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Commissioners launch boat ramp education effort

Tim Croft

Port St. Joe commissioners are getting serious about the boat ramp at Frank Pate Park.

Commissioners conducted a workshop Tuesday to shape the outlines of plans to enhance payment of required fees for non-residents and enforcement at the boat ramp.

The effort at this time, characterized by Mayor Rex Buzzett as an “education program” that will continue until Oct. 1, the start of a new fiscal year, for enforcement to be in place.

“We have to set a day you must have a sticker,” Buzzett said. “We need an education campaign for those with old stickers to get new ones.

“Our pressing issue and always has been stickers and enforcement.”

One prong of the effort will be urging county residents, eligible to use the ramp for free provided they have a sticker, to turn in their old sticker for new ones.

That can be through City Hall.

Commissioner Scott Hoffman said one problem with enforcement would be those residents who failed to take the effort to ensure they have the appropriate sticker.

Commissioners will also improve signage to provide clear directions for non-residents on how to pay for access to the ramp.

Resident Dusty May said the signs should be larger than the current ones and in addition to clear directions on how to pay emphasize a trailer will be towed if in violation of boat ramp use.

“We need to have signage that will explain what we are going to expect,” Buzzett said.

And commissioners will also install a camera at the boat basin to further bolster enforcement.

The major item still to be decided is how to accept payment at the ramp.

City staff is exploring options for a method easier than the current one, which requires the filling out of an envelope, submitting cash in the envelope and removing a tag to place in the windshield of a truck.

One machine offered for discussion was a machine that would handle credit cards and cash and produce a receipt for the truck or other vehicle.

Staff will research with other counties and cities to explore options.

May also urged commissioners to be more transparent about the revenue generated at the ramp and how it is used; revenue is intended for improvements to the boat ramp basin.

“Be transparent with everything,” May said.

Commissioners said they would include the boat ramp and fees during a bi-monthly meeting each month.

The workshop was called to begin to establish a more structured program at the boat ramp.

For starters, it a city asset.

“It is a privilege to use it,” May said. “I firmly understand the need to raise enough money to (maintain) that boat ramp.

“There is so much opportunity there.”

The ramp currently generates about $20,000-$25,000 per year, some of that through purchase of $50 annual stickers for non-residents, but May said it could be much more.

“And make it a positive message, we are trying to improve the city’s waterfront footprint,” May said. “That is what you are trying to do.”

May offered that members of the Baysavers group working to save St. Joseph Bay would be willing to act as volunteers on busy days to be at the ramp to provide education and assistance.

By the time the workshop was completed 60 minutes after it began, commissioners offered that any ordinance pertaining to the boat ramp and parking should also fold in downtown parking and golf cart usage.