Capital Regional District directors put the brakes on a staff proposal to increase the parking rate at Thetis Lake and Sooke Potholes regional parks to $7 a day, part of a long-term CRD parks revenue generation plan.
While increases to overnight camping rates and special permits were also included in the roster of proposed fee increases, parking fees raised the most concerns Wednesday at the regional parks committee meeting. Multiple directors predicted public backlash and unintended consequences if the current $2.25 rate was bumped to $7 for 2021.
“I’ve seen what people will do to avoid paying $2.25 and the streets they’re prepared to clog up,” said
View Royal Mayor David Screech, whose community is home to Thetis Lake.
The practice of “paying it forward” – departing park users passing along valid parking slips to incoming visitors – ended in 2019 with the move to a licence plate-based system that generated more revenue.
A staff report implied that service fee changes through the years have only addressed immediate needs and have not kept up with the significant costs associated with park maintenance, bylaw enforcement, service delivery and asset replacement. As well, they are not in line with other regional parks bodies in B.C., directors heard.
The strategy called for an increase in revenues from $227,797 to $670,046 – close to 200 per cent. About $411,000 of that increase came from parking fees.
Saanich Coun. Rebecca Mersereau said she understood the need to realign fees, but suggested phasing in the parking increase over two years.
“We’re in this position because our parks are incredibly popular, but there is a cost in maintaining them,” she said.
Some committee members said the large increase seemed punitive for people visiting for a short time.
“Seven dollars, to me, is just too much just to take your kids out for a swim,” said Metchosin Mayor John Ranns.
Committee chair Ben Isitt, also a Victoria councillor, called the proposed increase “too far, too fast” and suggested a small tax requisition could cover part of the shortfall. Directors were told $400,000 represents approximately $2 per household per year.
Screech also questioned how revenue from parking at Thetis Lake Park – roughly $153,000 last year – is used and was told it provided for service delivery and park improvements.
“I think we need to be very aware of the effects that a park like Thetis has on the host municipality,” he said, pointing out that View Royal provides weekend enforcement and service, with firefighters responding to regular calls through the busy summer months and RCMP patrols dealing with liquor violations.
Staff were instructed to investigate a list of alternatives and bring them back to the next committee meeting. Those included phasing in parking fee increases, pursuing separate short-term and full-day rates, charging for parking year-round and charging at lots where no paid parking currently exists, such as Mount Work and Island View Beach.