Update: A community rally has been scheduled for Monday evening. Find out more here.
Suffolk County Legislators Jay Schneiderman and Kate Browning have sent a letter to County Executive Steve Bellone urging him to quash a that has been instituted at in West Hampton Dunes and in Shirley.
The fee, which is being charged between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., was approved last month in an effort to generate extra cash to fund general maintenance, lifeguards and park police at county beaches.
The county parks department, which originally proposed instituting the fee at in Hampton Bays, but dropped the beach from the list, has estimated that $90,000 will be garnered through the fee.
However, the fee has not been popular among area residents with one Shirley resident starting an , which some 1,058 residents have signed as of Friday afternoon.
The following is a copy of the letter sent to County Executive Bellone from Schneiderman and Browning.
Dear County Executive Bellone,
Recently the Parks Department began charging a $4 “twilight fee” to users of Cupsogue and Smith’s Point Beach. Although intended to help mitigate the County’s budget shortfall, the fee has many negative consequences and may be financially counterproductive as well.
Many of our residents visit the parks after 5 pm with their families to enjoy a leisurely walk along the beach, bring their children to play on the playgrounds or just to relax and enjoy the view. The beaches of Suffolk County are national treasures that should be open to all residents regardless of income. In the evening when there is plenty of parking, there should not be a fee. Access to nature is beneficial to the public, which is why we preserve natural areas in the first place.
One of the main reasons these beaches have become so popular after hours is because the vendor, at his own expense, offers entertainment. Since we charge a 10% commission off the vendor’s gross receipts, we receive $4 for every $40 spent there. We fear that the fee will have a chilling effect on his business and for every $4 admission we collect we will lose $4 in commission revenue. I believe there will be no net gain for the county, but the vendor will suffer by lower sales and the public will suffer by losing free access.
While seemingly nominal, there are many residents who cannot afford to pay this fee. A single mother commented that she used to take her child to the beach after hours regularly because she could not afford the daytime parking fee. Now she can’t go in the late afternoon either. The “twilight fee” is the price of a gallon of milk. Five evenings would be half a tank of gas for some families. These are the choices the new fee is forcing them to make.
Another issue that should be considered at Smith’s Point is access to the Flight 800 Memorial. Many families visit the memorial in the evening. This is a site for them to grieve the loss of loved ones. This solemn site is an important part of the healing process and should be available free of charge to family members of the victims of that tragedy.
Please reconsider the decision to charge a twilight fee at Smith’s Point and Cupsogue Beach. While we are pleased with your decision to exempt Meschutt, the new fee at any of these beaches has negative consequences that outweigh any benefit received.