Luna Pier Mayor Ric Murray walks around the parking lot to the beach he hopes will be a cash collector for the town.
LUNA PIER - Free lunch days in Luna Pier are over - if you don't live in the village.
Beginning in early May, visitors parking in either of the two lots near the city's Lake Erie beach will have to pay for the privilege.
City council approved the measure in January. Since then, Ric Murray, mayor pro tem, has been organizing the effort to get the system in place in time for the busy summer season.
Mr. Murray said the cost of maintaining Monroe County's only free, public access beach - about $7,500 from June through August - has become a burden with the increased expenses and decreased revenue facing most Michigan municipalities.
He found most Florida beach towns charge for parking by using dispensers that issue vouchers that drivers place on vehicle dashboards - rather than more expensive individual meters.
While he was researching the idea, Mr. Murray said he discovered that the majority of people who visit in the summer to use the beach or fish off the municipal pier are not city residents.
"Our [residents] are paying for services we're providing [for outsiders]," Mr. Murray said.
Selling the idea to Luna Pier residents has turned out to be a bigger problem than anticipated, largely because a number of them aren't aware that all they have to do to avoid fee is to register at city hall for a sticker.
Among them is Robert Teachout who, assuming residents have to pay, is concerned about the town's seniors.
"A lot of older people in this town go down there and sit along the pier. Why should they have to pay?" he said.
Others believe it's a good idea.
"If you want to go to the beach, you have to pay for it," said Mark Lajiness.
Mr. Murray said he isn't sure why there's so much confusion since the new policy has been widely promoted.
City Administrator Tom Treece understands that many non-Luna Pier residents accustomed not to paying when they visit will be upset the first time they see parking meters.
"Welcome to the real world," he said. "It's just the way things are these days.
Parking will cost 50 cents an hour. Violators will pay $5 fines. If they wait more than 10 days, the penalty jumps to $25. Luna Pier police officers will be charged with enforcing the measure according to Mr. Murray.
"They have agreed to do this. Basically, it will give them a presence [in the area]," said Mr. Murray, adding that $100 fines for bringing alcohol to the beach and other violations might increase as a result.
He estimated the cost of starting the new program, including voucher machines and signs, at $6,600. About 80 parking spaces are in the two lots, which often are full in high season, he said.
"[We] probably can pay for [the expense] in a little over a year," he said.
Contact George Tanber