A freshman member of the Volusia County Council is making a name for himself by calling for immediate attention to old issues — even as new and continuing concerns, such as hurricane recovery, are on the minds of fellow leaders and their constituents.
“I would like to have a discussion item … to talk about … getting our residents onto the beach for a lesser cost,” Council Member Troy Kent told his colleagues Jan. 17. “But I want all non-Volusia residents to pay to park by our beach.”
Kent represents the county’s District 4, northeast Volusia, which includes part of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach and Ormond-by-the-Sea.
“The access to the beach is broken,” he said, as he urged the council to schedule a discussion on beach-driving and parking fees at its last regular meeting in March, or March 21.
Waiving the beach tolls for Volusians on their county’s beaches will not be easy, cautioned Council Vice Chair Danny Robins.
“How are we going to pay for it?” Robins asked.
“We don’t know what that finding will be until we talk about it,” Kent replied. “I think it’s absolutely doable.”
“What I’m trying to do is look ahead,” Robins said, recalling that previous discussions on beach tolls and the costs of lifeguards, beach police and cleanup have ended with no essential changes in the county’s operations of the shoreline for the past 30-plus years.
“Collective minds could come up with something,” Kent said.
Another freshman council member said any discussion about no-toll access for in-county beachgoers may be premature, as the debris and coastal damage of hurricanes Ian and Nicole are still evident.
“Let’s get our beach back before we talk about freebies,” District 2 Council Member Matt Reinhart urged.
How does one fill the gap that may be created by the loss of revenue from locals going to the beach — either by paying a daily toll or purchasing a beach season pass?
“Can we use the bed tax money?” County Chair Jeff Brower wondered aloud.
The bed tax refers to the 3-percent resort tax added to the daily charge for hotel and motel rooms and short-term rentals. The per-room-per-night charge is in addition to the general sales tax that is collected on lodging bills.
That and other ideas may be aired, as the County Council considers anew whether Volusians may drive on their county’s beaches without having to pay extra. A portion of the county’s general fund also goes toward beach expenses, and thus property owners — homeowners and business owners — pay part of the cost of lifeguards, policing and maintaining the shoreline.
Volusia County’s 2022-23 budget allocates almost $11.5 million for beach operations. Of that sum, $7 million comes from the county’s beach-access fees, namely beach tolls and season passes. The beach operating expenses come from the county’s general fund.
The county charges $25 for a season pass for Volusia residents who want to drive onto the beach and $100 for a season pass for out-of-county residents. The single-day toll to drive onto the beach is $20.
The county’s Beach Safety/Ocean Rescue has 79 full-time employees and 317 part-time employees.
Yet another suggestion for covering beach costs that surfaces from time to time is to install parking meters in parking lots for those who leave their cars off the beach and walk to the ocean.
Will the fees be waived or reduced for locals to frolic in the surf and sand along the ocean? Stay tuned.