Monday night, the Recreation and Parks Commission approved increases to the entrance fees at Waterford Beach Park, particularly to out-of-town residents, for whom the proposal increases fees by at least 50 percent.
The group voted to increase the cost of a year pass to Waterford Beach for out-of-town residents from $80 to $120 and for day passes to out-of-town residents from $10 on a weekday and $20 on a weekend to $20 on a weekday and $30 on a weekend. They also agreed to raise the year passes for residents from $15 to $20 and for seniors from $5 to $10.
The commission passed the increases, which still need to be approved by the Waterford Representative Town Meeting, after residents complained that out-of-town beach goers were breaking the rules of the beach. However, Waterford Recreation and Parks Director Brian Flaherty was against the rate increases because he felt they were too high.
“This is unprecedented,” said Flaherty, saying the rate increases are far more drastic than the ones in the past. “I have some reservations.”
Recreation and Parks Commission Chairman Ed Murphy said the commission’s goal was to have the rates at Waterford Beach Park be more “in line” with the rates of other beaches. If the move is approved, for out-of-town residents Waterford Beach will go one from of the cheapest beaches in the area to one of the most expensive.
This summer, at least two Waterford residents complained to the Recreation and Parks Commission that out-of-town people were drinking alcohol and swearing at the beach, and asked the commission to increase the rates as a deterrent to keep those people away, according to meeting minutes. Flaherty said there were issues at the beach, although the Waterford Police Department came more later in the summer and that helped curb some of the problems.
In response, the commission reviewed its rate structure, which had remained static for many years and below most other town beaches. For example, a year pass to Ocean Beach and East Lyme's McCook Point Park for non-residents is $90, and for Waterford Beach it is $80, according to Flaherty.
Additionally, a one-day pass for out-of-town residents to McCook's and Ocean Beach is $15 for weekdays, with Ocean Beach going up to $20 on a weekend, according to Flaherty. Entrance fees at Waterford Beach are $10 for non-residents on the weekdays and $20 for non-residents on the weekends, Flaherty said.
The proposed increase now makes Waterford Beach more expensive than those two towns, with a year cost of $120 for non-residents or $20 for a weekday, $30 for a weekend for one-day passes to non-residents. Several members of the Recreation and Parks Commission said they wanted it higher to deter non-residents from crowding the beach and potentially causing problems.
The group also voted to increase the cost of year passes to Waterford Beach for residents, although even their proposal of $20 per year per car is still below McCook's $30 for the year and Ocean Beach's $55 for the year for residents. The group voted not to change the fees for day passes for residents to Waterford Beach, which will stay at $2 for a weekday and $5 for a weekend.
Flaherty, who does not get a vote on the commission, said the proposed increases are too high. He said it is mainly high schools students working the gate at Waterford Beach and they will have to deal with a host of angry customers.
“When we’ve done increases in the past, we didn’t double the rates,” said Flaherty, referring to the weekday passes for non-residents increasing from $10 to $20. “People are going to notice that.”
Murphy said he believes that even if the higher rates are passed, there would be little difference in the attendance at the beach. He said people are going to go to the beach they like and $10 more for a day or $40 more for a year isn’t going to make a big difference. If that holds true, the town will make far more money off of Waterford Beach.
This summer, the town sold 7,973 one-day passes to Waterford Beach. If the new rates are adopted and the attendance stays the same, the town would collect another $79,730 for one-day passes from non-residents.
Additionally, this summer the Recreation and Parks Commission sold 121 year passes to non-residents for Waterford Beach. If the increased rates are approved and the same amount of people buy year passes, that would mean the town would make $4,840. Overall, that would mean the town would collect $84,570 more this year just from out-of-town residents alone, if attendance stays the same.