Indian Hammocks Park now off parking fee list

By Richard Yager….

Kendall Soccer Complex draws weekend crowds for new Five-on-Five competition.

Two clarifications concerning the $5 parking fee proposal at five Miami-Dade County parks regularly used by Kendall residents followed a critique and review of the current proposal by the Miami-Dade Parks Department.

Indian Hammocks Park was dropped from the list of six parks for new parking fees that had been proposed to start on Oct. 1. The park was not included in the original 2009-10 fiscal year proposal but was added inadvertently to a newly proposed list when action was scheduled for collections to commence in mid-2010, said Edith Torres, Parks Department spokesperson.

Still remaining on the schedule for the $5 per vehicle weekend and holiday parking fees in 2011 are A.D. Barnes, Tropical, Kendall Soccer Complex, Larry and Penny Thompson parks in Kendall, and Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah.

Exceptions from payment of weekend and holiday parking will include charitable events and special youth and adult programs, once new vehicle parking charges are scheduled to become effective, said Doris Howe, communications manager for the department.

“Miami-Dade Parks would love to not charge fees for anything,” Howe emphasized. “Special events occur with regularity at our parks and residents are not charged at all to enjoy them. We’re pained to do it but it’s an equitable way to help keep taxes lower.”

Parking will remain free at the five parks on weekdays, as they are in 251 other Miami-Dade parks, Howe pointed out, noting that the fee was “implemented in order to maintain the appropriate level of maintenance at highly used parks.”

Similar entry fee examples at Florida parks include Broward County’s T-Y Park ($1.50 per person or $8 per car); Port Charlotte ($8 per car); Hollywood Beach ($7 per day), and Pinellas County ($8 per car), she pointed out.

“In general, it also costs money to park anywhere now with meter rates increasing and hours of operation extended throughout Coral Gables, Miami and Miami Beach, impacting people going to shop at malls or going to the beach,” she added.

The $5 parking charge was upheld by a 7-6 Miami-Dade County Commission vote against a repeal sought by District 10 Commissioner Javier D. Souto who criticized the department for not reducing its advertising budget by $500,000 to make up for projected revenue from fee expansion.

“Parks generate approximately $35 million in earned revenue, and $850,000 for marketing county programs and services is only 2.5 percent of that,” Howe replied. “Typical businesses use 5-10 percent of their budgets for marketing efforts to sustain and increase revenue.

“With that $850,000 we are marketing six golf courses, six marinas; campgrounds, recreation programs including the Fit to Play, Out-of-School Health & Wellness Obesity Prevention Program, services for people with disabilities, and arts and culture events.

“One of the most common responses from the public in our Recreation Plan surveys is: ‘We had no idea that this was available from the county,’” Howe said. “The broad array of services provided would not withstand a reduction in that budget.”

She said the marketing budget is not solely used for traditional advertising but for community outreach efforts and informational materials to groups that include 4-H Clubs, Girl and Boy Scouts, churches, activities like the Westchester Optimist, swim teams, school activities, and residents in Jazzercise classes at Tropical Park.

“To leave this department with a marketing budget of $312,000 to make the public aware of [its] programs, activities and services would be inadequate,” Howe said.

Another Souto criticism of retaining “high salaries in upper management levels” was countered by Howe’s comment that employees have not received a pay raise or a cost of living adjustment in two years, adding employees took a 5 percent salary reduction to help with budget demands.

“The administrative staff of Miami- Dade Parks has been cut by more than 30 percent over the last three years,” she said. In addition, employees lost “10-15 percent of their pay between frozen benefits and contributions to the cost of health insurance.”

After Souto said the lack of $5 parking fees at Parks-operated golf courses favored “wealthier segments” of the community, Howe countered that such facilities are not “exclusively for the rich but are public courses that anyone may access without a parking fee charged. The price structure is intended to provide lower cost to provide such access.”

Pay stations will be used to collect fees at Kendall Soccer Park with toll booths used at Tropical, Barnes and Thompson parks with a $386,428 installation fee obtained from capital fund sources, not as part of an operating budget, she said.

Implementing the program at an estimated $100,000 annual cost from $600,000 projected yearly toll revenues has awaited final approval of the commission to avoid using taxpayer funds, if denied, she explained.

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