Monday, July 25, 2011

Jersey Shore Fact of the Day 80: Wildwood is considering beach tags

This came out while I was away: Wildwood is considering beach tags.

Forget the Ocean City BYOB issue. This has much more important implications. The beaches of the Wildwoods are free free free, and they tout themselves as being the beach that won't charge. Do they get a lot of day trippers because of this? Yes. But those day trippers are also tourists, who spend money in town. If Wildwood starts charging for beach tags, these visitors will just go to Atlantic City, which also has a free beach. And they'll take all that money with them. Besides the day trippers, this will carve into the budget of people who come to the Wildwoods. Will they accept it? Or reason that, since the Wildwoods are charging, they might as well just go to an Ocean City or an Avalon.

If you see any articles about this, you'll notice the venom in the comments about keeping the riff raff off the beaches. These carry racial undertones - if not blatant bigoted comments. I'm not linking to those stories because I think those comments are disgusting.

If the Wildwoods really need revenue, they could do the one thing that makes absolute sense: merge. Why do there need to be four separate towns on that one island? If they merged into one, they'd save a boat load by sharing services, and would ease taxpayer burden. But this is New Jersey, where apparently that's taboo. But it could work.

Something's going to break here. I hate for it to be one of the reasons the Wildwoods beaches are so popular.

The press release in its entirety is below. Let me know what you think in the comments - but I will reject and mark as spam anything that hints at racism. Please also note that this is from the mayor of just Wildwood, not all four towns:

Mayor Ernie Troiano, Jr. stated that there has been recent publicity advising Wildwood not to enact beach fees. He commented that Wildwood has for decades been a very inclusive town with blue collar roots. “We welcome people from all over the world to enjoy the beach, boardwalk and entertainment at our vacation destination. However, our first responsibility must be to our Wildwood residents and taxpayers, many of whom do not benefit from the huge influx of beachgoers in summer.”

“Tourism is the lifeblood of our economy and Wildwood maintains a world class beach and boardwalk, sponsors events, encourages business development and promotes family fun and relaxation,” commented Commissioner Pete Byron. “The burden on the Wildwood taxpayer has been tremendous and we recently inherited an extremely difficult financial situation. The previous administration left us with more than $1 million in unpaid bills from 2010 and hundreds of thousands of dollars in contractual obligations that were not allotted for in the budget. Even if the irresponsible plan to slash police officers were enacted, we would still be facing a budget deficit. We have an obligation to the taxpayers to explore every possible revenue source.”

The Board of Commissioners agrees that Wildwood’s free beaches have an appeal, but they are not free to retirees on fixed incomes and young families struggling to make ends meet. All Wildwood taxpayers have been, in effect, paying beach fees for a very long time. Wildwood is a small, one square mile town that hosts literally millions of people every summer. Consequently, our taxpayers support an urban infrastructure with expanded public works, public safety and emergency personnel, all far beyond what our small ratable base can reasonably sustain.

The issue of beach fees must be carefully researched, with all effects considered before a decision is made. Wildwood would, for example, lose some local room tax revenue that is linked to maintaining free beaches and we must be certain that beach fee revenue would outweigh any lost income. We would only advocate a very reasonable beach fee, lower than nearby communities, so that we remain accessible to hard working families.

We would rather see an imposed moderate fee on boardwalk amusement rides, allowed by state law, but needing local legislative support for enactment in Trenton. An amusement ride fee would give some relief to the taxpayer, while allowing us to improve the boardwalk with funds generated by its users.

Wildwood will continue to open its arms to visitors. Our challenge is to provide first class amenities and services without unfairly and disproportionately encumbering taxpayers. Commissioner of Public Safety, Anthony Leonetti said “By generating beach fee revenue, we can further improve our beaches, boardwalks, streets and parks and possibly add amenities. We know who we are as a resort community and we know we need to promote tourism for our economic vitality. It’s also equally important that our local residents are not taxed out of their homes.”

The Board of Commissioners knows they have an obligation to the taxpayers to explore every possible revenue source.

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