Starting Aug. 1, it's going to cost anyone that parks at one of the Phoenix mountain parks or preserves up to $5 a day.
Hearing about the new fee system Phoenix Parks and Recreation board members approved Thursday.
I think it’s a good idea after all the all the other parks in Arizona charge you to use them.
It's not surprising that people are jolted by the fee, say local and national parks leaders. It's one more squeeze from the recession, one more change to public access.
"It's the nature of parks systems, that people expect to be free, like parking at a park," said Rich Dolesh, chief of public policy for the National Recreation and Park Association. "People feel like something is being taken away."
The mountain parks and preserve areas ring Phoenix and, along with Piestewa, include Camelback Mountain , South Mountain and North mountain parks. The new parking fee comes as parks and recreation officials attempt to generate $500,000 during fiscal 2010-11 as mandated by the city's new efficiency committee. The panel asked city departments to find revenue to help ease Phoenix's budget woes. Parks-board members came close to delaying a vote, arguing that the city doesn't have specific counts of how many people visit the mountain parks and preserves. Some members worried the public would balk at the fees. Initially, the board considered charging up to $10 a day or $100 for an annual pass. As a compromise, the seven-member board unanimously approved a lesser charge of up to $5 a day, $50 for six months or $75 per year.
6-month trial period
As the trial period gets under way, there is some wiggle room to charge a little less at certain parks or during different seasons.
But other board members noted that there is a $6 daily fee or $75 annual fee to park in the Maricopa County desert preserves.
Laura Bell, chairman of the parks board, said the fee is necessary because of the Parks and Recreation Department's need to find $500,000, which will go into the general fund with the hope that it could be used for park programs.
"We've got to come up with the money somehow," she said.
Passes would be purchased online, at a parks department website that will be set up this month. Users will log in their car license-plate number and other information, pay and then print out the pass to be placed on their dashboard.
Passes also will be sold at city parks and recreation offices.
Multiple family cars, two or three, can be listed for that same annual pass, said Jim Burke, Phoenix assistant parks director.
No passes are needed for anyone hiking, biking or riding a horse into the Phoenix mountain parks or preserves.
For the first six months of the program, no one without a pass will be fined. But notices will go on windshields, noting the new fees and how they can pay for the pass.
Although the fee system did not require Phoenix City Council approval, the council will have to approve allowing the Phoenix Park Rangers to issue citations related to the fees once the system goes into effect.
Burke said having to check for violations is not expected to interfere with the park rangers' jobs. However, he did note that because of city budget cuts, there are now 54 rangers, down from 80 not long ago.
The city will have to monitor whether people opt to park in residential neighborhoods, rather than pay for parking. One option is to put up no-parking signs or create a residential permit.
A 'Pandora's box'
Dolesh, of the national parks association, understands the city's budgetary plight but hopes the city can find donors to raise money.
"I give them credit for ambitiously using technology to collect the money, but I'm afraid they're opening Pandora's box," he said. "They need to have an effective way to pay for service as you enter the park."
One problem is out-of-state visitors.
"You don't want to ticket those people," Dolesh said. "They're just trying to visit the park."
Dolesh suggests the city find a company willing to set up a kiosk that would allow people to use a credit card to purchase a pass. Phoenix park officials said they don't have the money to pay for such a machine now.
A drop box for payment is too risky, they said. And rangers shouldn't be burdened by having to collect money.
Dolesh said it's an emotional issue for all preserve users.
"But maybe it's time for people not to take their parks for granted," he said. "Traditionally, things have been free. But parks systems are being squeezed by the recession. I don't think we've seen the worst of it yet."
See You All At The Park !