The Gulf County Board of County Commissioner approved several significant changes to the county’s beach driving permit system at their August 23 meeting — most notably a shift to a calendar year based schedule and several rate increases.
This decision resulted from about a month of discussions over how to best curtail misuse of beach driving permits, which officials say is becoming more widespread.
“This won’t solve all our problems, but it will help protect the resource for the locals,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond at the August meeting.
Under the new system, beach driving permits will all be issued from January 1 to December 31, instead of from the date of purchase.
This means a permit purchased after January 1 will still only be valid through December 31.
“If you buy one in January, you get it for the full year. If you buy in December, you just get it for a month,” Hammond said.
To accommodate this change, all beach driving permits that would have been valid into 2023 will now expire on December 31, 2022.
The permits for any given year will also be uniform in color and appearance so that it will be easier for law enforcement officers to determine which permits are out of date.
“When the officer can see that, okay, we’re in January, everybody’s got a red one this year, it’s so much easier to be able to tell if they’re in season because if not you have to be right up on that vehicle to see it,” Hammond said.
Beach driving permits first fell under county scrutiny after Hammond presented information about what he described as an increasing number of individuals illegally passing around beach driving permits.
“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,” Hammond told the Board of County Commissioners in July. “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.
The new guidelines establish that permits that are not affixed to the vehicle they are issued for will be confiscated, which the county hopes will prevent this misuse.
“When you buy that permit, it is a permit for that vehicle,” said Hammond. “It should be affixed to that vehicle.”
The board also approved an increased rate for Gulf County property owners who are not homesteaded in the area, as well as for commercial and out of county permits. This was discussed as a potential solution to miused permits at the BOCC’s July meeting.
“Another change will be a $100 non-homestead property owner fee, $200 for commercial permit fee, and $500 for non property owner out of county fee,” said Hammond.
Currently, the rate for a non-homesteaded Gulf County property owner is $30, the rate for a commercial permit is $100, and the rate for an out of county permit is $400.
The rate for Gulf County citizens who are homesteaded is $30. This rate will remain unchanged, along with the rate for disabled or senior citizen property owners.
The number of out of county permits for non property owners will also be capped at 200 per year, offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
During the public comment period, Dr. Pat Hardman, the president of the Gulf County Coastal Communities Association, asked whether commissioners would consider allowing people to apply for beach driving permits in the months leading up to January.
“You get to January, and all of a sudden nobody has a driving permit,” she said. ”Can we pre-buy in December or something like that?”
Commissioners were in favor of this idea and agreed to discuss the issue with Shirley Jenkins, the Gulf County Tax Collector, whose office is responsible for issuing the beach driving permits.
County Attorney Jeremy Novak reminded the board that they had recently made amendments to the county’s beach driving ordinance allowing them to make these changes to permitting.
“Mr. Chairman, commissioners, along with what Michael (Hammond) was saying, you just recently amended your beach driving ordinance a few months back giving you, the board and the administrator, the ability to set these rates and the permitting,” Novak said.
“… It’s strict in its interpretation, but it’s a public safety issue. So that’s the reason you changed the ordinance a few months back.”
The motion was made by Commissioner Ward McDaniel to move forward with the new regulations, which will take effect January 1, 2023. It passed unanimously.