MADEIRA BEACH – Citing an improvement in the red tide conditions that caused tourism in the city to plummet, the City Commission voted at its Oct. 15 meeting to rescind an ordinance that waived the $2.50 an hour parking fee normally charged in city-owned lots.
The action ended free parking for visitors to the city, as of Oct. 16. City residents park free, as they always have.
City Manager Jonathan Evans said conditions had improved enough to restart the parking fee. He also said city officials have been working diligently with the county to remove dead fish from the beaches, and were staying in close contact with the county and the health department to monitor beach and water conditions.
Finance Director Walter Pierce estimated the city lost about $100,000 in revenue with the suspension of the parking fee, based on a comparison with prior years and taking into account the drop in visitors kept away by the red tide.
Commissioner Deby Weinstein said income from the parking fee was “a very important” revenue source for the city, and “the waiver needs to go away right now.”
The suspension of the parking charge had been an effort to bolster tourism by giving visitors an incentive, free parking, to continue coming to attractions like John’s Pass Village.
Some questioned how well it worked.
Resident Robert Preston said the city-owned lots “are not being used,” despite the free parking draw.
“You’ve not lost very much money (due to the fee waiver),” Preston said.
Lauree Tyner, manager of the Snack Shack at Archibald Park, said the city lots “have been so, so empty every single day.”
Evans said the parking fee could again be waived if red tide conditions return and threaten tourism.
Parking revenue up for year, city’s dependence on fees questioned
Pierce said parking revenue for the current fiscal year increased 3.2 percent. Income from the parking machines, helped by a 50-cent increase in the parking fee to $2.50 an hour, continues to rise, and now totals almost $2.1 million a year. Parking revenue now approaches the ad property tax as a primary income source for the city.
But Evans said the increases in parking revenue are a mixed blessing. The city is relying too much on parking fees as an income source, as the red tide experience showed, he said.
“It is important that we diversify our revenue stream, so we’re not so dependent on parking,” Evans said.
The issue has come up during the budgeting process, he said.
“If we do have an environmental issue for a significant amount of time, it does have a significant effect on our ability to fund government, as we’re very reliant on (the parking) revenue stream,” Evans said.
“If we have a situation like (the hurricane in) the Panhandle, it’s going to be very, very difficult to plug a $2 million hole,” he said.
“Diversifying our revenue stream is important,” Evans said. “We’ve become very much dependent on parking fees to run our business.”