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|Board nixes beach discount|
|Written by Susanna Sheehan|
|Wednesday, 15 January 2014 11:19|
The Board of Selectmen this week rejected a proposal from Town Manager René Read to discount beach stickers before June 1 and instead approved higher fees for oversand permits starting May 1.
At their public meeting Monday, selectmen learned that Read proposed to offer a $30 discount to non-residents and a $20 discount to residents if they bought their beach stickers before June 1. After June 1, the prices would then increase $60 for non-residents and $40 for residents. The proposed discounts/increases only applied to over-sand permits.
The current price for a non-resident over sand permit is $295. In Read’s plan, that price would have decreased to $265 and then risen to $325 after June 1. The resident over- sand sticker price is currently $160. In the proposal, that cost would have dropped to $140 and then increased to $180.
Last spring, the entire off- road vehicle section of the beach, most of the resident’s pedestrian beach and much of the public bathing beach was closed from June until July because of an unusually large number of endangered shore birds, which nested all over the beach.
The beach closure cost the town $110,000 because it offered a one-time refund. Over 390 permit holders took advantage of the refund.
Read formulated his proposal because he felt that this year many people will either not buy beach stickers or will wait to buy them to see if the beach will be closed again. He and Finance Director John Madden worked on the plan, which gained Fiscal Advisory Committee approval.
Read said his rationale behind the proposal was that by June 1 the weather is better and by then the town would under- stand the number and location of the endangered shore birds that nest on Duxbury Beach in the spring.
“The beach patron will then be afforded the ability to make a clear decision on whether or not they wish to pay,” Read said.
Fiscal Advisory Committee chairman James Lampert summed it up: “In René and John’s view, we have a lot of dissatisfied customers and there is there is likely to be a significant drop-off in the total number of people buying stickers, particularly non-res- idents, although historically this hasn’t happened. Town Manager has made the judgment that the best way to bring those people back is to dangle a discount in front of them.”
Read said, “Last year was a tough year to be in the beach business and we tried to figure out an incentive program to bring them back.”
Selectmen did not agree with this plan. Instead, they voted to keep the over-sand beach sticker fees at the current levels ($295 non-resident and $160 resident) and raise them to $325 for non-residents and $180 for residents on May 1. The increases only apply to over-sand permits.
“I like the idea of a discount,” said Selectman Shawn Dahlen. “But I’d like to keep the fees at the level they are today with the knowledge the fees will go up after a certain date.”
Dahlen said he believed people would still be buying beach stickers this year.
“I think last year represented a worst-case scenario,” Dahlen said, adding that the numbers showed that the ma- jority of refunds went to non- residents as only 33 residents asked for their money back.
“I’m of the opinion that we don’t charge enough for stickers,” said Selectman Ted Flynn. “You can use the beach 365 days a year. I think we should go up a small amount on all stickers each year.”
Flynn wanted the town to look at all the beach sticker fees including the categories that will not be affected by the increase, specifically the resident parking lot and senior over-sand and parking lot rates.
Dahlen said that one of the major complaints people have about Duxbury Beach is that it is overcrowded, which is why offering a discount didn’t make sense to him.
“The biggest complaint on the beach is overcrowding, so if you can sell less stickers for more money and have less peo- ple on the beach it makes more sense than having more people on the beach and selling more stickers for less,” said Dahlen. “If there are less people on the beach that makes for a better beach experience.”
Selectmen chairman David Madigan said the town should not reduce the beach sticker fees more than the current levels because the revenues are needed for pay for more expenses than before, such as the Powder Point Bridge repairs. He said that even after the town returned $110,000 in refunds it still took in $1.5 million in beach sticker fees.
Madden said the selectmen were not taking into consideration the 700 people who never bought beach stickers last year. He said in 2013, the town sold 2,086 stickers compared to the 2,700-2,800 stickers sold the previous year.
Madden is hedging his bets that fewer people will buy beach stickers this year and he estimated that sticker revenues will be reduced to $1.2 million for the current budget year. He also must find an extra $200,000 to pay for the rising cost of the beach lease, which the beach’s owners, the Beach Reservation Inc., increased to $600,000 this year. Mad- den said the reduced beach sticker revenues affect the town’s capital budget as there is less money turned back to the town’s savings account af- ter beach expenses have been paid.
The way beach stickers are to be sold this year will also change. Customers will no longer be able to use the mail-in program after May 1. The town wants them to order their stickers online or online at the town hall via an Internet kiosk. Beach stickers can still be purchased in person at the town hall.