Irked by evening parking fee at East End beaches

Beachgoers take advantage of a warm spring day

Beachgoers take advantage of a warm spring day at Cupsogue Beach on Dune Road. (April 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Erin Geismar

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A new, $4-per-car evening parking fee at some Suffolk beaches is angering East End residents and elected leaders.

At County Executive Steve Bellone's request, the legislature last week passed an emergency resolution to create the "twilight fee" at Smith Point County Park Beach in Shirley and at Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton.

Parking after 5 p.m. had been free at the parks, where concessionaires often hold free nighttime concerts and other events.

The county, looking to dig out of an estimated $530-million budget hole, said the fee can raise $90,000 through Labor Day. Bellone immediately signed the resolution, which had been approved by a 12-5 vote, and attendants started collecting the fee Saturday.

"We're trying to come closer to covering our costs," said Parks Commissioner Greg Dawson, noting that more beach use at night has increased the need for security, maintenance and waste removal.

"Obviously, our revenue isn't meeting our operating expenses."

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The three Suffolk lawmakers with districts east of William Floyd Parkway were opposed, saying the fee wasn’t vetted by the parks committee and unfairly targets the East End.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said he believes the public will start coming out less for night events and the county will see a decrease in its share of vendor revenue.

“When you offer something for free, and then take it away, people are going to be upset,” he said.

Jim Dougherty, Shelter Island supervisor and chair of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association, called it “an unfair, regressive penalty imposed on the ordinary citizen.”

Camille Cardoza, 68, said she is one of those citizens. The Center Moriches woman often attends evening events at Smith Point County Park.

“I know the county has a budget deficit,” she said, “but don’t take it out even more on the backs of working people.”

Bellone aides said the county doesn’t view the measure as punitive and pointed out that fee hikes have been spread across constituent groups. Dawson added that he didn’t need legislative approval to extend daytime parking fees — generally $8 per car for residents and $15 for nonresidents — until 8 p.m., but he wanted a more reasonable charge.

“We thought this made more sense,” he said.
The resolution would allow imposition of similar “twilight fees” at two other county parks — Meschutt Beach and Sears Bellows, both in Hampton Bays — but Dawson said there are no plans to do so.

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