ST. PETE BEACH – Illegal parking fines were not just raised for visitors or tourists, who might grab a space in a residential neighborhood while visiting this beachfront city, but also for residents who might find themselves guilty of a number of motor vehicle infractions.

At their May 22 meeting, city commissioners raised the issue of imposing stiffer fines on tourists who park illegally, in an attempt to curtail visitors from parking on residential streets while visiting the beach. On busy weekends and holidays beachgoers frequently park along neighborhood streets, especially when beach access parking is filled or they want to avoid paying a fee.

In an effort to deter errant parking, commissioners asked staff to raise the fine for parking on neighborhood streets or lots restricted to specific permit parking from $40 to $60.

At the commission’s June 26 meeting, Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said residents, upset with visitors parking on their neighborhood streets, are grumbling that they would like the fines to be even higher.

Pletcher added some who illegally park on residential streets are merely opting to take the ticket and pay the fine, rather than search for a space or park in beach access areas.

Mayor Al Johnson said many residents who live by the beach cannot find parking near their own homes, when they return from running errands.

Commissioner Rick Falkenstein, who also supported the fine increase, cautioned if the fines are too high some people might take the city to court.

City Manager Wayne Saunders said staff researched fines imposed by other cities and St. Pete Beach’s revised cost “is in line with other cities.”

City Attorney Andrew Dickman said the city has the right to impose parking regulations and fines “as long as it is not an arbitrary way of raising money. The fines must be imposed to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare.” There isn’t a cap when it comes to imposing fines, he added.

In what may be a surprise to locals, during the regular June 26 commission meeting on first reading, commissioners also approved raising fines for an entire host of infractions that can also affect residents.

Under the new fine schedule any motorist who double parks a vehicle can receive a $60 fine rather than $40. Anyone who leaves their motor running with the car unattended can receive a $50 fine rather than a $30 ticket. Someone who leaves their vehicle with keys still in the ignition faces a $50 fine rather than $30.

The cost of improper parking will go up from $30 to $50, while the fine for parking in a ‘no parking zone’ will rise from $30 to $50. The fine for parking overtime in a designated time area has been raised from $30 to $50. Under a parking regulation marked “other” a motorist can be fined $50 rather than $30.

The revised parking fine schedule is scheduled for a final reading at the July 10 City Commission meeting.

Meanwhile the City Commission voted, on final reading, to raise parking meter rates at beach access areas from $2.25 to $2.75, with a suggestion that a $3 parking fee might be imposed before the next tourist season starts in September.

The city decided to leave parking meter rates for the few remaining coin operated parking meters at $2 per hour, because they are being eliminated and there is no way to retrofit them.

Commissioners directed staff that the additional $500,000, which is believed to be raised by the increased parking meter charge, should go toward landscape beautification.

Commissioner Falkenstein said beautification of medians will be a nice way to give something back to residents that won’t be taxed.

Commissioner Ward Friszolowski said he would like to see if some of that income could also be used to pay down the debt, or to reduce the cost of some big ticket items like Pass-A-Grille infrastructure improvements.

Commissioner Pletcher said many residents would like to see the money used to beautify very unattractive intersections that need to be enhanced. While Commissioner Falkenstein noted all the money doesn’t have to go toward beautification.

Commissioners will decide how to allocate those funds during budget hearings this summer.