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Do we want to pay to play?
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It seems that all too often changes are implemented without the public getting involved in discussions at an early enough stage when it can make a difference.

Take, for example, our county parks. We are charging to use them, more plans are in the works, and most of us are still in the dark.

It started with a $5 boat ramp fee, implemented this month. At first glance, this fee seems to be the typical way to raise some easy money – hit up the boating community. It’s hard to complain about that. Everyone knows if you have a boat, you’re rich. And calling it a “user’s fee” almost forbids opposition – because it’s only fair that the users pay for the maintenance, right?

Sounds good if it’s a boat fee, and you’re not a boater.

The charge was announced to the county ramp users the end of June, they expressed some surprise, shrugged their shoulders and started paying up July 5.

But it isn’t going to stop at that.

The county administrator has said that, eventually, lots of changes will be coming to our county parks. You might like some of them. You might not. Things like concessions: good or bad? Things like amphitheaters – opinions will vary.

One thing’s for sure. These things will need to be paid for.

And that’s another thing the county administrator has said. The parks system should be “self-sustaining.” That always sounds good, too. The idea that anything ought to pay for itself makes sense, right? Of course, our county parks do get paid for. The taxpayers who are free to use the parks pay for the parks – and for the most part, are happy to do so. From what I hear, they are also very happy with the way the county keeps the parks looking so beautiful.

But that’s not what we’re talking about, of course. Now we’re talking about “charges.” Things like boat ramps. What else? Parking ... admission to Heritage Village and Botanical Gardens ... they’re talking about a community center in Lake Seminole Park, not to mention a boathouse cafe (which restaurateur gets that pot of gold?).

How will this be “self-sustaining?”

May I suggest a coin toss in front of the swing set? A penny jar to feed the ducks? A $1 charge to take a walk - 50 cents more if you wear heels (hard on the mulch).

Don’t we have enough restaurants and concessions and mini-theaters and concerts everywhere else in this county, including city parks? What ever happened to the lure of good old-fashioned green grass and natural shade?

The root to this discussion leads back to one sultry day when Steve Spratt needed a drink at Sand Key Park. I remember doing that one day, too. It’s a long walk, and when it’s hot, you get thirsty. When I left Sand Key Park on my hot visit, I made a mental note to never leave the house without a bottle of water. Mr. Spratt, being the county administrator, made a mental note to never let another park under his jurisdiction be without a concession stand ...

... and to never leave his house without a couple of bucks in his pocket.

Some people might really like the ideas being sprouted about our public parks. But we ought to know before it happens. We ought to know the cost and how it will be passed on to us and our visitors, and we ought to have input. Consultants are holding meetings now about Lake Seminole Park,

Of the 25 people in attendance at a recent meeting, most said they like their park the way it is.

It only costs a penny for your thoughts at this point.
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