Editor, The Beacon:
As a frequent user and supporter of Florida’s beautiful state parks, I want to bring awareness of a recent announcement by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that has me scratching my head.
Starting on May 5, 2021, the DEP announced, all Florida state parks will levy a new “daily utility fee” on users of Florida state park campsites.
This new $7-per-day fee is in addition to the existing daily campsite-use fee, which varies from $16 to $42 a night depending on the state park.
I do not support or oppose this new fee; I question its purpose and timing.
The Florida Park Service says it has not raised fees since 2009. However, even during the period 2007 to 2010, when the Florida State Park system was actually considering closing state parks and laying off employees, the DEP did not create a daily utility fee.
Yet this year, the state Legislature appropriated $175 million for our state parks and state-park-generated revenues are up significantly over the past year. So why now? What’s really going on?
I contacted the DEP’s assistant director of business operations to find out. I sent him some easy questions for a business office to answer: What was the deficiency the DEP was trying to resolve? How does a new daily $7 utility fee solve it? Why not just increase the daily price of campsites? Why create a new fee?
Will this daily utility fee be used to pay only for the state parks’ current utilities and future utility upgrades? Is the new daily utility fee an effort to avoid the campsite fee discounts authorized by Florida law?
How did DEP calculate and then decide that $7 per day is the necessary, appropriate, or correct price for a daily utility fee? Did the DEP consider the impact of this utility fee on low-income campers who may now be priced out of camping in a Florida state park?
So far, my inquiry yielded only an unresponsive, incomplete and bureaucratic reply. Surprising, right?
Here is what I have learned: Despite its naming as a “utility fee” and being marketed as such, the revenues from this new state park fee would go into the same Florida State Park Trust Fund as current campsite fees do. This fee is not controlled by the Legislature; they delegated the authority to DEP to create certain fees subject to approval by the secretary.
Given this, why is DEP telling Florida State Park campers the new daily utility fee is for paying utilities, when it’s really just a new source of park revenue? I remain confused about its real purpose and timing.
If you are interested in this new state park utility fee and others, I suggest you read the DEP’s press release (DEP Announces Changes to State Park Fee Schedule) and then request their “Frequently Asked Questions” guide for the Florida State Parks Fee Schedule (not currently posted on their website).
An online public hearing was scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, April 30. Details are to be published on the www.floridastateparks.org website at some point.
Hopefully the bureaucrats will have some well-researched, insightful and helpful answers.
Still scratching my head.