County's Long Overdue Rate Hike Drives Away Some Campers
There's a sadness among some Ebenezer Park campers in Rock Hill, S.C.
"It feels like somebody has died," said Brenda Auton who on Tuesday (June 28) sat at a picnic table in front of her motorhome at a shady grove a short walk from Lake Wylie, where boaters launched and swimmers played under a lifeguard's watchful eye.
The funereal mood for Brenda and her husband, Larry, comes because they – and some of their friends – won't be returning to Ebenezer Park, a county-run recreation site on the lake off Mount Gallant Road, The Herald reported.
It's not that they're packing up after a summer vacation and heading for home far away. The Autons, who own a home in Lincolnton, N.C., have summered for the past several years at Ebenezer Park.
But rate increases starting Friday are too high, said the retired seniors who will have to pay $26 a night instead of $10. That's an increase that'll drive them away for good, they said.
This month, the York County Council approved rate increases for the first time in more than a decade. The increases depend on a number of factors, including whether campers live in York County. Tent campers from York County will pay $18, up from $13. Rates for RV campers have increased more.
The rate increases are long overdue, said Pat Morrison, park superintendent, who worked as a ranger in the park for 16 years.
The revenue the park generates has never met expenses, he said, which include rising water, sewer and electricity rates. The increases not only will bring the park's rates into line with similar parks, they also will help generate more revenue and pay for improvements in the park, Morrison said.
In the red
Between 2006 and 2010, the park has spent between a $113,392 and $190,449 more than it brought in. In that time, the power bill increased from $40,696 to $58,793, and the water and sewer bill increased from $16,068 to $27,503. Park revenues were lowest in 2006 at $186,117 and highest in 2007 at $220,144. They slipped to $208,188 in 2010.
The park not paying for itself is a problem for the York County taxpayers, said County Councilman David Bowman. He visited the park in January and was concerned that many campers were "living there" and benefiting from the cheap amenities.
"All citizens have to make up for anyone who utilizes that park. That's not fair," Bowman said.
The point of the rate increase isn't to "push people out of the park," he said. It's to make park users pay more fairly for the services they receive.
Those amenities include full power, water and sewer hookups at each site, free Wi-Fi and a bathhouse for showering, Morrison said.
Morrison said the rate increases – which likely will help the park break even on expenses – came as a "shock" to campers.
But even disgruntled campers acknowledged the deal they've been getting.
Campers Ron and Barb Gilliland came all the way from Pennsylvania.
"For one night it (the $26 rate) wouldn't be bad," said Ron Gilliland. His wife, Barb, said the big rigs with dual air conditioners should be able to afford higher rates anyway.They've been getting "a steal," she said.
But the Gillilands aren't vacationing. They're trying to close on a house in McConnells, but the deal is moving more slowly than expected.
If they stay on at the park, their rate will go from $10 to $26 a night. They'll be moving on soon, they said.
"We all felt like there should be a rate increase, maybe $4 to $5 for in-county people," said Tommy Baskin, an AbitibiBowater retiree and Rock Hill resident who – for the last five or six years – has spent nine months a year at the park with his wife.
"It's not that we're homeless – I own a home" and pay taxes, Baskin said. Staying in the park has given him and his wife and their grandchildren a nice place to spend time.
But the new rates aren't worth it and are too drastic, he said: "When I pull out on Tuesday morning, I'm not coming back."
Living 'in transition'
Campers such as the Autons and Baskins who eat dinner together several nights a week plan to keep in touch on the open road. But for others, the park has provided more of a necessary landing place.