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Jekyll Island to raise daily parking fee $1 July 1
Visitors will pay more to get on Jekyll Island when a parking fee increase goes into effect next month.

The Jekyll Island Authority board unanimously approved Monday the island's fiscal 2013 budget that includes the fee increase.

The cost of daily parking will increase July 1 by $1, raising the cost to $6 from $5. Weekly passes will increase to $28 from $24. Individuals who have decal passes that span the fiscal years that end June 30 and begin July 1 will not be affected.

Jekyll Island's daily parking fee was last increased in 2009, to $5 from $3. The fee for buses, which was increased in 2010 to $10 from $5, remains unchanged. The bus fee will now be applied to all oversized vehicles, including passenger buses and delivery trucks. Sport utility vehicles are not considered oversized.

Authority finance committee members said the island's budget could not be balanced without raising parking fees.

"As we are looking at the (fiscal) 2013 budget, we're moving into uncharted waters ... that could create a tight squeeze," authority executive director Jones Hooks said.

He blamed rising costs in everyday maintenance and activities, like landscaping chemicals, and fuel and medications used at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where some the cost of some medicines has increased by more than 100 percent.

Construction of hotels that were expected to become operational this year has not started, including the Hyatt Place and Westin, making some meeting planners hesitant to book events at the new convention center.

While the budget also includes a 2 percent merit-based raise for employees, Hooks said that the budget would still need a parking fee increase even if raises were excluded.

An estimated 94 percent of employees drive to the island, Hooks said, noting that gas prices are 90 cents more than in June 2010, when the last employee raise was approved. "We have to take care of our people, and our people have been doing a great job," he said.

The authority board also approved a request to conduct a health assessment of the island's deer population. The request comes about a year after a Georgia Department of Natural Resources study indicated an overpopulation of deer that could lead to illnesses related to the number of animals in the confined area.

The study indicated more than 700 deer live on the island, one for every eight acres -- a population the island cannot sustain.

"It was decided that the results of that study, though important and informative, did not alone warrant population control," island conservation manager Ben Carswell said.

An assessment will be conducted in early August in conjunction with the DNR and Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, taking an in-depth look at the health of the island's deer, watching for internal conditions, parasites and any other negative effects overpopulation could have on the animals.

The study will take place at no cost to the Jekyll Island Authority.

The study will be conducted at night with the highest degree of safety and should not disturb residents or guests, Carswell said.

"The assessment does require the humane sacrifice of five deer," he said.

Necropsies -- autopsies conducted on animals -- will be conducted at the DNR office. Results from the study are expected early next year.

Another DNR deer population assessment is expected to take place later this year before any population control measures are considered. The study will use remote cameras to give researchers a better idea of the island's deer population.

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