Parking meter at the Village

City leaders are considering increasing parking fines at John’s Pass Village and throughout the city. Fines could increase from $25 to $40 for overtime parking and $25 to $50 for parking in a no-parking zone and other improper parking.

MADEIRA BEACH — Illegal parkers at John’s Pass Village and throughout the city could soon face substantially increased fines — double the previous amount in most cases.

As part of a move to bring fees charged in line with administrative costs, city staff is recommending increases in a number of areas, from building permit fees to after-school recreation fees and city marina services.

The fee hikes were presented to the City Commission at its Feb. 25 workshop.

Most significant was the raising of parking fines, which will increase from $25 to $40 for overtime parking, and double, from $25 to $50 for parking in a no-parking zone and other improper parking.

The fines and other fee increases will be on the agenda for approval at next month’s commission meeting. No commission member had any objection to the increases.

Commissioner Deby Weinstein said enforcement, by ticketing the violators, is needed for the fines to deter illegal parkers. In her neighborhood on Pelican Lane behind John’s Pass Village, “There is constant parking abuse,” Weinstein said. Illegally parked vehicles are “blocking traffic, blocking me from getting into my street, and also affecting other residents and visitors.”

Finance Director Walter Pierce said the increase in parking fines “makes the city competitive with other municipalities in the area.”

Change of city attorney appears likely

The city will solicit bids for a city attorney, a move that was unanimously approved by the commission in December when City Attorney Ralf Brookes’ contract was extended.

A draft of the request for proposals (RFP) was presented by City Clerk Clara VanBlargan at the meeting.

Commissioner Doug Andrews has said it is a problem that Brookes works independently, not as part of a firm that includes attorneys with other legal specialties. As a result, the city has had to obtain other specialists individually, Andrews said, and their fees “have cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.”

It has also caused communication problems between the outside attorneys and Brookes, Andrews said.

“We need a law firm that handles all our needs,” said Andrews.

Resident Robert Preston said, “It costs more money to get this guy and that guy. There are firms out there with lawyers in all the areas you need.”

“You’re right,” said Commissioner Nancy Hodges, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Mayor Maggi Black. “That makes sense.”

The finalized RFP form will be on the consent agenda at the March commission meeting.

Safety first at John’s Pass Village

Safety, not beautification, is the city’s top priority for projects at John’s Pass Village, Public Works Director Jamie Ahrens told the commission. That means even minor improvements such as installing new seat benches and replacing beat-up trash cans will have to wait until boardwalk pilings and tripping hazards can be fixed, he said.

“Staff agrees John’s Pass Village does need beautification and it is a focal point of the city. However, people’s safety should be the priority,” Ahrens said.

“If we have money remaining from projects addressing boardwalk piling repairs and some tripping hazards, we can look at revitalizing the Village,” he said. The city has budgeted $31,000 for piling repairs, said the finance director.

Weinstein said she did not want to wait on Village improvements that have been planned for several years.

She said the commission decided previously “to go ahead and begin the functional update” of the Village. Many of the benches are rusted, Weinstein said, and the trash cans are falling apart.

“We always talk about how important John’s Pass Village is in the county, to our visitors and residents and to our businesses, and I don’t want to wait on it. I feel like we really need to go forward with a plan instead of just saying we’ll wait until we do the pilings,” she said. “I think it’s our responsibility as commissioners to get this program started.”

Andrews said he agreed and disagreed with Weinstein’s comments.

This year’s agreement with the John’s Pass Merchants Association on the Seafood Festival sets money aside from the proceeds to pay for the beautification of John’s Pass Village, Andrews pointed out.

“I know that people don’t like it that the benches are corroded. But it is a heck of a lot worse for the boardwalk to fall into the water,” he said.

A commission workshop is needed, Andrews said, “where we can find some money for beautification, but not at the risk of taking money from a project that is mission-critical.”

Commissioner John Douthirt said safety comes first. “The pilings and trip hazards have got to be the priority,” he said.