Beach fees coming back next summer
The free ride at Warwick’s public beaches will be over next summer, as the Warwick City Council voted unanimously Monday night in favor of a first reading to amend Chapter 18, Section 8 of the city ordinances to reinstate mandatory fees – at increased rates – to park at public beaches between the third Saturday in June and Labor Day.
If the amended ordinance passes a second reading, fees for Warwick residents to acquire a season pass will be doubled from $10 to $20, and tripled from $20 to $60 for nonresidents, from fees that were originally enacted when Lincoln Chafee opposed them as mayor in the 90s. Senior residents would pay $10 for a season pass, and senior nonresidents would pay $30.
Fees per visit were increased from the original $2 to $5 for residents, and quadrupled from $3 to $12 for nonresidents. Per visit rates are $3 for resident seniors and $6 for nonresident seniors. Season passes would be granted to vehicles, not to individuals. Fees for a bus to enter the facility would be $30, and would require approval from the Department of Parks and Recreation. Those entering facilities on foot would not be charged.
The initiative to bring back fees at public facilities was spearheaded by Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, who said Warwick has suffered the negative consequences of decreased attendance from Warwick residents and increased littering as a result of abolishing fees.
“When we did have beach fees...our beaches were kept clean and our own residents were enjoying the beach,” Travis said at Monday’s meeting. “Our residents don’t use the beach that much now. When [Mayor] Avedisian took away the beach fees, it just went downhill. We were the only free beach...We had people coming from all over and they just didn’t care. They left diapers, they left cigarettes and buried them in the sand and it has just been terrible. So this has been a long time coming.”
Ward 3 Councilman Timothy Howe said he supported the reinstatement of fees because he had heard from constituents that they would be willing to pay the fees if it garnered results.
“Our own citizens, the more I speak to, they just don’t go there because it’s so prominent and, quite honestly, it’s filthy,” Howe said. “DPW can’t keep up with the amount of garbage that’s being left because of the amount of people that go in.”
Council President Joseph Solomon said that bringing back fees was a “taxpayer friendly” measure, because it would shift some burden away from taxpayers, some of whom are unable to enjoy the facilities they are taxed for.
“We’re taking some of the cost and taking some of the weight off of the residential and commercial taxpayers within the city, some of which can’t – whether it be for physical or health reasons – utilize these facilities,” he said.
Additionally, Solomon said the fees would create a revenue stream to maintain and make various improvements to the public facilities.
“By charging these fees we can generate more revenue, whether it be for more lifeguard protection, increased litter details, or updating the facilities and keeping these facilities clean to make it more inviting, not just for residents that utilize it, but for the people that will be coming in and paying admission to utilize these facilities,” he said.
Mayor Avedisian worked collaboratively with the City Council to reenact the fees, despite previously working with Chafee in the past to get abolish them. He said that time has shown that getting rid of the fees to increase attendance has created more problems than it has brought benefits.
“In the last few years, free beaches have seen a large increase in the amount of trash that has been left behind,” he said. “It seems as though the small beach fees assessed makes people take ownership of the area and to care for it better. Former Mayor Lincoln Chafee and I had abolished the beach fees to increase access, but I have learned that the token fee charged is well worth the increased stewardship of the beach.”
The ordinance would not affect state-owned facilities, and Avedisian confirmed it would not affect Rocky Point, which is partially owned by the city and partially owned by the state.
Solomon said that the fees are not meant to keep people who live outside of Warwick from coming to enjoy the facilities.
“We still invite people to come enjoy our facilities and our beaches, as we always have, and in a responsible way,” he said.
Avedisian said that the fees would be enforced by beach staff under the Department of Parks and Recreation, and that their salaries would have to be allocated into next year’s budget. He didn’t specify how many would need to be hired.
The mayor also said that the fees would not apply to all city-owned recreational facilities, despite that being a possible interpretation from the language of the ordinance. Only Oakland Beach, Conimicut and City Park would be affected.
“The beach fees will not apply to all recreational areas,” Avedisian said. “They never did and they will not under this re-institution of fees.”