Port St. Joe commissioners walked back a bit Tuesday concerning boat launch fees at the Frank Pate Park boat ramp.
After taking heat from county residents and officials concerning the fee structure – under which county residents paid $5 per launch with no charge to city residents – commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, waived fees for county residents and will approve a new resolution in the coming weeks.
Commissioner William Thursbay brought the motion, saying while the intention, to build a maintenance fund for the boat ramp, was good the reaction from county residents had not been less than positive.
“I have gotten a lot of heat,” Thursbay said.
Commissioner Rex Buzzett acknowledged he had also heard many complaints, but said the season pass for county residents was just $25 – “Not a lot to ask” – and if only out-of-county residents would be paying wondered if the idea of ramp fees was worth the effort.
He said commissioners, who entered into the system less than a month ago as an experiment, should let the current tourist season play out.
“I think we need to leave it like it is,” Buzzett said.
Commissioner Bo Patterson said he had heard from county residents and commissioners and said relations between the city and county should be improved and there was no better place to start.
City residents, however, pay both city and county taxes while county residents do not pay city taxes, Mayor Mel Magidson said.
If the shoe was on the other foot, if city commissioners requested the Board of County Commissioners waive tipping fees at the county landfill for city residents, he wondered what the answer from county commissioners would be.
From the BOCC to the community at large the implementation of boat ramp fees just prior to the beginning of scallop season in late June created considerable outcry.
“The city needs to rethink this or a lot of people are going to be very mad,” said Debbie Fountain, a county resident, posted to the newspaper Facebook page.
City commissioners implemented the boat ramp fees after several workshops and discussions during regular meetings over several months.
The general consensus among commissioners and residents who attended was that ramp fees were appropriate, particular for the stated use, though ideas varied on implementation.
The fee structure approved allowed city residents free use of the Frank Pate Park boat ramp while county residents must pay $5 per launch and out-of-town residents $10 per launch.
Seasonal passes are also available.
The aim was to provide some funds to assist with maintenance and upkeep of the ramp.
The city erected a pay box and envelope system, which is largely on the honor code – little to no enforcement.
But in implementing the launch fees – and with little to no advance notice – city officials caused heartburn for those living outside the city.
County commissioner Carmen McLemore complained to Patterson during a BOCC regular meeting last week.
McLemore said the city’s decision created problems not only at Frank Pate, but due to the implementation of boat ramp fees some anglers were now using White City or other county ramps, creating congestion.
McLemore’s fundamental issue was allowing city residents free use of the Frank Pate Park boat ramp while charging county residents, who also pay local taxes.
“That is not right,” McLemore said. “It is a hot issue. If you are going to charge a fee, charge everybody.”
He suggested that the county could begin charging Port St. Joe residents to use county boat ramps such as at White City or Lands Landing and Gaskin Park.