By Angie Francalancia
People displaying a disabled parking tag no longer automatically get free parking at Boynton Beach’s Oceanfront Park, located within Ocean Ridge.
Boynton Beach city officials made the decision during their budget workshops earlier this year, and began the change in October at the start of the new budget year.
The exception is for people whose vehicles have been modified with special equipment such as a lift, a ramp or hand controls to accommodate their disability, said Boynton Beach Parks and Recreation Director Wally Majors.
The city made the change as it sought new sources of money for its budget and became aware of the volume of nonpaying visitors to its only beachfront park. City officials reviewed the state law that allows parking fees to be waived for disabled drivers before changing its policy.
“We are struggling to make ends meet, and approximately 20 percent of the vehicles coming into our parks were having their fees waived. That’s an inordinate amount,” Majors said.
“Certainly, we want to be benevolent,” he added, “but ultimately, we have to maintain the parks in a manner that people would expect.”
Parking fees cover less than half of the $500,000 park maintenance budget, he said.
Last year, between October and December, there were 16,729 visitors to Oceanfront Park, and 3,411, or 20 percent, had their fees waived, Majors said.
Boynton Beach charges residents $40 for an annual parking pass, or $10 for a single day.
Majors noted that free parking is available at two county beaches within a mile north and south of the park for people who can’t afford the fee.
“The bulk of our permits are sold in September, and we started advising people of the new policy well over a month in advance. Personally, I’ve gotten two phone calls (complaining),” he said. “It certainly gives me the sense that people agreed it’s fair.”