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Suffolk to increase fees at parks to help close budget gap

11/27/2015 2:00 PM |

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Green Key passes, golf course admission and hunting permits will become more expensive next year, as will all other user fees at county parks, if the Suffolk County Legislature approves a resolution next week raising rates across the board.

Most fees will increase by about 10 percent, something county officials expect to bring in an additional $764,000 in revenue. They pointed to rising costs of maintenance and a need for extra revenue as reasons behind the decision.

“We have a vast amount of parkland and you want to ensure that everything is taken care of accordingly,” said Vanessa Baird-Streeter, director of communications for County Executive Steve Bellone.

Mr. Bellone included the park fee increase in his 2016 budget, which the Legislature approved Nov. 4, to help close a revenue gap. Although the fee changes were already included in the 2016 budget, the Legislature must still vote to approve them on Dec. 1, though it is expected to do so, Ms. Baird-Streeter said.

Once approved, the changes would go into effect Jan. 1.

Ms. Baird-Streeter said golf, beach parking and camping are the most lucrative of all county user fees. A weekend round of golf for a county resident would increase from $30 to $32; a single day of parking at a beach with lifeguards would increase from $8 to $9 for residents with Green Keys; and normal camping admission for a resident would increase from $15 to $17 per night.

A Green Key, which offers reduced park fees and automated access to golf and camping reservations, would become $26 instead of the current $24.

Ms. Baird-Streeter said the increases make county park fees “commensurate” with the average costs at town and New York State parks.

Most state parks “charge a vehicle use fee of between $6 and $10 dollars for day use,” according to the state’s parks, recreation and historic preservation department, while Southold Town charges a $10 fee for an annual resident beach parking permit.

County Legislator Al Krupski said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the proposed increases and would likely support them.

“I think the increases are modest, and it helps to maintain our parks and keep them safe and clean,” he said.

The Legislature’s parks and recreation committee declined to vote on the proposal at its Nov. 17 meeting because, at the time, the county’s parks board of trustees had not yet had a chance to discuss it.

The trustees approved the measure at a Nov. 19 meeting, but Gil Cardillo, Riverhead’s representative, voted against it because he said he had only received notice about the proposed changes fewer than 24 hours before.

“I would rather have been informed and I would rather there have been some discussion with the increase in the fees rather than we get this the day before the meeting and they say, ‘We want you to vote on the fees,’” he said.

Mr. Cardillo, a financial planner, said “there didn’t seem to be a lot of spirited debate” before the trustees approved the fee increases, though he didn’t think the changes would significantly affect the county’s budget.

“I don’t see anyone losing tremendous amounts of revenue because we didn’t raise the fees 10 percent,” he said.

Photo caption: The entrance to Indian Island County Park just of Route 105 in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

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