Parking spaces for vehicles and trailers would cost $5 a day

MANATEE COUNTY — In the future, boaters may have to pay a parking fee if they intend to use one of the nine ramp sites, which have a total of 18 launch lanes, maintained by Manatee County.

On Thursday, the Parks and Natural Resources staff suggested to county commissioners that they enact a $5 fee for all-day parking for a vehicle and trailer. At that rate, each existing space is likely to bring in $500 annually. Gross annual revenue from all parking spaces at the launches could yield about $146,000, a fraction of what county officials say is needed to renovate ramps that are getting heavier and heavier use and possibly add more.

As of 2018, the county had 20,931 registered vessels — compared with 17,940 in 2015.

On weekends, the existing ramps and parking areas are often beyond capacity.

Boaters would make payments at 10 solar-powered machines that would cost the county $6,300 each to install and $45 a month to operate. The county would likely get a return on the investment in about six months.

“Paid parking is not a silver bullet,” Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said.

To get any significant projects to accommodate the increasing demand for ramps, the parking revenue would have to be combined with sources such as the Florida Boating Improvement Program (boat registrations), the West Coast inland Navigation District (property taxes), impact fees and revenue bonds.

The concept of paid boat ramp parking is not new to the region.

County officials said Pasco, Lee and Hillsborough counties charge $5 a day. Pinellas County charges $6 a day. Charlotte County levies a fee of 75 cents per hour or $6 for eight hours. Citrus County is considering imposing a fee. Sarasota County does not charge for parking at its public ramps.

Hunsicker said an annual resident pass could be an option as well.

Aside from possibly adding launches and parking spaces at existing public ramps, Hunsicker said the county is considering where to locate new facilities.

The developers of Peninsula Bay, a residential community to be built off Cortez Road on Palma Sola Bay, are talking with the county about a public-private partnership to create a four-lane boat launch with 80 parking spaces on their property.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she does not favor a parking fee. “We nickel and dime our citizens,” she said, noting that the county is considering an increase in monthly utility rates.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said many boaters from other counties are using Manatee’s public ramps but not contributing to the cost of maintaining those facilities.

Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace agreed, saying boat owners from Lakeland come to Manatee to launch their vessels. “We are taking care of people who do not live in the county.”

“It only makes sense to have user fees,” Commissioner Betsy Benac said.

“That’s barely two gallons of gas,” Commissioner Stephen Jonsson said of the proposed $5 fee. Jonson said he would like the staff to explore charging out-of-county boaters more.

Hunsicker said that would most likely require an attendant to check for license plates from other counties.

“I am in favor of user fees,” Commissioner Misty Servia said. “It just makes sense. … The people who are using an amenity need to pay for it.”