February 8, 2011

 

MEMO TO:       Mayor Schools and Board of Commissioners

 

FROM:              Frank A. Rush, Jr., Town Manager

 

SUBJECT:        Implementation of Beach Access Parking Fee

 

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider several items that would establish a daily parking fee (on weekends and holidays only) at the Eastern Ocean Regional Access and Western Ocean Regional Access this tourism season.  Additionally, the Board is asked to approve a General Fund budget amendment associated with the new parking fee revenues, and that will also allow the implementation of certain changes to the Town’s 2011 beach services plan, most notably the addition of lifeguards at the two regional access facilities.

 

Background / Increasing Service Demands

As we discussed at the Board’s December and January meetings, with continuing budget challenges in general, and increasing demand for services at the Town’s two regional beach accesses, it may now be prudent for the Town to begin charging a fee for beach access parking at these locations. 

 

The regional beach access facilities have been provided free of charge to the general public since opening in the mid and late 1990s, and the Town’s taxpayers have funded the vast majority of the expenses associated with the acquisition, development, and operation of these facilities.  Total land acquisition and development costs are estimated at approximately $2 million, with the Town funding nearly $1.5 million of this cost and supplemented by approximately $500,000 from various CAMA grants over the years.  The Town’s estimated operating expenses for these two facilities are more than $75,000 annually (personnel, operating, and capital costs), and this cost is funded by general tax revenues.  (The Board should note that this $75,000 annual cost does not include Beach Patrol services, beach strand trash collection services, other full-time Parks Maintenance personnel expenses, or indirect costs associated with these facilities, which would likely increase the total annual costs to more than $100,000.)

 

The public demand for services continues to increase at these facilities, and the Town continues to seek ways to meet these service demands in a cost-effective manner.  The Town has always relied on seasonal help to keep the bathroom facilities at these locations clean, along with other routine maintenance tasks.  In 2008, due to concerns about cleanliness and general order, the Town began utilizing a dedicated Park Attendant during the summer season at the Western Ocean Regional Access.  There has also been more staff time devoted to the Eastern Ocean Regional Access over the years.  In 2010, in response to concerns about inappropriate behavior, the Town began assigning a full-time Police Officer at the Western Ocean Regional Access during the summer season.  I believe this additional staffing in recent years has greatly improved the beach visitor experience at the Western Ocean Regional Access, and these improvements have been well-received by the public.  These improvements come at a cost, however, and make up a significant portion of the annual operating expense noted above.

 

The Western Ocean Regional Access has always been heavily visited, and visitation at the Eastern Ocean Regional Access has continued to increase in recent years.  As you know, there has been greater interest in recent years for more dedicated staffing at the Eastern Ocean Regional Access.  Additionally, there remains strong interest in the addition of fixed lifeguards at one or both of the regional beach accesses.  As you may recall, the Town has periodically stationed a member of the mobile Beach Patrol in a fixed location at the Western Ocean Regional Access on a temporary basis.

 

As outlined below, the implementation of a beach access parking fee at the two regional beach access facilities will generate sufficient revenue to cover the Town’s current annual operating expenses (that are currently funded by general tax revenues) and will also provide sufficient funding to add a lifeguard at each regional access facility this summer, should the Board concur with this approach. 

 

Beach Access Parking Fee Implementation Plan

Based on the Board’s input and direction over the past two Board meetings, and further consideration by Town staff, the Board is asked to formally approve the following plan for beach access parking fees:

 

  • Visitors to the Eastern Ocean Regional Access and Western Ocean Regional Access would be charged $10 per day per vehicle on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays only, and only during the period from April 1 – September 30.

 

  • The parking fee would be charged from 7 am to 4 pm.  A town staff member would man the entrance to each regional access facility, and would collect cash and credit card payments. 

 

  • Parking would continue to be free at the two regional accesses on all weekdays throughout the entire year, and also on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from October 1 – March 31.  Parking would continue to be free prior to 7 am and after 4 pm on weekends and holidays between April 1 – September 30.

 

  • Parking would continue to be free at the Town’s 3rd Street access and Station Street access, and the scattered handicapped parking spaces along Ocean Drive and other oceanfront streets.

 

  • Emerald Isle property owners (taxpayers) and residents (including long-term renters) would be eligible for two free parking permits for the regional beach access facilities each year.  These free permits, which would be verified and issued in the form of stickers in the same manner that beach driving permits are administered, would enable the permit holder to avoid the parking fee at the two regional access facilities.  The free parking permit stickers would only be issued to the property owner and/or resident for a vehicle registered in that person’s name. 

 

  • The property owner and/or resident would need to call or visit the Town Administration Building during normal business hours to obtain or make arrangements to obtain the free parking permit.  The Town staff person on duty at the regional access facility would only allow someone to enter for free if they have the appropriate sticker affixed to the vehicle.  Anyone who does not have the appropriate sticker would be required to pay the $10 parking fee.   

 

  • Handicapped individuals, regardless of whether or not they are an Emerald Isle property owner and/or resident, would also be eligible for a free parking permit, which would be handled in the same manner as the free parking permits available for Emerald Isle property owners and/or residents. 

 

  • The system for the free parking permits would essentially be identical to the system used to issue beach driving permits.

 

Town staff have already begun, and will further refine the appropriate internal procedures to insure the safety of the Town staff person collecting the fees and prevent theft and fraud.  It is likely that two town staff persons would work a 5-hour shift at each regional access facility each day, and the Police Department would assist with the safeguarding and transport of daily receipts. 

 

The Town staff person on duty at the regional access facility would also be responsible for monitoring the number of parking spaces occupied prior to 7 am, and throughout the day, to determine the availability of spaces.  We would also likely utilize a daily parking pass (small ticket or slip of paper to be displayed in the window) distributed to paying customers as a way of tracking the number of paying customers and available spaces. 

 

Town staff have also been working on the appropriate policies for the new parking fee system, which may be troublesome for some constituents, but are believed to be necessary to insure a smooth and cost-effective operation.  The following policies would be enforced by Town staff:

 

·        Buses, large RVs, and vehicles with trailers would not be permitted to park at the two regional access facilities on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays between 7 am and 4 pm due to their need to utilize 4 – 8 parking spaces.  These vehicles could drop off passengers at the entrance and park in an alternate location free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis.  Suitable alternate parking locations are the Town Hall complex and Fire Station 2 (likely only room for one such vehicle at Fire Station 2).

 

·        If a vehicle pays the $10 parking fee, and then decides to leave the facility for a short time period, the vehicle would lose the parking space and then be required to pay the $10 fee again to re-enter.

 

·        Replacement stickers for free parking permits would not be provided to Emerald Isle property owners and/or residents or handicapped individuals unless they scrape off and return the original sticker.

 

·        The free parking permits would be issued annually, and an Emerald Isle property owner and/or resident or handicapped individual would need to secure a new sticker each year.

 

There are likely other issues that will arise in the coming weeks, and Town staff will continue to devise the best possible implementation plan by April 1. 

 

Fee Schedule Amendment

The attached fee schedule amendment is the formal mechanism for the Board to approve the proposed beach access parking fee.  The attached fee schedule amendment is consistent with the plan described above.

 

 

2011 Beach Services Plan

The new beach access parking fee, as described above, is expected to generate total gross revenues of $117,000 per year.  A detailed revenue estimate, including the occupancy assumptions during each month, is attached for the Board’s review. 

 

The new fee would fund the following expenses associated with the Eastern Ocean Regional Access (EORA) and Western Ocean Regional Access (WORA) for the first year:

 

  • Parking fee program operations                                                                         $  21,000 *
  • Dedicated Park Attendant, custodial services, and general operating expenses   $  46,000
  • Dedicated Police Officer                                                                                    $  18,000
  • Dedicated lifeguards at each regional access                                                     $  25,000

TOTAL                                                                                                              $110,000

 

                * Parking fee program operating costs should decrease to approximately $13,000 in future years.

 

This service plan leaves a surplus of approximately $7,000 during year one (approximately $15,000 in subsequent years), and hopefully more if actual revenues exceed our current estimates.  Any surplus would be used to cover portions of full-time staff salaries providing services at the EORA and WORA, and/or would be retained and eventually re-invested back in these facilities in the form of future capital improvements and/or future service enhancements.

 

In year 1, this service plan would enable the Town to shift approximately $71,000 of expense previously supported by general tax revenues to parking fee revenues.  This amount would increase to approximately $79,000 in subsequent years.

 

2011 Beach Services Plan Elements Dedicated to EORA and WORA – Supported by Parking Fees

The proposed 2011 beach services plan would include a dedicated Park Attendant at the WORA all day long on weekends only from April 1 – May 15 and September 15 – September 30.  A dedicated Park Attendant would be on duty at the WORA all day long, every day of the week from May 15 to September 15.  A Park Custodian would be on the exact same schedule, but would service both the EORA and WORA.

 

A dedicated Police Officer would be assigned to the WORA all day long on weekends from April 1 – May 15 and on weekends from September 15 – September 30.  A dedicated Police Officer would be on duty at the WORA all day long, every day of the week from May 15 to September 15.  This dedicated Police Officer would also periodically visit the EORA.  The EORA would also receive greater attention from other road Police Officers throughout the day.

 

The 2011 beach services plan includes one dedicated lifeguard at both the WORA and EORA.  The lifeguards would be on duty all day long, every day of the week from May 15 – September 15.  The lifeguards would be on elevated lifeguard stands and would be responsible for water rescue activities at these two heavily visited locations.  The lifeguards would be members of the Beach Patrol, and staff would rotate between the fixed lifeguard stations and the two roving Beach Patrol positions on the beach each day (roving Beach Patrol positions funded by general tax revenues, not parking fee revenues).    

 

2011 Beach Services Plan Elements Provided Along Entire Beach Strand – Supported by General Tax Revenues

The proposed 2011 beach services plan also maintains the other elements of the 2010 beach services plan implemented last year.  The Town would continue to assign a dedicated Police Officer to the Bogue Inlet Pier area all day long on weekends only from April 1 – May 15 and September 15 – September 30, and all day long, every day of the week from May 15 – September 15. 

 

The Town would also continue to assign three roving personnel along the entire 12 mile beach strand on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) for water rescue, ordinance education and enforcement, law enforcement, and general customer service purposes.  A slight change is proposed, however.  Two of these personnel would be the traditional Beach Patrol personnel who would be responsible primarily for water rescue duties, but would also perform Town ordinance education and enforcement duties and general customer service duties.  The two Beach Patrol personnel would each cover approximately half of the beach strand (and would be supplemented by the two lifeguards stationed at the EORA and WORA, as described above). 

 

The third ATV would be manned by a (summer) uniformed Police Officer who would patrol the entire length of the beach strand.  The Police Officer would not perform water rescue duties, but would be responsible for ordinance education and enforcement, law enforcement, and general customer service purposes.  I am hopeful that a (summer) uniformed Police Officer (with the real and perceived stronger authority) will be more successful in educating and enforcing Town ordinances and relevant State laws on the beach strand than our traditional Beach Patrol personnel.  In the future, if this approach is successful and if funds permit, I’d like to add a second Police Officer on an ATV during the summer. 

 

The three personnel on ATVs would work every day of the week from May 15 – September 15.   The Town currently has three ATVs available for these personnel.

 

The funding required for the 2011 beach services plan elements that are supported by general tax revenues is essentially identical to that provided in 2010.   The same number of personnel are planned for 2011 as 2010.

 

Summary of Overall 2011 Beach Services Plan

Without distinguishing between the funding sources, as was the case above, this section summarizes the overall staffing included in the proposed 2011 beach services plan:

 

All Weekends – April 1 to September 30

·        Parking lot attendant on duty at EORA

·        Parking lot attendant on duty at WORA

·        Park Attendant on duty at WORA

·        Custodian on duty and working at both EORA and WORA

·        Dedicated Police Officer at WORA

·        Dedicated Police Officer at Bogue Inlet Pier

 

All Weekdays – May 15 to September 15

·        Park Attendant on duty at WORA

·        Custodian on duty and working at both EORA and WORA

·        Dedicated Police Officer at WORA

·        Dedicated Police Officer at Bogue Inlet Pier

·        Lifeguard at WORA

·        Lifeguard at EORA

·        2 roving Beach Patrol personnel on ATVs

·        1 roving Police Officer on ATV.

 

The Board should note that other Police, Fire, Public Works, and Parks Maintenance personnel on duty will also be providing services on the beach strand, at the EORA and WORA, and the Pier as needed, in addition to the staffing outlined above.

 

The Board should also note that at this time I am assuming that the Public Works Department will continue to remove trash from the beach strand on a near-daily basis, however, as a part of overall budget planning we are exploring the idea of eliminating beach strand containers at the neighborhood beach access locations.  Additional research is being completed on this particular issue, and will be discussed with the Board at the February 21 budget planning workshop.

 

Finally, the Board should note that there may be minor tweaks to dates, schedules, and hours for the 2011 beach services plan as we actually implement the plan and discover more cost-effective approaches.  The general outline presented above, however, would be followed.

 

Budget Amendment – General Fund

The attached General Fund budget amendment recognizes the anticipated parking fee revenues from April 1 – June 30, and formally appropriates these revenues for the elements of the 2011 beach services plan described above (for the period from April 1 – June 30).

 

I am recommending including these revenues and expenditures in the General Fund for the remainder of the current fiscal year only for ease of administration.  Assuming the Board approves the parking fee proposal and the 2011 beach services plan, the FY 11-12 budget (and subsequent years’ budgets) will include a new, segregated Regional Beach Access Fund to budget and account for these revenues and expenditures. 

 

The attached budget amendment recognizes approximately $45,000 of parking fee revenue between April 1 and June 30.  These funds would be appropriated for Police patrol services and lifeguards, and for associated expenses in the Parks and Recreation Department.  A total of $10,000 of this amount is earmarked for “start-up” expenses associated with the parking fee operation, while the remaining $35,000 should “free up” revenues in the General Fund for the remainder of the fiscal year.

 

Final Thoughts

As you know, the idea of implementing a parking fee has been discussed several times over the past few years during the budget process, and has recently been discussed in great detail at both the December and January Board meetings.  While I am certain that this plan is far from perfect in everyone’s eyes, a great deal of thought, research, and public input has gone into the development of this plan by the Town staff, the Mayor, the Commissioners, and myself.  I believe we have all tried hard to devise the best possible plan to satisfy multiple (and sometimes conflicting) goals and various public concerns.  This decision has not been made hastily or taken lightly, and the public access rights and privileges, budget realities, and moral implications have each been considered on an equal basis.  Each and every public suggestion and comment has been incorporated into the overall decision-making process.

 

The ocean beach is currently, and should always be free to the general public, and the Town of Emerald Isle would not want it any other way.  Everyone, regardless of economic status, should have the ability to enjoy the pleasures of time on the beach.  The land through which the beach is accessed, however, is not free, and that cost must be borne by someone.  Fortunately, in our case, that cost has already been completely absorbed (mostly by the taxpayers of Emerald Isle), and is not of concern anymore.  The costs to maintain that land and the facilities thereon that are provided to enable a clean, safe, and enjoyable family-friendly visit to the beach are also not free, and those costs must also be borne by someone.  In our case, the Town continues to strive to provide the best possible beach visit experience for our guests, and any decision to implement a parking fee is based solely on assigning those costs to the users of these facilities.  The services are not fee, and the cost must be borne by someone. 

 

As noted, and as you know, many different ideas were considered during the past few months.  I have included a few of the more frequent ideas below, along with a brief explanation about why they were not included in the proposal being considered by the Board on February 8:

 

  • The Town should use an hourly, automated pay station system.  This is a very valid suggestion that reduces the cost for someone to visit for a shorter period of time.  This option was thoroughly investigated, and the high up-front capital costs associated with the automated pay stations did not make this a cost-effective option.  In addition, a parking contractor was considered, but the contractor utilizes a very labor-intensive system with high overhead costs that did not appear necessary or prudent for our type of parking areas.

 

  • There is a perception that the $10 fee is too high for nearby, local visitors (from outside Emerald Isle) who use the beach frequently for walking, and for only short periods of time.  This concern is also completely valid, and is the primary reason why an earlier proposal to charge a parking fee every day from April 1 – September 30 was rejected by the Board.  By charging only on the weekends, the weekdays would continue to be free for nearby, local visitors who use the beach frequently for walking or other short-term activities.  Additionally, parking would be free after 4 pm on the weekends and holidays.  Finally, other free parking alternatives remain in Emerald Isle (3rd Street and Station Street).

 

  • The Town should offer an annual pass at a discounted rate to nearby, local visitors.   This type of system would involve additional administrative burdens and would make revenue prediction more uncertain.  In addition, the amount of any annual parking fee would likely be at least $50 or perhaps $100, which may be perceived as too high.  In the end, the Board’s decision to charge only on weekends is an attempt to address the concerns of nearby, local visitors.

 

Finally, we will certainly learn a great deal from experience, and will have the opportunity to add, delete, or modify certain aspects of the parking fee program in the future. 

 

I look forward to discussing these issues again with the Board at the February 8 meeting.  Please note that it is important for the Board to finalize its decisions so that Town staff will have ample time to prepare for an April 1 start date and also to prepare for the 2011 tourism season in general.  Town staff need to begin recruiting efforts for seasonal positions now in order to be ready with quality personnel for the tourism season.  

 

Alesia Sanderson, Parks and Recreation Director, has also been heavily involved in this issue, and will also be present at the February 8 meeting to answer any questions and share insights.