” Moss said Tuesday.

Naples Mayor Bill Barnett also said he “hadn’t heard anything” about charging residents for stickers.

Patti Hudziak and her family are vacationing in Southwest Florida this week and said they did not even consider buying a beach parking pass.

“We are just parked in the garage today,” Hudziak said. “It would not be worth spending the $50 to buy the parking pass since we are only visiting for the week.”

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