TREASURE ISLAND — If you love going to the beach but hate feeding the parking meter, Treasure Island has a deal for you.
Now anyone can buy an annual parking pass valid at any Treasure Island metered parking lot — and you can use it as many times as you want all year long.
For non-resident beachgoers, until now there was only one option -- put $6 into a parking meter for each day at the beach. The cost of the new annual pass is $75, equivalent to about a dozen daylong metered beach visits.
This is a hefty increase for residents and property owners, however, who previously could buy an annual beach pass for $5.
Several weeks ago, the city found out it might lose millions of dollars of beach renourishment money if it continued to sell restricted beach passes.
"It has come to my attention that the city of Treasure Island is issuing resident-only passes for parking,'' Catherine Florko, an environmental specialist for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, wrote in an email to Andy Squires, Pinellas County's coastal manager. "The lots can no longer be counted for eligibility for state cost."
That email was forwarded to City Manager Reid Silverboard, who told city commissioners in December that they would have to either eliminate beach passes completely or offer them to the public.
"We have known for a while this is an issue and now it has come to a head," Silverboard said.
Every few years, the city's beaches are rebuilt with tons of new sand paid for mostly by the state and federal governments.
In exchange for the millions of taxpayer dollars being spent on the city's constantly eroding beaches, the state and federal governments ask two things -- that there is enough public parking and that none of that parking is restricted in any way.
In addition to public metered parking lots, the city counts many on-street parking spaces in Sunset Beach to qualify for beach renourishment.
But even with that requirement met, if the commission had decided to continue to sell reduced-cost parking passes, Silverboard said he was told by Squires that the city would no longer be eligible for beach renourishment.
In 2012, about 1,400 passes were sold at a cost of $5 each, generating about $6,500 in revenue.
Parking meter revenues contributed more than $250,000 to the city's coffers.
Although Silverboard said he hopes not that many people will buy the passes and will continue to use the parking meters, the new pass system could be a financial windfall.
It would take less than five percent of the estimated 80,000 annual beach visitors to be willing to buy the new parking passes to match past revenues. If 20 percent of these beachgoers decide to buy annual passes, the city could take in more than $1 million in revenue.
The commission voted 4-1 to approve the new parking pass program with only Commissioner Julian Fant opposed.
The plastic hanger passes must be placed on the rear view mirror of the vehicle parked on the beach.
As in the past, city employees will receive free passes. The passes are not allowed to be used for offsite residential parking or for business employee parking.
"I think you will be surprised how fast this will network out on Facebook and Twitter that a regular visitor to the beach can buy a pass to go to the beach that is the same as going 10 or 12 times a year," Silverboard said.