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Back You are here: Home Opinion Opinion Section Letters to the Editor Fee Increase at Freeman Park (The North End)

Fee Increase at Freeman Park (The North End)

This is a HUGE issue. Everyone is focusing in on the "well we have some expenditures coming up so we have to get the money somewhere" conversation and forgetting the basic premise for which the town took over the Northend management. About 6 years ago, with many complaints from residents about the lawlessness, trash, fires etc. The town took over management of the North End to: PROVIDE SERVICES FOR A FEE. That included providing trash receptacles, additional policing, dune protection and restrooms. The year round pass was $40.  The argument then was that these services and fees are needed because if we don’t get control out there, with so many complaints, the Northend will be shut down, presumably by the County, Environmentalists’ or the Freemans et al. So faced with that choice the public and council at the time relented, got used to the idea and took over the management of the Northend. The next year there was an effort to regulate more. Some people didn’t think there should be dogs, camping, alcohol, fires and (my favorite) thong bathing suits on the NE so there was a push to ban or regulate these activities.  The next year a council member made it a mission to have lifeguards on the NE. So now you sit on the NE from May to Sept. and you get to see ATVs cruising up and down the beach every 60 seconds in front of you.  OK, I guess it’s a good thing, we’ll get used to it. At least we still have September to May.
I know all this because I have spoken in front of council nearly every time the issue of further regulation and fee increases has come up. This has become a yearly exercise. Unfortunately this year I won’t have that pleasure or even the opportunity to speak on the issue because according to the Island Gazette 10/24/12,  council reversed themselves on the issue of allowing an even more limited time, but still 6 weeks,  to purchase $60 NE passes. In a Council meeting without a public hearing the council decided that there will be no more $60 passes. It is $100 for a season pass. It seems it was a time critical issue to go ahead put into place the new fee structure on (10/19) so the passes could be printed. So, on the 9th of October (public hearing available) Council decided to further restrict the ability of people to purchase passes for what I believe is a reasonable amount, $60 to a 6 week period (down from 10). They limited the locations of where passes could be sold to two (down from 10 or more). Then on the 19th the budgetary issues became so dire that the year round pass to go onto the NE had to increase $40 from $60 to $100. That is a 60% increase in 6 years.  My initial reaction was a Sportscenter moment. ‘Come on man.’  It was a foregone conclusion. Council was looking for a way to cash in MORE on the cash cow that used to be the Northend.
The reason that I continue to write emails and speak up on this issue is twofold. First, I love the freedom and the beauty of the Northend and it is a huge reason why I enjoy living here. For generations people have been packing up their kids, dogs, fishing poles camping gear and going out to enjoy what was our own piece of paradise. It used to be free but will now cost us $100 a year.  Like the Eagles said, “Call someplace paradise and can kiss it goodbye”.  Secondly, I knew that once the Town had the reigns, there would be no stopping the further, let’s just call it meddling.  So here we are, six years later.
The issues on the NE that were the reason for the town getting involved have been addressed. We have potties, trash receptacles, police (a lot of them) and regulations that everyone seems to be somewhat satisfied with. But wait…. It’s turned into a MONEY MAKER.  Now that changes things doesn’t it! No it doesn’t. The deal was FEE FOR SERVICES not fees to fund any budget shortfall or ambitious town project.
The State and Federal government have been letting municipalities know for at least 10 years that they are getting out of the renourishment and dredge funding business. So please don’t tell me that “I like the idea of being able to explain to our population that the reason we are not discounting the ticket is that we’ve now been hit with new costs.” Councilman Shuttleworth. Or “We’re not really raising the annual rate we are simply eliminating a discount.”  (Councilman Lashley) Like it was a present or something for us poor citizens and  they just can’t afford to give it anymore. REALLY?! That’s how you’re going to play it? People need to remember how this all came about and not sink into the status quoi thinking.  It’s a slippery slope of increased regulation and increased fees. That’s it.  It prices people out but more importantly it reverses the original mandate.  
If you don’t utilize the NE it is easy to say “OK, well they say we need money and I don’t want my taxes to go up so let the burden fall somewhere other than me.”  Maybe there isn’t really such a burden or such dire circumstances. Maybe there is an agenda, like there is with every town council and there is a need to find a way to pay for it.
Maybe it is more important to build new recreation facilities. Maybe, but folks really need to remember where we have come from on the NE issue and see where it continues to go. The NE is not the Town’s Cash Cow. It was never meant to be. Every Town Manager has managed the town’s finances without funding from the NE up until a few years ago. You cannot convince me that continuing to turn the NE into a for profit amusement park is necessary to the public interest.
Freeman Park takes in approx. $900,000 in revenues per year. Everyone that I have spoken to regarding what the actual net profit is to the town is unable to give an answer.  I’ve been told that it is hard to calculate.
That those funds are mixed in with the Tourist Fund, Parking Revenues etc… again, come on man.  The town doesn’t know if they make $50 or $500,000? I would think there would be a good idea of the profit realized or there wouldn’t be such a push to make any of the town’s budget shortfalls dependant on those revenues.
I think the current council is on the whole thoughtful, intelligent and responsive with their decision-making. On this issue I think they have lost their way a bit and are taking something away from all of us, not just those of us that utilize the Northend. The actions of this council (as well as those before) should make one question the towns’ ability to plan, propose and implement a budget that is not dependent on a revenue source that is by its nature undependable. We should question the fact that the original mandate for fee for services on the Northend continues to be bastardized. And finally, you need to know that your basic right to be heard on this issue is not so important.
Tamara Cairns,
Carolina Beach, NC