Coronavirus Florida: How beach parking closures hurt Southwest Florida cities, counties

Southwest Florida cities and counties say they lost a combined millions of dollars in revenue from parking at beaches and boat launches when they closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Starting in March, Lee and Collier counties shut down beaches and restricted access to parking lots and structures to help slow the spread. The same occurred in cities and towns along the coast, like Naples, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel. 

Since then, beaches and parking have reopened. Over the last several months, some parking across Southwest Florida closed again or saw governments institute restrictions,  like the July Fourth holiday weekend, to help lower the number of people gathering in large groups.

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The Naples Daily News asked Southwest Florida cities and counties with beach accesses and boat launches about the impact of the loss of revenue from parking fees so far this year. 

In total, the two counties and three cities saw a more than $2.5 million decline in revenue from parking at beaches and boat launches, according to information provided by the cities and counties to the Daily News.

Across the area, parking dollars are used for maintenance of beaches and to support government’s general revenue funds, cities and counties said. 

“I don’t think people realize when they ask governments to close things, the repercussions to a city, that its makeup is a lot of different revenue streams,” said Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane. “We have tolls, beach parking. There’s many different impacts from COVID-19 that have been felt.”

Collier County and Naples

Revenue at Collier County boat ramps and beach parking was down about $442,000 from 2019, according to the county’s parks and recreation division. 

Between March 1 and June 30, boat ramp and beach parking revenue was about $567,000. In that same time period in 2019, revenue was more than $1 million. 

“The funds are used to offset expenses related to the beach and boat ramp operations,” an email from the parks and recreation division states. “This includes managing the beach parks, park ranger salaries, and maintenance.”

The parking dollars received by the county balance out the operational expenses and reduce impact on the county’s general fund, according to the parks and recreation division.

Naples estimates revenue from beach parking to be down $405,000, city Finance Director Gary Young said in an email.

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The beach parking revenue is part of the city’s 430 Beach Fund, which is used for maintaining beach ends, beach cleaning and facilities like the Naples Pier, Young said. It’s also used to fund city fireworks shows, he said. 

Young said the decline in revenue still leaves the city within the beach fund’s required balance. 

“Anytime you have a reduction in revenue due to unforeseen circumstances, it can cause concern,” Young said. “In this case, the existing fund balance is more than adequate to assure continued normal operations and level of service as expected and time to see revenues recover.” 

Lee County, Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach

Between March 16 and May 16, Lee County Parks & Recreation reports the county lost nearly $845,000 in parking revenue. Parking fees are collected at 18 Lee County parks and boat ramps, county spokeswoman Betsy Clayton said in an email. 

Lee County Parks & Recreation will be part of upcoming budget discussions in Lee County scheduled for August and September, she said. 

On Fort Myers Beach, the town estimates it will bring in $150,000 less in parking funds this fiscal year because of precautions taken due to the coronavirus, town manager Roger Hernstadt said in an email. 

Parking revenue on Fort Myers Beach is part of the town’s general revenue stream, Hernstadt said. 

“We will carry over $150,000 less into fiscal year 2021; however, it will NOT necessitate a millage increase,” Hernstadt said. 

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The city of Sanibel has also seen a decline in revenue from parking fees, Mayor Ruane said. 

Between March and June of 2019, the city collected more than $1.5 million in parking fees, according to information provided by the city. In that same time period this year, the city collected about $828,000. That is a decline of about $756,000.

The city expects an additional $100,000 loss from closing public beach parking over the July Fourth weekend, Ruane said. 

Sanibel has about 15 miles of beaches, Ruane said. The city uses dollars collected from parking fees to maintain shorelines and public facilities, he said. 

“The first thing is to really maintain all the public beaches,” he said. “Second, we need to maintain all the public restrooms.”

Beach parking is just one area where Sanibel has been impacted due to the coronavirus, Ruane said.

Sanibel furloughed part-time and full-time employees earlier this year to ease the financial impacts to the city from the coronavirus, Ruane said. 

“Beach parking is certainly a big number. The impact crosses over a couple different quarters. It’s the first quarter, the second quarter,” Ruane said. “That’s how massive it is. There’s seven different beach parking areas to park at. We can house an excess of 600, 700 cars. It’s really a big deal.” 

Brittany Carloni is the city of Naples reporter at the Naples Daily News. Support her work by subscribing to our local news organization. Find her on Twitter as @CarloniBrittany.

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