Pinellas Commissioners mull $8 fee for Fort De Soto
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05/11/10 Kate Bradshaw
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It may be one of the best escapes from urban life Tampa Bay has to offer, but Fort De Soto Park can’t escape the ravages of the “Great Recession.”Today, the Pinellas County Commission considered adopting an entry fee at the popular beach destination.

Tonia Reed lives in Tampa. She works ten days out of the month. When she’s not on the clock, she’s here fishing.

Right now, driving to Fort De Soto costs most people 85 cents in fees – 50 cents to access the Pinellas Bay Way, and another 35 cents to cross the bridge that leads to the park. That money goes to the state. Fort De Soto is a county park, and, as the county looks for new sources of revenue, it considered imposing an eight-dollar entry fee for all vehicles. Reed said that if the county adopts it, she’ll consider taking her bait and tackle elsewhere.

It’s not the first time the county has tried to charge an entry fee at the park. Last year, it jettisoned a proposed five dollar entry fee. Bill Ball of Pinellas said he and his wife were griping about the fee on the drive down. But he said he’d be willing to pay an annual fee if that money went back into the park system.

Some environmentalists are applauding the proposed fee. They say the fee would help keep the park adequately staffed and well maintained. But Ross, who is visiting from Michigan, said it’s no use if no one’s willing to pay the fee.

An anonymous concessions employee at the park said he was concerned that a fee would cause attendance to dip.

When the Pinellas County Commission took up the discussion this afternoon, they agreed on one thing, which Commissioner Ken Welch brought up.

Commissioner John Morroni agreed that eight dollars was too high, but said the public showed substantial support of park fees during a series of hearings.

Well, okay, said Commissioner Nancy Bostock, but how will the necessity of enforcement affect what’s in the coffers?

County Administrator Bob La Sala said that even with the fees, the proposed county budget still requires regular closures for all county parks.

Commissioner Calvin Harris reminded his colleagues that there are some people who rely on free park access. He suggested a hardship fee waiver.

Commissioner Neil Brickfield said he’s not a fan of fees, either. However, he said, if it must be done, why not charge a dollar per person, given the fact that nearly three million people visit the park per year? He added that the county needs to make sure it goes back into the parks.

After about an hour of discussion, the commission settled on a lower number. They opted for a $5 fee for Fort De Soto, and a $3 fee that would apply to all other county parks, Including Heritage Village, Brooker Creek Preserve and Weedon Island Preserve. They are still hammering out details such as whether to charge pedestrians, how to determine economic hardship, and the adoption of a $75 annual pass.

More WMNF coverage of fees and tolls:

Public opposition kills Bayway toll increase

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