Volusia beach tolls could increase for out-of-towners



VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. - If you're not from Volusia County and you want to drive or park on the beaches there, you may soon be forced to pay six times what you're paying now.

On Thursday, the county council talked about a proposal to increase rates from $5 a day to $30 a day.

Josh Wagner, the county councilman behind the plan, said the beaches need more money to operate, so he wants out-of-towners to foot the bill.

"It is a substantial increase, but I think at the same time it will help their experience as far as our beaches are concerned," said Wagner.

At the 9 a.m. meeting, Wagner said his proposal to increase the fee to $30 was "political."

"Sure, I got a little political and did what I had to do. My goal was to get to $15 for out-of-town residents," Wagner said. "Shoot high and negotiate in."

Wagner said $15 is a great deal.

Other county leaders weighed in on Wagner's proposal.

"It may be cheaper to pay a parking ticket than buy a pass," Volusia County council member Deborah Denys said.

Denys, who represents the district that includes New Smyrna Beach, was concerned about beach-goers who would try to avoid paying more.

She was the only council member who said she will not support any increase.

Others seemed open to the idea.

"I do think there is an increase, there is a place where there should be an increase. I do think there should be an increase in the annual pass," Volusia County council member Pat Northey said.

Leaders did not take a vote or even move forward with a solid plan, but all agreed to take the discussion to a workshop, a step that could likely lead to higher tolls.

The county needs a decision on beach tolls by the end of the summer because it is a part of the looming budget.

The county manager said if leaders did decide on an increase, it would have to be put in place by January 2014.

"I don't think it's great for tourism," said beach-goer Mary Ficek.

Wagner said he thinks the toll hike is necessary to help keep the beaches clean and pay for lifeguards., but Ficek said if the toll prices go up, she'll simply spend less money on other things.

"If you're spending it more someplace else, then you wouldn't rent the chair or you wouldn't rent the body board," she said.

That has some beach business owners like Dan Kontny worried.

"It's a concern of ours that maybe they'll be limited to what they can spend once they get on the beach," said Kontny.

According to Wagner's plan, anyone who pays the $30 toll will get a $10 voucher to use at the beach for food and concessions.

But Kontny doesn't know if his business will get a cut of the money.

"I'm hoping they take a good look at the whole opportunity here and make sure they think it through great before they make some changes," he said.