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Council Changes Freeman Park Fees

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council voted unanimously at their November 12th, meeting to change the fee structure for Freeman Park.
Freeman Park, located beyond the end of Canal Drive on the Northern End of Pleasure Island, is largely outside of the Town's jurisdiction. They have authority to manage the area as a park. That was granted to them by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners some years ago. There is a fee charged for vehicle access to drive on the beachfront within the park. The Town, by it's own admission, doesn't charge people to walk into the park. They can only charge for four-wheel drive vehicle access. Permit applications are not required for daily passes. Currently daily passes may be purchased for $20.00 at the entrance of Freeman Park. Weekend passes are available at $40 for 2 days and $50 for 3 days.
In the proposed 2013-2014 Carolina Beach budget, $350,000 of anticipated revenues from Freeman Park vehicle passes of around $1.2 million is designated towards beach nourishment funding.
At the Council's November 12, meeting Town Manager Michael Cramer explained, "The Freeman Park committee met and discussed ways to go and improve enforcement and other issues out at Freeman Park and with that they also discussed the fee structure for the parking pass, or access passes to the park. They did make some recommendations they feel would improve the situation and give an easier time for the enforcement and also help with cutting down on some of the difficulties we have with the number of people that go out there that camp or that violate the rules, for instance, getting a day pass and staying all weekend."
Cramer said, "Their recommendations, several of them, first and foremost was to raise the annual rate for the access pass from $100 to $125 a year. That they would encourage the Council to offer an early bird special or a discount for two weeks in December from December the 1st through December the 15th. That residents in the area could come to the local establishments that sell those passes or to city hall and be charged $75 for that annual pass. That they would eliminate the daily, two day and three day passes and go to a straight seven day pass for $50."
Cramer explained, "Several of these recommendations were made in an effort to make it so we can easily enforce vehicles with the passes that are daily passes." He said daily passes look like a restaurant receipt and are often blown off the dash and lost causing problems with enforcement.
He said, "Going to the seven day pass would eliminate that because we would be able to utilize and work with our parking vendor to find a better way of managing that and making it so we can enforce those stickers a little bit better."
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said, "I'm struggling a little bit with the discount at $75. I'm prepared to cut it back to $60 and I would like to do it for 30-days, not two weeks. I don't think two weeks gets us enough time. There are a lot of people that were buying that around Christmas time."
He explained, "We had our parking summary here 30-days ago... we lost 2,500 annual passes when we raised it to $100. We quadrupled the number of daily passes. Our revenues staid the same but our daily passes shot way up. So doing away with the daily pass and increasing the annual pass to me is going to cost us revenue."
Shuttleworth said there are ways to enforce permit requirements and many large venues such as sporting events use methods such as color coded tickets based on the day of the week and the Town can work with their parking contractor on that issue.
He said the annual permits should not be sold online at a discount.
Cramer said the Town will work with their parking contractor to work on tracking the number of campers in the upcoming season at the park and use that data to make a future decision on how to control camping.
Shuttleworth made a motion to offer a $60 early pass sold only at the vendors or Town Hall or parking office from December 1st to December 31st and do a $20 daily pass and a $50 seven day pass. He did not address the proposed increase of $125 saying that could be a future discussion, but he wasn't including it in his motion thus leaving the annual fee at $100 online and outside of the discount period.
The Council voted unanimously.