County commissioners discuss clamping down on misused beach driving permits

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Gulf County commissioners discussed how to curtail the increased misuse of beach driving permits in the county after several violations were brought to their attention in the past several weeks.

County Administrator Michael Hammond, who addressed the issue with the Board of County Commissioners, explained that while the permits had been legally purchased, they were being used for multiple vehicles.

“What people are doing is they’re buying a permit, they’re making a color copy, and leaving it in rental houses for folks to use,” said Hammond. “We’d had that problem a couple years ago, with rental companies leaving them on the fridge for people to use.”

Often, these misused permits are being left in vacation rental homes, where out-of-town visitors will come across them and think they’re an included amenity, officials said.

“Now, ignorance of the law is no excuse. But the renters might think that's part of the deal,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel. “Somebody's misleading these people, and I don't believe in a lot of cases it’s the renters’ fault.” 

At their July 19 regular session meeting, the board discussed how to best handle the issue moving forward — deciding that fee changes for non-homesteaded Gulf County property owners and caps on the number of beach driving permits would be considered in upcoming meetings.

Gulf County is one of only a handful of Florida counties that allows beach driving, and permits for out-of-county visitors cost $400, significantly higher than the $30 in-county rate. 

At this time, the in-county rate applies to all Gulf County property owners, regardless of whether they take up residence in the county or not. 

However, commissioners responded positively to the idea of introducing higher rates for Gulf County property owners who are not residents.

“I’m fine with that — having a three tier system with resident, then non-resident property owner, then out-of-county,” said Commissioner Phillip McCroan. 

Hammond also made the suggestion that the commissioners consider implementing a cap on the number of permits that can be distributed annually.

He said his one concern would be that out-of-county permits make up the bulk of the revenues from the program.

While Hammond said he could not provide exact totals for the number of permits at this time, he expressed that a few years ago, there had been about 1000 local beach driving permits, bringing in only $30,000 of the total $90,000 or $100,000 typically generated in a year.

“The sad fact is that the out-of-towners pay for the beach patrol,” Hammond said at the meeting. “We don’t make enough off of the $30 permits to pay for full time beach patrol, so the higher price tickets actually pay for our law enforcement on the beach. But, we’re looking out for the locals, and typically, our problems are from outsiders.”

The commissioners agreed to take up the issue in more detail in upcoming meetings.

“I'll bring it back as a proposal at the next meeting to change that to a three tier system and come up with a penalty base for those who cheat,” Hammond said.

In the meantime, they expressed that fraudulently used permits should be immediately revoked 

This report has been updated from an earlier version to improve the clarity of language describing  the misuse of the permits.

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