What would you say if a proposal was brought up in order to make money for the Ludington city government, and it was researched only to be found that it was not a money maker but a money loser? What would you say if that same proposal was nearly 100% unpopular with the public, and could only lead to making visitors and citizens alike upset enough to keep them away from the city's most popular attraction? Would you believe that city leaders are still seriously considering such a proposal and putting a lot of time and money into further research? Read on.
The Origin of the Public Discussion
In the LT article It's time to close Stearn's Park, the City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews) was sourced to relate the news that city leaders were conducting discussions to put in parking meters or kiosks at Stearn's beach to genereate revenue. The first actual discussion took place on Facebook at Councilor Brandy Henderson's 'official' site:
It should be noted that she posted the request for opinions about 8 hours before the meeting held that night, and it did generate quite a lot of discussion on her site, the Concerned Ludington Facebook group, and beyond, with almost all replies not being thrilled by the idea.
It is instructive to note that Brandy's announcement via social media is rather different than the city's usual method for getting out such controversial information for public feedback (i.e. announcing it via the COLDNews on the weekend before the Monday meeting it gets voted on). Although there were other issues that came up at that night's meeting, it did get front page treatment by the COLDNews the next day, and much discussion at the Ludington Torch before that. But Brandy Henderson's break of the 'usual' protocols did not go unnoticed; she alerted the city manager that she had talked with reporters on the topic and let him know that she would be using social media for more of the same in the future for feedback:
This E-mail was part of the FOIA response I received.pdf which asked for discussions over parking fees or meters at the beach since the year of 2011 (this was the year the beach patrol came into existence, they would be natural enforcers of such a policy). Shay sent an E-mail back just after noon that day telling Brandy he wanted to talk by phone with her at around 3:00 PM that day. Phone calls between officials cannot be FOIAed, this is the usual tact by Shay (and other officials opposed to transparency) to skirt public accountability.
We therefore will likely not know what transpired in that phone call; however, we can gauge some of the topics discussed because Brandy sent out an E-mail to Councilor Rathsack later that evening to address some issues that he had apparently related to Shay. It was carbon-copied to Mayor Holman:
Brandy's actions and intentions seem honorable and admirable in my metrics, but little of what I have chronicled over the years of city hall and their actions have seen these traits be rewarded by the council or the other administrative officers. To his credit, Councilor Rathsack replies via an E-mail (also sent to Shay) saying Shay had confused him with another councilor but mildly upbraided her for not discussing her new 'approach' with other officials.
He then relates the budget crisis that Ludington and other cities face, and cites some meaningful examples over a few paragraphs, finishing with: "It may be well if the council and city explores what opportunities may best fit Ludington's needs before soliciting comments on isolated opportunities." If I translate that correctly, he seems to be advocating for keeping the public out of these decisions they make rather than inform and represent the public. In other words, the status quo our city has adopted over a period of many years.
A citizen by the name of Mark Bajek wrote a letter to the city with his thoughts on the idea, with Shay sharing it with other officials. It makes a fairly strong case against the idea (see p. 16-19 of the FOIA response)
The Origin of the Private Discussion
It should be noted that my FOIA request was sent February 15 and required a response by the 23rd. In preparation of some of the revelations therein that would indicate the idea should definitely be turned down, the city manager issued a news release that provided a history of the idea. He left out some of the pertinent details, but that often happens when a city issues something like this to 'release' them of even more scorn.
That press release notes the issue had been brought up at the December 19,2016 city council meeting (see page 5), where it didn't receive much public outcry, primarily because it didn't rate a mention on any of the local media, who probably thought of it as a fancy that came and passed. They noted it was mentioned in a Finance Committee meeting, and then it came up later at a January Parks Committee meeting, where research on the issue was completed and submitted without any recommendation other than that it be further researched and later reviewed at a workshop.
What wasn't revealed was a scheduled February 3rd meeting (see page 5 of the FOIA response) with Tom Neff of Traffic & Control Systems. The discreet meeting was envisioned by Shay after the January 24 meeting, as was a counting of the number of parking spaces at Stearn's and Copeyon Park. The meeting was postponed until February 24, tomorrow, at 1:30 PM as of this writing at city hall. If you have some questions or opinions to share, be sure and attend, noting that if they really wanted the public to attend, they would have invited you.
The January 24th Parks Committee meeting delved into the issue with more than a passing consideration. John Shay had reviewed seven other Lake Michigan shoreline communities who have looked into charging people for parking, I offer it here with the mention that the highlights are my addition:
Despite the consensus that none of the programs generated enough revenue to support the expenses of the parking programs in each venue it's been tried, the Parks Committee reviewed the information you see above and moved forth towards expending even more resources into exploring this potential source of revenue-- which seems to only generate deficits wherever it's tried. The secretary of that meeting ironically labelled it "Generating Revenue"
The meeting's participants seemed to have different ideas about it, according to the minutes. Councilor Henderson wondered whether it would negatively affect the beach's popularity, Shay and Krauch appear to be for it. Nowhere is there any concern as to why they would implement such a program if the expenses will most assuredly eclipse the revenues as all other beaches have experienced.
The hundreds of people who have responded to this idea on Facebook, here, and elsewhere preponderantly think that it's a bad idea, and it most assuredly is. These folks and others may go to the wealth of other free beaches in the area, taking money away from all those businesses who count on these people driving through and back through the downtown of Ludington to get to this beach at the end of the avenue.
And if there is no real revenue generated from this, we all wind up paying more, particularly the $30,000 immediate cost it would take to set the kiosks up, and all those hidden costs of city officials and police officers writing up and trying to collect these fines. Fines which will spoil vacations and infuriate both our visitors and locals alike.
Since there is basically no chance to realize a positive revenue flow, and only other negative consequences besides, this is an option that any person with any common sense would dismiss. Freshman Councilor Brandy Henderson shows she has at least some common sense by trying to step in front of a juggernaut composed of a colossal joke, put together by John Shay and marketed by his foolish acolyte Councilor Krauch.
The costs of doing this alone far outweighs any positive income. First the kiosks, $30K to start, then more beach patrol to enforce the darn thing, another $30K/yr. and more vehicles/bicycles etc.. No intelligent nor profitable businessman looking at this would adopt the idea. It's a money loser, and also a bad publicity act for us all around.
Charging people to enter Stearns Beach is not the way to go. It is virtually impossible to implement such an idea without creating massive traffic back ups at the entrance on busy days. The current free use systems has been working for a very long time. Besides the City should not have to be raising money if they just spent what they have wisely.
The "free" system isn't free no matter how long it has been utilized. It is just borne by local taxpayers.
By spending foolishly the City will encumber local tax payers to a debt of about $12,000 per household. This debt isn't going to go away. And since the majority of taxpayers always elect representatives to Council whom are in agreement with increasing this burdening debt, the electorate will be reaped by what City Hall sows. The City Council tapping the fudgies might be the bet idea it ever had.
Anyway massive traffic backups is par for the course during the 6 weeks of summer for those who cruise the park. If you wish to experience this off season I suggest you make endless rounds in Walmart's parking lot looking at the rear ends of autos while idiots run out in front of you and others back out as if you are invisible.