Boat ramp fees dominant

A motorist prepares to launch his pontoon boat at the county boat ramp at MacRae's of Homosassa. The county commission on Tuesday will discuss use fees at county boat ramps.

Citrus County commissioners agree the county needs more parking at boat ramps, and that user fees should pay for them.

But getting from one point to the next is up for debate, and that talk starts Tuesday.

The county has a presentation and then a public hearing at its board meeting to set boat-ramp user fees countywide to pay for improvements.

The proposed fees are $10 a day or $50 for an annual pass. The fee schedule is expected to raise at least $400,000 annually, board Chairman Jeff Kinnard said.

But there’s a cost: $107,000 for seven pay stations, $10,250 for 10 honor-system boxes, and $259,000 for additional staff and equipment to put it all in place.

It’s the costs that have some commissioners wondering if this is the right path.

Ron Kitchen Jr.

Citrus County Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. 

“I want to make sure we’re not going to burn up everything we bring in on the operational cost to put the program in place,” Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. said.

Tuesday’s commission meeting begins at 1 p.m. at the courthouse in Inverness. The boat-ramp fee presentation is at 1:30 p.m. and the public hearing is at 2 p.m.

The board was unanimous in February when it told County Administrator Randy Oliver’s staff to bring back a boat-ramp fee program. Commissioners at the time agreed the best way to pay for boat-ramp improvements, including more parking, was through user fees rather than general tax dollars.

But now one commissioner, Jimmie T. Smith, has said he will vote no on the proposal on Tuesday’s agenda.

Smith said rather than spending a quarter-million dollars on additional staff to support pay stations, the county should use those funds toward ramp improvements.

Jimmie T. Smith mug

Citrus County Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith

Plus, he said, about $150,000 of an estimated $2 million in new taxes expected from the Duke Energy natural gas plant could also be available for boat ramps.

Smith said he is willing to listen to alternatives, but not the plan on the table.

“If they want my support for something, it would have to be a really relevant aspect to this,” he said. “I went out and told everybody I’m voting no.”

Commissioner Brian Coleman said the costs concern him as well. He also wondered about the necessity of hiring three additional personnel, including a supervisor, to oversee pay stations throughout the county.

Brian Coleman Citrus County Commission 2017

Citrus County Commissioner Brian Coleman.

“I still want to look at the locations, especially down at MacRae’s,” he said. “If you don’t have somebody there all the time, you can launch a boat pretty quick and go park somewhere private without anyone knowing.”

Coleman said only code compliance officers or the sheriff’s office can issue parking citations, so he isn’t sure what the additional personnel will be doing.

“I don’t know how they’re going to spend their time,” he said.

Commissioner Scott Carnahan called the plan a good starting point for discussion, but he also questioned the cost.

Scott Carnahan mug

County Commissioner Scott Carnahan.

“When you start putting those other employees in, what are you really gaining?” Carnahan asked. “I’m going to listen to the conversation. I’m not so sure it’s the right thing to do.”

Kinnard, who first raised the boat-launch fee when he took over as chairman in November 2018, said he thinks the program is doable.

jeff kinnard mug 0318

Citrus County Commissioner Jeff Kinnard.

“If we want to continue to be able to maintain the ramps we’ve got but also expand our facilities, and have first-class launch facilities, there’s no money to do that unless users pay,” he said. “We have got to expand our boating facilities.”

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(11) comments

Gary Rankel

Messier69: I’ve been fishing at least once or twice a week in Citrus County for the last 13 years, and am familiar with all the launch sites. I manage a website and have written a book on the county’s fisheries. If you think that the proposed program will result in alleviating the mess we have at our ramps, you are very much mistaken. The only way we're going to relieve stress at our ramps and significantly improve water access and related parking is to get that new marina on the barge canal built for power boaters, and, hopefully, acquire the piece of private property adjacent to Pirates Cove to better accommodate paddle and other small craft. Charging kayakers and power boaters the same fee to launch will likely elevate the degree of angst between the groups, something we don’t need. At best, all the current proposal will do is fund a bit of routine maintenance at the sites, and, perhaps, make a few minor improvements that will not result in improving water access or parking, and will not relieve the mess we have at our ramps.

RalphV

Only a bunch of politicians could even suggest spending $376,000 in order to collect $400,000. If the County wants to keep promoting Nature Coast Boating, they ought to come up with a plan of how we're supposed to get our boats in the water. Three employees and a SUPERVISOR to monitor 7 boat ramps? lus machines to collect the money. You can't make this stuff up.
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Messier69

For those of you that are new to Florida which I am assuming is everyone that is commenting on this topic please be advised that a majority of Florida's public ramps charge a fee. That's what helps to maintain and keep these ramps so user friendly. Have you ever been to the Anclote River Park in TRpon Springs? This is a perfect example of a "pay to play" ramp. Kayakers and boaters have great access to the river and plenty of parking. I did O mention they have clean bathrooms. If anyone has made the mistake and tried to use the bathroom at the Fort Island Trail ramp lately they know how discussing that is. I would gladly pay the $10 fee to have a clean bathroom.

Long story short wether your a resident or not quit thinking about the fees and buy the $50 annual pass. This a cheap way to enjoy all of the launching locations located in our are.

Miuke Nelson

Been in Florida for 45 years, so...

If the program were as you described, no problem. I don't object to launch fees if I am getting something for my money, like clean restrooms, great access, and plenty of parking.

What I object to is paying for something that I don't use. As I understand it, there is no intent to put restrooms or any improvements at all the ramps. Yet they want to charge $10 at ALL the ramps and pool the money to improve Crystal River access. Why should someone using the sand ramp in Ozello at John Brown Rd pay $10 to build a bigger ramp somewhere else. Add a portolet, charge $5 and I'm good with it but that is not what is being proposed.

Here's a scenario. Right now, paddlers use out of the way spots to launch, mainly off to the side of the main ramps since there are no dedicated hand launches like those provided for half the price at place like Weeki Wachee's Roger's Park, Linda Pederson Park, and Bayport. So if everyone is forced to pay the same rate, they should be entitled to use the same facilities since they have paid for them. a few dozen (even a few hundred) kayakers show up and demand to use the main ramp at Ft. Island on the 4th of July weekend to make a point. That would be ugly, but since they paid for it, they are entitled to it.

Gary Rankel

Anyone who has launched their boat or kayak into our waterways recently knows what a mess we have at the ramps. While I generally support the user-pays concept in funding programs, I'm not so sure the proposal on the table is the best way forward. Here are a few of my thoughts.

- This undertaking may be a bit more complicated than contemplated. To start with, new fees will most likely be opposed by a majority in the community. Opposition is likely to increase if the money collected doesn’t produce significant observable results. Administration and enforcement won’t be cheap and will eat into project accomplishments. BOCC may want to consult with other county officials who have instituted related programs, and consider conducting a feasibility study prior to moving forward.

- Funds collected may be adequate to support recurring maintenance at existing sites. Assuming, however, that the BOCC wisely rejects paving over wetlands, not enough usable property exists adjacent to our existing boat ramps to provide for a significant increase in parking / access. Hence, new launch sites will need to be created. Fees collected won’t be adequate to create such new sites unless used in conjunction with other sources of revenue (e.g., State Boating Access Improvement Program, Restore Act). The only new areas I’m aware of that would be capable of significantly improving access while relieving pressure at existing sites are the previously considered site on the barge canal for larger power boats, and the private property adjoining the Pirates Cove Community Park for paddle and other small watercraft.

- It will be difficult to get community buy-ins on a fee schedule and decision-making process for allocating funds collected for new projects. Many can be counted on to register strong opinions about how fee schedules should be more fairly structured and adjusted to favor residents, seniors, yakers vs. big boats, launching at less utilized primitive vs. developed sites, parked vehicles without trailers, etc. Accommodating such legitimate concerns and suggestions would most likely entail increased costs and complicate program administration, monitoring and enforcement.

- Boaters / paddlers must understand which ramps / launch sites will be subject to fee collection (I assume the ones included in the Parks and Recreation Citrus County Boat Ramps listing). The several small put in sites commonly used by yakers but not included in this listing would then presumably be exempt from coverage.

- It appears that all water craft, including kayaks, that use areas adjacent to or near listed ramps (e.g., the large sandy area adjacent to the the ramp at Pirates Cove) will be subject to fees. Clarification on such areas covered is required.

- A $10 daily fee seems a bit high relative to what other jurisdictions charge. The fee imposed appears to relate to launching, not parking. Would persons parking near a listed ramp to fish or for some other purpose pay a fee (recognizing it would be impossible to tell if the driver of that vehicle had launched)? How would the fee be applied to 2 or more anglers parking separate vehicles near a boat ramp who meet to launch in a single boat?

- Would it be easier to administer / enforce a program involving fees for parking rather than launching at listed sites (as per Hunter Springs and Kings Bay parks for yakers) or impose separate fees for parking and launching (as at Pete’s Pier for boaters and yakers)?.

- The method used to collect daily fees MUST be made as quick and user friendly as possible. The meters used at Hunter Springs and Kings Bay parks require inputting license plate numbers (which few remember) causing delays and backups. The last thing you want are long lines of anglers, scallopers and paddlers waiting to pay their fees, followed by long lines of these same folks waiting to launch after they’ve paid.

- Annual passes may require inclusion of the vehicle license plate number to minimize the exchange of tags between users, and / or involve some form of permanent sticker affixed to the vehicle. The pass would need to be removable if one user wants to use more than one vehicle to launch.

- How would ticketing violators be handled, and what fines / penalties would be imposed?

- A detailed ordinance would be needed. Ditto for signs posted at all launch sites.

As an avid kayak angler, my pitch is to place priority on projects geared to improving kayak launch sites and access in the county, including investigating the prospect of creating a premier paddling, eco-tourism and kayak fishing destination with regional appeal at Ozello Community Park through the acquisition of the adjoining private property (see attached overview of area). For what it’s worth, a fairly comprehensive set of related recommendations is included on my website: http://fishingkayaks.us/no-motor-zone.

Gary Rankel

Miuke Nelson

I see nothing to indicate kayakers will get anything out of this. Just saw an e-mail from the Commission to a friend who commented. This appears to more ,like a parking fee than a ramp fee. Commissioer says that "My position will be that every vehicle that uses the ramp, or takes up a parking spot in ramp lot, will need to have paid the user fee."

Read that last part, shoreline fishermen. Most ramps only have one lot, so if you are parking, you are paying.

CitrusCo Citizen

For those of us local folks who paddle every day, sometimes twice a day, this is absolutely ridiculous. We know about 20 secret places to put in that are not boat ramps and we'll use them if we have to. Do you realize that daily local paddlers who live here because we love to kayak will have to pay up to $300 a month or $3,600 a year just to launch our kayaks and paddleboards. What's next, $10.00 a day just to ride your bike or horse, or walk on the trails? If the BOCC would get off their duffs and get out there and paddle once in a while they'd see what it's all about. They sit there at their desks and only think of kayaking, surfing, scuba, biking, and walking in terms of ways to making money. By the way, I meet hundreds of kayakers from everywhere who come to Citrus County frequently, from all over Florida, the nation and the world. If you charge a family of 4 $40.00 just to launch their kayaks, they will definitely go somewhere else, for sure, and we can tell them about other coastal counties that are just as nice for paddling and it's free as it should be.

ShannonSteele

I agree with some of CitrusCo Citizens' comments, and I’m not sure the plan as proposed is really viable or the best. I especially think it’s foolish to spend over half of the projected revenue on additional personnel just to get the revenue – there’s got to be a better way. However, it should be pointed out the proposal offers an annual plan for $50, so the annual cost to a local resident would not be anywhere near the suggested $3600. Also, as I understand the plan, the cost is per vehicle, not per boat, so if two people brought in 2 kayaks with one vehicle, that would cut the cost in half. If a family of four was traveling in one vehicle, if my understanding the correct, the cost would only be $10. None of this is to say that I think the plan is good as it stands, but I think we should be clear about the costs.

KSponsler

My wife and I were “showing off” the beautiful Crystal River area last weekend to my brother and sister in-law. We started with an outdoor lunch at Crackers where we were fortunate to see 4 Manatees right next to the docks. Then we drove to Fort Island Trail boat ramp and park, the beach and the boat ramp at the end of the road. Trucks and boat trailers were lining both sides of the road well before and after the ramps. Scallop season will increase this problem 10 fold. We really do need more ramps and more parking and I am willing to pay a reasonable fee for better facilities. Love the idea of an annual pass as long as it’s reasonable and facilitates access to all County maintained parks and ramps. We could certainly attract more paying boaters if we had better facilities. Walking 1/4 to 1/2 mile from your roadside parking area back and forth of your dockside boat ties up the launch area. Would be great if a business minded owner of an extended golf cart was there on the weekends to offer rides to and from the parking area for tips!

Miuke Nelson

I'm with Jimmy T. More big government. What makes Citrus think it's so special that they can charge more than twice as much as everybody else in the area? Sumter County $0, Levy County $0, Yankeetown $5, Marion County $5, Hernando $5 Dunnellon, $0. What happened to that big boat ramp that BP was suppose to pay for on the canal? Pave over every wetland area in Crystal River and you'll still have people parking along the roadway when it gets busy.

Miuke Nelson

Yeah, we need more boats: From today's Chronicle: https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/chronicleonline.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/5/56/556f4aae-7334-11e9-b524-ef4c930d0dd8/5cd592060bd21.image.jpg?resize=750%2C353

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