Trailering Magazine Archives - Trailering Maintenance
The Taxing Issue of the User Fee
How much is too much?
Pete Borowski has been boating in and around Pinellas County, Florida for the past 30 years. He isn't alone. There are more than 55,000 boaters registered in this Gulf Coast part of the state (Clearwater, Largo and St Petersburg are three Pinellas County cities). But when a $5 charge was placed on anyone parking their trailer at a boat ramp in the eight county parks last July, it was something Borowski, a financial planner, wasn't planning on. He launches his 22-ft Proline at Fort DeSoto Park near his home.
"It's an issue of fairness," says Borowski. "Boaters pay taxes for fuel, boaters pay taxes when they register with the state, the park is built with state money which comes from our taxes and we even pay double the toll a car pays to use the road into the park because we pull a boat and trailer. Now, after paying all of that, boaters have to pay to launch at the ramp."
Incensed at the newly-created fee which was approved by the Pinellas County Commissioners more than a year ago, Borowski started writing letters to the local newspapers, boating magazines, state senators as well as local officials. In his letter, the following points were made:
If there ever was a time for Boat Ramp Fee rebates....
*As a Trailering Club Member, the money you've spent to launch your boat can be put to work to improve and update your boat. Here's how:
When your ramp receipts total $8, combine them with a ramp rebate coupon (sent to you every year with your Membership package). You will have five rebate coupons that are worth a total of $40 (5 coupons @ $8 rebate per coupon when combined with $8 of receipts=$40). Bring the coupon/receipts to any BoatU.S. Marine Center or West Marine Store, buy $35 worth of merchandise and receive $8 off each purchase of $35! (if you buy $70 worth of merchandise, use two coupons with 416 worth of receipts and you'll receive a rebate of $16 off the purchase price).
Ramp Rebate Coupons can be used when buying in a BoatU.S. or West Marine catalog (or online) too. You will be billed for the full amount but when you send in the rebate coupons and receipts, your credit card will be credited for the rebate amount. Send coupons/receipts to:
3665 East Bay Drive
Largo, Florida 33771
"These parks are open to anyone. Others that come to sun bathe or wade fish or fish from one of the two provided fishing piers, bird watch, drive the area, visit the actual fort (De Soto Park is the site of a fort built in 1892 at the beginning of the Spanish-American War. No battles were ever waged here, however), People cn use the grounds for cook outs, use the provided shelters and are not charged a fee for any of their activities. But boaters are singled out."
"We're not charging for those amenities," says Pinellas Parks Department Operations Manager Lyle Fowler, "because a park should be available to everyone. But we do have user fees for anyone coming in with a camper who wants to stay overnight and we charge for parking of boat trailers and we charge if you want to park your car to use the beach. We've never discussed having a general park entrance fee but boaters-like campers-- are a select segment of the population that use the county facilities."
Fort DeSoto's boat ramp has just undergone a $1.7 million renovation (it is 800 feet wide with 11 floating docks) funded through the county's "Penny for Pinellas" program which was approved in 1989 as a way to pay for capital projects without raising the property tax. Under the successful program, one penny is added to the local sales tax which has funded not only the De Soto boat ramp, but portions of the county jail and government building. The newly-created boat ramp parking fees are expected to be returned to the county parks department for maintenance although a number of boaters, including Pete Borowski, aren't buying it.
"I've heard the quote about putting money back into the ramps and the park and all of that," he says, "but I'm smart enough to know that's not going to happen. It's all one more way of dipping into the boaters' pocket again." Borowski says the trailer parking fees will go into the county's general fund, never to be seen again.
As of now, the fees being collected at Pinellas County boat ramps are on the honor system. A boater will take an envelope upon entering one of the eight parking areas for boat trailers, place $5 inside, put the envelope in a box while tearing off a receipt and displaying it on their tow vehicle, With 100% compliance, Pinellas County has projected as much as $850,000 to be generated. So far, those projections have fallen short...way short. Revenues that are generated from tolls collected on the road to the De Soto Park entrance are designated as state, not county, money.
"We don't monitor the parking situation every day but I do know we have about a 50% compliance rate," says the park department's Lyle Fowler. "We've been extremely lenient but the honeymoon is quickly coming to a close. I foresee stricter enforcement which will include more frequent inspections of stickers on vehicles, towing of vehicles that haven't paid the fee and, if necessary, hiring a parking attendant."
Borowski remains undeterred in his effort to find an "equitable" method of using-and paying for-park amenities. And he admits the added cost is not going to force him away from a love of fishing. Still, his letter sends a warning to boaters not only in Florida, but across the country. If it can happen here, it can happen everywhere. "If Pinellas County gets away with this, every other county in Florida will place this item on their fund-raising agenda," he says.
re not uncommon. This has already been put in place by the National Park Service and in a number of state parks around the country. Today there is a lot of pressure put on park departments in the United States to develop ways of generating revenue while remaining accessible to as many people as possible with well kept and maintained amenities. And it's becoming increasingly difficult to do from year to year. We have already begun imposing "Special Event Fees" for the use of our parks during company picnics or festivals."
Pinellas County Boat Ramps
A.L. Anderson Park, 39699 U.S. 19 N, Tarpon Springs
Belleair Boat Ramp Park, 3900 W Bay Drive, Belleair Bluffs
Fort De Soto Park, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde
John Chesnut Sr. Park, 2200 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor
Lake Seminole Park, 10015 Park Boulevard, Seminole
Park Boulevard Boat Ramp Park, 18651 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores
Philippe Park, 2525 Philippe Parkway, Safety Harbor
War Veterans' Memorial Park, 9600 Bay Pines Blvd., St. Petersburg