Visit Everglades City and the Ten Thousand Islands of Southwest Florida, the Everglades

ENP Is Hiking Fees For Park Run Businesses

by Captain Mike Merritt

Everglades National Park has now been given the ability to tax business owners who make a living and have built their business in the National Park.
The Park has had the right to do this since 2015. They tried implementing this just before Hurricane Irma devastated us here in Everglades City and other coastal areas.

There was a lot of push back from Florida Guide Associations and Captains that make a living taking clients into the National Park to either fish or just sight see and photograph the beauty of it. Then the Hurricane hit south Florida, then we had the COVID shut down, then Hurricane Ian hit us and did terrible damage up the gulf coast. Now, it seems the National Park feels the timing is right to go ahead with this fee increase. So, just to give you a better understanding of what is happening I will try to explain.

All businesses that operate in the National Park are required to obtain a Commercial Use Authorization Permit from the National Park. This requires us to have certain documentation to be considered legitimate. This includes a $500,000 liability Insurance policy listing the National Park as insured. Then there is boat insurance, Coast Guard Maritime License, and of course other things. We are also currently paying a fee of $850 annually.

The park recently hosted a Zoom meeting, but not all Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) holders were aware of it, and not all were able to join and participate.

The meeting agenda included notification that the Park will be installing a new fee schedule for all CUA Holders. This fee schedule is based on our total gross business receipts. 3% for anyone making up to $250,000 gross annually. It goes up from there to $5 up to $500,000 then 5% on anything over $500,000. So this equates to a tax on our gross revenue.

Anyone that operates a business knows that your gross revenue does not mean you are making that amount of money. For example, if a fishing guide has gross receipts of $50,000 he is probably making about 1/2 of this as actual income. Operating and running has some major expenses. That being said, not even the IRS taxes us on our income without allowing us to utilize expense deductions.

We are adamantly opposed to the National Park having the authority to tax us and we feel they are forcing us to take them on as a business partner. Only they get 3% for doing absolutely nothing to help our business.

I held a meeting at the Island Cafe here in Everglades City and invited Rep. Lauren Melo, Congressman Mario Diaz Balart, Senator Rick Scott, and Senator Marco Rubio. They all showed up or had an associate attend to hear from us.

We informed them of what was taking place and unanimously they were all opposed to this type of fee schedule. The Park is supposed to be charging us an amount that would cover the cost of operating their CUA program. We all know what happens when the government has the authority to charge you for something, they tend to expand these programs therefore increasing the costs and the need to charge more.

This is already evident as we just received another email from the Park notifying us that they want to expand the CUA program to offer “training” for all CUA Holders. They are already trying to expand this program and they haven’t even been able to run the one they have efficiently. There are lots of CUA holders that have not received the proper paperwork back from the Park. There are some who have not had the required stickers for our vessels in 4 years. And now they want to expand the program and charge us even more money.

We need a public outcry and I am hoping that by informing everyone through this article and meetings that we will eventually be heard and figure out how to prevent this madness. I know the government doesn’t really understand simple economics because they are not operating on what they make, they are operating on what we make. I would ask anyone concerned to write or call your representatives and let them know this is not acceptable.

I tried to explain it this way. I am not opposed to paying a fee that does what it is intended to do. But I as an individual would like to decide where my money is better spent. I as an individual, provide a scholarship at our local high school. I have mentored a couple young men in our local community. I have another young man that I have committed to mentoring once he graduates high school. If the Park takes another 3% of my income this may very well be the money I no longer have available to use for these things that actually help our community.
I hope this helps you, the reader, better understand what is happening here at the local level. We need as many people on our side as possible.

Response Article

Since this issue the parks have sent a response to this issue. Please see this article.

2024-05-29T13:38:30-04:00June 2, 2024|Parks|

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