County rolls out a series of new charges to help financial balance.
APRIL FOOLS -- Eager to avoid budget shortfalls for the remainder of the fiscal year and through the foreseeable future, county leaders have implemented a menu of user fees and charges for once-free services.
The shift in financial strategy is hoped to bring the county more in line with how private businesses are run.
While many of the new levies will roll out over the next months, beachgoers will be the first to experience them: ala carte lifeguard services at county run locations.
Want a selfie with a rad lifeguard for your Instagram feed? $12.75.
Ask a lifeguard where the bathroom is? $1.50.
Additional fees for the return of lost children, rescues from the surf and other charges are also part of the plan, though daily market rates will apply.
Pay potties are also under consideration, using a European model of charging for access to a restroom, but refunding the 50 cent fee if a user then makes a purchase.
“The days of lifeguards doling out free, concierge-like service on the backs of hard-working, middle class Sarasotans to people who can’t be bothered to learn to swim are coming to an end,’’ County Finance Director Ida Haveaheart said. “No business would last six months operating like that, and we’re not going to either. “
While the county remains committed to free general access to the beach, premium sunbathing positions closest to parking and other desirable amenities will be the subject of hourly rates, beginning in August.
County officials are as yet unsure if parking meter-like devices will be placed alongside socially distanced marked and reserved squares or some kind of prepay option will be developed.
Residents and tourism experts were split on the idea. “I hardly ever go to the beach, so why should my taxes go toward employing a massive staff to keep them safe,’’ said Siesta Key resident Faith Numoor. “The nanny state is running amuck again.’’
The effects on tourism is still unknown.
“I’m simply appalled,’’ said travel editor Jules Enoughalready of the website cheaptravels.com. “These are basic services that every other city, county, village, state, and province provides. Sarasota County goes from four stars to two. Next thing you know, there will be an express line for COVID-19 shots.’’
Anticipating the need for an annual booster shot for the initial round of vaccines, the county is ready to roll out in 2022, exactly that.”
For a $20 per person fee, the so-called Fast-Vaxx lines will be installed at county-run vaccine sites.
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