A beach parking sticker is a valuable commodity on the East End, so it was not surprising last month when the East Hampton Town Board announced that it was considering making changes to its regulations governing beach parking permits.
The issue is simple enough. The permits go with the vehicle, so if a resident sold his car to someone from out of town, there would be nothing stopping that person from keeping the sticker on the vehicle and avoiding having to pay a non-resident parking fee.
Requiring those parking permits to be renewed at least once every five years would greatly reduce the chance of that happening, town officials reasoned. And that’s well and good.
But after a hearing on the proposal last week, the town board adopted an updated law that contained a small, but significant, change: Three words, “free of charge,” were stricken from the code.
While a town spokeswoman insisted this week there were no plans afoot to begin charging for beach parking permits, it is an unsettling move. First, because East Hampton Town residents take their free beach access seriously, and second because the town board was obviously trying to avoid stirring up a controversy over the matter.
In an age when local governments, faced with New York State’s tax cap, are forced to look for new sources of revenue, beach parking is a tempting source for fees. Look no farther than Southampton Town, where officials have long prided themselves on holding the line on property taxes, and resident permits now cost $40 apiece.
Ask anyone you meet in East Hampton and they’ll be able to tell you that the Dongan Patent guarantees beach access to town residents. During the fiscal crisis a decade ago, when the town board sought to raise revenue by charging for beach parking permits, it heard loud and clear from residents that it would not be tolerated.
The current town board would do well to keep that in mind and restore those three little words to the code.