Waterford tries to avoid hike in residential beach parking fee

Waterford — The Representative Town Meeting is engaged in some economic gymnastics to keep residential beach parking prices from rising due to a new state sales tax on municipally-owned seasonal parking lots.

Recreation & Parks Director Brian Flaherty and his department are recommending the town implement a 6.35% sales tax on residential and non-residential weekend, weekday and seasonal Waterford beach passes in order to meet state statutes. The RTM recently discussed the impact of the tax and asked Flaherty and his department for additional information ahead of its meeting on April 6.

Baird Welch-Collins was one of multiple members who sought further information because they didn't want Waterford residents to pay more.

"Waterford Beach is a gem, it's one of the best resources our town has, and people will want to keep coming there even with marginal fee increases," Welch-Collins said. "Waterford residents already support the beach and the beautiful town property through their taxes."

Current prices, which Flaherty said are likely to change before this upcoming season, are $2 and $5 for Waterford residents on weekdays and weekends, respectively. Out-of-town residents pay $20 for weekdays and $30 for weekends. Season passes for residents are $20 and $100 for nonresidents.

RTM members raised numerous questions about the tax impact before asking Flaherty for additional information before its next meeting.

Members are seeking survey data of regional beach fees in communities such as East Lyme, Groton and New London with a note regarding whether sales tax is included. That way, "Members can see at a glance whether the 'final solution' they prefer might result in prohibitively high non-resident fees," according to a document compiling the questions from RTC members.

The RTM is also looking for the total impact of the 6.35% tax.

The RTM also wrote that to keep the 2020 resident fees at 2019 rates, it would have to reduce the 2020 fee so when the tax was added in it would not exceed the 2019 fee.

For example, to keep the 2020 resident seasonal beach sticker at $20, the official fee would have to be reduced to $18.80 and the sales tax due would be $1.20.

This solution would keep the town from having to raise prices on residents, but the RTM doesn't yet know whether the increases in non-resident fees would cover the loss from reduced resident fees, and whether higher non-resident fees would end up being too high for potential buyers.

If the RTM determines non-residents can shoulder the additional burden, resident fees would be altered as follows:

For a first residential seasonal sticker, the cost would be $20 — $18.81+$1.19 in tax. For an additional sticker, the cost would be $10 — $9.40 + $0.60 in tax. Daily weekday passes would cost $1.88 +$0.12 in tax, and daily weekend passes would cost $4.70+$0.30 in tax.

The proposed measure from Recreation & Parks, before the RTM postponed the action, would bring residential seasonal fees to $22 and non-residential to $107. Residential weekday/weekend fees would move to $3 and $6, and non-residential would be $22 and $32.

The wait for action is affecting the operations of the Recreation & Parks department as Flaherty said the department typically starts selling stickers by mail on April 1, five days before the next RTM meeting. The department also publishes a spring-summer program booklet so it would need to include wording that beach prices are pending review by the RTM.

Waterford's beach parking fees have stayed stagnant since 2013, when they were raised to their current rates. Residential season passes went from $15 to $20, and non-residential went from $80 to $100. The season begins in mid-June.

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