Citing decrease in beach revenue, Narragansett rec director proposes fee hike for entry, parking

South County

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) — How much would you pay to enjoy a day at one of Rhode Island’s most popular beaches?

That question will soon be brought before the Narragansett Town Council after the town’s Parks and Recreation director proposed raising seasonal walk-on admission and parking fees for non-residents on Tuesday.

Narragansett Parks and Recreation Director Michelle Kershaw said she’s suggesting the town council approve increasing the daily admission fee from $12 to $15, in addition to raising the daily parking fee from $10 on weekdays (and $15 on weekends) to $20 every day.

According to a summary of the town’s Beach Enterprise Fund Balance obtained by 12 News, the unaudited balance of the fund’s income in the period ending June 2021 totals $259,681, or about a 10% profit. Data from the last four years shows the beach typically makes around a 20% profit.

Revenues from admission fees, parking and facility rentals go into the Beach Enterprise Fund, which is used to cover all costs, including salaries of beach staff. No taxpayer dollars are used for any expenditures at Narragansett Town Beach.

“It covers everything from toilet paper, purchasing traffic cones, purchasing sand for the beach when we need to replenish the sand, the blue mats that we use to put out onto the beach from the pavilion, for wheelchairs to be able to get access to the beach, snow fence to protect the dunes and keep the sand onto the dunes, cleaning supplies, mops, brooms, you name it, daily wristbands, our seasonal parking passes,” Kershaw said. “So, there’s a voluminous number of items and things that we need to purchase that we use everyday at Narragansett Town Beach.”

With less money in the fund, Kershaw said there’s also a concern the town won’t be prepared in the event of an emergency.

“It’s very important for us to maintain a healthy fund balance to be able to support beach in the event that we have a natural disaster that occurs, and we’ve seen that throughout the years, especially recently with Hurricane Sandy that caused a great amount of destruction at the beach,” Kershaw said.

However, not all beachgoers think another fee increase is a good idea.

“They raised it last year, I don’t think they should raise it again this year,” Narragansett resident Pam Rand said.

Back in 2005, it only cost $5 for daily admission. It wasn’t until 2011 that prices were raised, and only by a dollar.

Since then, town councilors have approved fee increases about every three to four years. In 2018, the daily admission fee went up from $8 to $10. Last year, the previous town council raised that fee to $15. However, the fee never ended up going into effect and the fee was ultimately decreased to $12.

Some beachgoers tell 12 News the increasing fees aren’t affordable and are pushing people away.

“It gets to a point where it just gets too high for some people to take advantage of it,” South Kingstown resident Rosemarie Laurent said.

“When you see a family of four at the gate, it doesn’t seem reasonable to increase it,” Rand added. “They’d have to pay $60.”

However, Kershaw said her intent is to keep the beach fund healthy.

“We are not trying to increase fees to cause people not to be able to come to Narragansett Town Beach, but it’s just that fund balance needs to be healthy because we need to be prepared in the future for natural disasters, because they happen,” Kershaw said.

In September 1938, a stretch of Narragansett Town Beach was destroyed by what’s been known as the “Great Hurricane.” While the town was not in the beach business at the time, bath house facilities on the property were lost in the storm. Then Hurricane Carol followed in 1954.

In 1978, winter storms ravaged the beach, followed later by Hurricane Gloria in 1985, Hurricanes Bob and Grace in 1991, Hurricane Felix in 1995, Hurricane Bonnie in 1998 and the well-known Hurricane Sandy in 2012. More recently, Tropical Storms Elsa, Henri and Ida also rolled through the state.

“We need to be able to match funds that we receive from the federal government to be able to repair the beach and put it back in the condition that it was prior to any natural disaster,” Kershaw said.

Town councilors seemed largely in opposition to a fee increase during a public work session Tuesday, though Kershaw said she understands why some may feel back-to-back increases aren’t reasonable for the general public.

Kershaw said if the town council ends up voting no, the department would ultimately have to live with the decision despite increases in payroll and product costs.

“Then hopefully down the road, reassess, especially before next season and the season after that, and see exactly where that fund balance is, and then encourage the town council that will be sitting at that time to potentially make policy changes, depending on what the numbers are showing,” Kershaw said.

No vote on the matter has been scheduled, but Kershaw is aiming to put the issue on a town council agenda sometime next month.

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