Mat-Su Borough trail users who do not pay the $5 parking daily parking fees or purchase an annual pass would face a $40 fine each time they ignore the rule if the Borough assembly passes an ordinance slated for initial consideration April 6.
The rule, proposed by Hugh Leslie, the Borough’s recreational services manager, would add teeth to a long-standing trailhead fees program. Currently, the Borough asks trail users to pay parking fees, and Borough parks staff place fee envelopes on the windshields of cars at trailheads that do not display a purchase receipt or annual pass.
But thanks to a missing Borough regulation update, scofflaws cannot currently be penalized for ignoring the fees. While trailhead fees exist in the Borough’s assembly-approved annual fee schedule, a required and corresponding fines schedule required for enforcement was never updated. The proposed ordinance updates that schedule, teeing-up for enforcement the previously approved $40 fine. Under the rule both vehicle operator and vehicle owner could be fined separately.
The revenue generated from trailhead visitors helps the Borough pay for parks and recreation amenities those same people are using, including trail maintenance and bathroom cleaning and supplies, Leslie said.
“The last thing we want to do is discourage people from using the trails or decrease tourism,” Leslie said in an interview March 30. “People from all over the state are using these Borough trailheads and Borough amenities.”
Just how those fines are collected once they are levied will be up to the Borough, he said, but could include using the court system.
While Borough parking pass sales skyrocketed in 2020 and are on track to reach another new high in 2021, compliance rates remain low in some places. The Borough sold $60,000 in annual parking passes over the entirety of 2020, but had already sold $55,000 over the three months of 2021. Yet Leslie said at the Jim Creek recreation area, for example, about 80% of users ignore the fees.
While Leslie believes the change will likely be approved by the end of April, he expects plenty of pushback.
“I think this has been a leaky part of our revenue bucket for a long time,” he said. “I think there will certainly be lots of questions and some discourse about this … but I think once the facts get out there and we talk about it not being punitive, I hope the Assembly supports it.”
Leslie estimates that enforcement could easily increase trailhead fee revenue by 30 to 40%, ultimately encouraging users to buy annual passes versus paying at the trailheads.
“If we got even to $100,000 a year on the annual passes, that would be great,” he said.
If the measure is approved by late April, Leslie said his team plans to spend May running an education effort, using windshield fliers at trailheads to warn non-payers of upcoming enforcement and rolling out the ticketing in June.
Trail users can purchase $5 day use or $40 annual passes via the Borough’s website, or pay the $5 fee with cash at the trail heads. While electronic payment stations are planned for multiple locations, their rollout has been delayed as a result of the pandemic.