Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.
A proposal from Fernandina Beach officials to charge for parking at the city’s beaches has encountered an icy reception. It is a slippery slope.
A majority of commissioners essentially wants to charge visitors to use our beaches. They will accomplish this through a parking fee. It’s a pay-to-play stance.
But will they charge outsiders for driving on our roads (i.e. toll roads) or using our water (i.e. utility fees) or entering our town (i.e. entry fees)? How about breathing our air (though difficult to measure).
In other words, where do you start or stop charging outsiders for coming here. The flipside is to live in a place where nobody visits. Here, we rely on tourists/visitors of all types to invigorate our economy.
Commissioners contend that city residents pay taxes toward beach restoration and cleanup and maintenance. And they do. But these are still public, not private, beaches.
Commissioners say it costs money to clean up or straighten up after the visitors. They feel the guests should pay these costs. It’s funny, but residents do not seem as concerned as the commissioners.
If commissioners are trying to be stewards of our tax dollars, this is noble. But adding 20 to 30 new city employees in the last several years hardly reflects a frugal stance. Neither does a property-tax increase this year.
Bountiful tax receipts are already coming in through a rip-roaring real estate market and subsequently higher property values. So there is no shortage of revenues right now.
In addition, by charging to park, another layer of government is created. Someone must collect the fees, someone must catch those who don’t pay, and someone must enforce the penalties for violators (like mailing citations, for instance).
Then you have human nature. People will go to great lengths to not pay to park. They’ll park where they shouldn’t, like along streets or on residents’ properties. For all the trouble, and the costs, you wonder how much difference it will make for the city.
Already in the county, non-residents must purchase a permit to drive on the beaches. At least that’s what the signs say. It doesn’t really seem to be enforced.
City commissioners have also toyed with paid parking in downtown Fernandina Beach. Again, they feel this will create a revenue stream for the city’s coffers. But like the residents, the business owners have opposed it.
Growth is coming outside of town. Much of it will be closer to I-95. This creates competition for our local merchants. So let’s not create an impediment for people to come here.
Paid parking is an impediment. At or on the beaches, and in downtown. We already charge a bed tax for lodging (which is a brilliant concept). This generates substantial tax revenues. Let’s use this money to keep our beaches looking pristine.
Commissioners have fretted about an impending onslaught from rampant development off the island. And that these new residents will hit our beaches like a wave. Let them. They also pay taxes.
If the city wants to restrict the usage of its beaches, it’s a lousy precedent. On any given day, there are enough police officers on and around our beaches to enforce the existing rules. The system works right now.
So let’s direct our attention elsewhere. The city has again hung the tiny lights in the trees in downtown. The lights had been removed, but are now back. They are downright enchanting.
The city is also installing what look to be large flower pots on each corner on Centre Street. This is a fruitful endeavor. Maybe the music that used to be piped in throughout downtown will be brought back.
We should entice and welcome all visitors here, with open arms and wide smiles. And free parking, in downtown and at the beaches.
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor and a chartered retirement planning counselor for a regional U.S. firm who lives on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His business columns regularly appear in several newspapers in North Florida and on his website SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book of his favorite columns from the last 20 years, “All About Money.” The book is available in local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]