Eliminate the new Suffolk County Parks fee structure
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Dear Parks Commissioner and Suffolk County Legislators,
In 2016, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to increase the fees for residents using its parks, golfing facilities, boating facilities, and campgrounds. This represented a 10% increase over the previous year’s budget. Reasons cited for this increase included the “...increased cost of providing the facilities and activities.” Now again, in 2017, our legislators have voted to increase the fees. This time, at a rate of almost 11%. These increases add up to a 21% fee hike over a little less than 2 years. Lawmakers cited a need for more funds in order to provide “...crucial services.” Additionally, disabled veterans, volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel who previously used certain facilities at a reduced, or no cost, are now being charged. We, the taxpayers, campers, boaters, golfers, disabled veterans and nature lovers of Suffolk County wish to express our disappointment with these fee hikes and our disillusionment concerning lawmakers we voted into office - believing they had their constituents’ best interests at heart.
Suffolk County residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation. On a house assessed at $550,000, we pay 2.219% taxes, or $12,205 per year. Compare this to the 1.578% paid by New York City residents ( $8,679) or the average 1.211% national rate ($6,661). Simply put, our property taxes are almost double what most other Americans pay. A portion of these taxes go to the parks, and it is that money that we believe should be enough to cover the costs of running the parks. We understand the the cost of living rises each year, but we also understand that our property taxes rise accordingly. Why, then, this need to increase a budget by 21% over the course of barely two years? This type of fee hike is largely unprecedented and is aimed at a group of people who, until now, have been silent.
Lawmakers tell us that this increase in fees is for our benefit. The money will help provide “facilities and activities” and will also facilitate the implementation and running of “crucial services.” This ambiguous language represents an effort on the lawmakers’ part to justify fee increases without providing any concrete or practical examples of its beneficial use. Many of us have enjoyed the county’s parks all our lives, yet we are at a loss to recall any improvements of “facilities”, and implementation of “activities” or any upgrades in “crucial services.” Where are the fruits of this increased revenue? Where is the proof that this money has benefited the taxpayers? As campers, for example, we can cite no improvements, upgrades or additions to campgrounds that have been in any way proportional to the fee hikes. In fact, at most campgrounds, the bathroom facilities are just as smelly, dirty, leaky, and unsanitary as they’ve ever been, and activities at county campgrounds are- and always have been...non-existent. So again, just what exactly are we getting for our extra fees?
We stand united in stating that we find these fees to be arbitrary, unfair and unnecessary. It seems to us that the County’s ongoing struggle to balance the budget has placed a biased and undue burden on those of us who choose to enjoy the natural beauty of Long Island. Our tax dollars already pay for these parks, and the previous fees helped to augment that revenue. This 21% hike is ludicrous and we have not seen any evidence that the money will, in fact, be spent in a way that reflects the desires and needs of those constituents enjoying the facilities and activities. Additionally, there are a number of poor practices that we believe should be reconsidered and repealed.
- The “revamped” Suffolk County Campground Online Reservation System. A travesty. This is a system that creates complete chaos for those trying to secure a site. The lack of a waiting list (to fill those cancellations) , is a perfect example of the minimal foresight employed in the site’s creation. New York State campgrounds, for example, provide a waiting list for cancelled sites - why can’t Suffolk County?
- “Flagship Campgrounds” What exactly does this mean? Water views? As previously stated, we are already being taxed to enjoy the natural environment - now there is to be an extra fee for that same enjoyment. When the term “Flagship Campgrounds” first appeared, many of us had visions of renovated campgrounds without garbage strewn about, with clean bathing facilities, with maybe an events center or recreational building for children’s activities, group games, or movie nights. Perhaps new playgrounds or a dog park...Turns out “Flagship Campgrounds” are the same old same old. Just a fancy word and a lot more money for the County. Nothing new for the taxpayer…
Perhaps the saddest and most insidious aspect of this rate increase (and the false representation of the use of the revenue), is the perceived intent to create yet another “elitist” environment where only those with means can enjoy the natural beauty of Long Island. We are all Long Islanders and taxpayers and citizens with equal protection under the law. Are boating, camping, public golfing and outdoor recreation on public lands to stay available to all citizens? Or is this yet another example of our government’s propensity to create and perpetuate an environment where only a select few can enjoy those things originally designated for the masses? Many families who camp, for example, do it for the love of nature - but also because it provides a fun vacation that is budget friendly. A week long vacation that would normally cost $100 can now cost close to $200. This is a week’s worth of groceries for some Long Islanders. Are our elected officials so out of touch that they think these fee hikes won’t impact the average boater, camper or golfer? These fees are exclusionary. Plain and simple.
Finally, we must address the issue facing disabled veterans; many of whom live on VA pensions with restricted means to recreation, outdoor activities and travel. These are men and women who served this country and suffered as a result. They still pay their property taxes like the rest of us, and were (in the past) exempt from paying additional fees for camping, boating, or golfing. Now, in 2017, veterans will have the initial fee waived but will be responsible for paying all the other fees associated with this new fee increase. For example, a veteran who used to camp for the cost of the $13 reservation fee, will now have to pay approximately $175 per week. Again, to lawmakers, perhaps this is not a large amount, but to a disabled person living on a fixed income, it is. How often do officials get elected on the promises of protecting and respecting our veterans? How many TV commercials and public events show candidates touting their reverence for those who served? Politicians are often elected (at least in part) for holding such views and beliefs. What message does this revocation of benefits send? It is shameful that after instituting a 21% tax increase, somehow there is still not enough money to continue to honor our disabled vets with “free” access to our parks.
We are boaters, campers, golfers, and disabled veterans. We are Long Islanders who are faced with a growing sense of being disenfranchised by the officials we helped to elect. Taxes levied to benefit our parks have become burdensome and exclusionary. They are arbitrary and they show no signs of actually improving the institutions for which they are raised. We respectfully request that these fees be reconsidered, and that the unfair treatment they represent be discarded as actions that are in opposition to the true spirit and tradition of the public parks philosophy. Our county parks are a wonderful part of our shared heritage. Will that heritage now only belong to a select segment of our population?
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