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Long entry lines and beach pass stickers may soon be a thing of the past. In conjunction with the Beach & Rec Commission, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) is looking to possibly adopt a new beach pass system, one that should hopefully be easier for residents.
At the BOS meeting on Jan. 28, board members listened to a presentation by Complus Data’s Jason Kaczmarkiewicz that would change the way the town manages beach passes and beach parking.
In past, residents would go to the Beach & Rec office at town campus and purchase a physical ticket. If the town adopts this system, the license plate on a car becomes the beach pass, similar to how the state parks run their parking system. A resident would go online and register their license plate with the system and pay the standard price for the pass.
Then, when a resident goes to the beach, there will no longer be a gate guard checking plates, which would hopefully cut down on lines. Town employees would instead patrol the parking lot with a handheld license plate reader that would scan the plate and know if that car is registered with the town system and purchased a beach pass.
For visitors who don’t live in town, signs will be posted with a website directing visitors to go on their phone, register their car on location, and pay the daily or hourly parking fee.
First Selectman Tom Banisch said he knows this is a change, but he thinks this system will ultimately benefit residents.
“Part of the point of this is to make this process easier for the bulk of the people because come Memorial Day weekend, there are lines here and people get cranky and no one is happy,” he said. “This way there should be no lines and the only people who need to come in are people who can’t do it themselves online. We are making the system easier than it was before.”
Banisch said the price for passes will stay the same for residents as it was before. With this new system, Banish said the town can lengthen the beach season, which means more revenue.
“The part I like about this is our season has previously gone from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” he said. “We can change that now. It can go from April 15 to Thanksgiving if we want. Our day, instead of from 8:30 [a.m.] to 5 p.m., it can go from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.”
By using license plates and plate readers, Banisch said the town isn’t looking to catch people, but just try to make sure people pay for parking and to try to cut down on the mass of out-of-towners that tends to come to the Surf Club once the gate stops checking tickets at 5 p.m.
“Especially for residents, we are not looking to nail them for not paying for parking,” he said. “We are looking to get them to pay for their parking and just be part of the system. For out-of-towners, we might be a little more rigorous… We are just looking to make it fair for the people of Madison who share the beach with people from out of town.”
Banisch said the plate readers themselves can’t read anything beyond if that car has a beach pass; the reader isn’t tied into any law enforcement data base, just the town’s database of beach pass holders. He said if the BOS votes to adopt the system, how tickets would be handled and a warning system would have to be some of the details discussed further.
Even with the gate guards eliminated in this model, Banisch said there will still be job opportunities for people during the summer.
“We are doing a couple things differently this year,” he said. “We are trying to create a position at Beach & Rec that is kind of a pre-law enforcement position, so that if you do this job in Madison, it is going to be recognized by people. It use to be that way in Madison that the kids who wanted to be in law enforcement would come and work this job for a couple years and get that experience. We are going back to that model.”
While this model requires more technology, Banisch said this model should hopefully help the town save money and raise revenues because the company the town is working with doesn’t require an up-front purchase; instead it takes its payment out of a portion of each beach pass.
“This year’s first budget is our best estimate as to what we are going to need to run this program,” he said. “Someone asked the question of ‘Is this going to cost us more?’ We have avoided all of the capital costs of the equipment—it’s all pay as you go.”
The Beach & Rec Commission approved the new system at its last commission meeting and the BOS is set to discuss and take possible action on formally adopting the new system at its next meeting on Monday, Feb. 11.
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