Parking fees are some of the largest and most reliable revenue sources for the cities along Pinellas County’s beaches. Unfortunately, much of that revenue vanished in March and April when the county closed the beaches in an effort to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Now, some of those cities are looking at making up some ground and covering new expenses brought on by the pandemic by temporarily increasing hourly rates.
St. Pete Beach was the first to make the move, raising its fees from $2.75 to $3.25 an hour. Officials said the hike would help pay for additional expenses created by enhanced cleaning and sanitation efforts in the public bathrooms and beach area.
Treasure Island is considering an increase as well after taking a big financial hit in April when the city only collected about $3,400 in fees, compared with $102,400 the same time last year.
“The cost associated with keeping the restrooms clean, keeping the beaches clean … in this particular environment has increased our costs fairly significantly,” City Manager Garry Brumback told city commissioners May 5.
Therefore, Brumback has proposed temporarily increasing the rate from $2.50 to $2.75, keeping the city in line with St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach, which charges $3. The $2.75 rate for the rest of fiscal year 2020 would generate an additional $30,000.
Commissioners were expected to make a decision on the increase at their May 19 meeting, but the majority of them were supportive of the idea May 5.
Commissioner Tyler Payne was not one of them.
“I don't believe now is the time to increase our fees for residents and guests struggling financially during the COVID-19 crisis,” Payne wrote on his Facebook page after the meeting. “We can also attract more people to visit Treasure Island by keeping our rates less expensive than neighboring beaches.”
He’s not the only one who feels that way.
Madeira Beach City Manager Robert Daniels got a cool response from city commissioners May 12 after also suggesting the city raise its rates from $2.50 to $3 an hour until Sept. 30.
He suggested, however, that it would just be along the beaches but not at John’s Pass Village so that it wouldn’t hinder the merchants there.
According to Daniels, the move would generate about $160,000 in revenue.
Commissioners, however, said the money wasn’t worth the damage it could do to small businesses if the hike turned people away.
“We can’t keep milking the parking cow,” Doug Andrews said. “We can’t keep doing it. It’s not a sustainable business model. We need to come up with new revenue sources.”
In an email to commissioners, Madeira Beach resident Jeri Davis voiced similar concerns.
“If the city chooses to raise the parking fees, it will not only discourage people from coming here but will also make our city look as though it’s taking advantage of an already bad situation,” she wrote.
“As a city, you have control over making choices which will impact and affect the success of local businesses. Increasing parking fees is the first way to immediately do more harm than good.”
Commissioners agreed and said they would prefer to see alternatives to raising parking rates.
“We can’t keep running this city on the backs of these parking meters and it leads again to generating new revenue streams,” Mayor John Hendricks said.
In other beach news
Don’t expect to see a Fourth of July fireworks show in Madeira Beach this year.
Daniels said he was in discussion with a vendor but the uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic meant he wanted the commission’s input before moving forward.
Hendricks said the mass gathering limitations combined with budget restrictions meant he was leaning toward canceling the show.
“It’s my feeling that we forgo the Fourth of July fireworks this year,” he said. “And I hate to do it, but it’s money that the city doesn’t have.”
Helen Price said she didn’t know how the city could hold an event that draws thousands of people when mass-gathering restrictions would still likely be in place.
Commissioners agreed to discuss it at the next workshop, but the public shouldn’t get its hopes up.
“It’s probably not going to happen this year,” Hendricks said.