Beach tags in the Wildwoods? It’s under consideration
It's one of New Jersey's last stretches of beaches that you don't need to pay to step foot on. But the mayors of Wildwood, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest are considering implementing beach fees after this year.
The mayors expect that visitors might not approve of the beach tags, but their year-round property owners would.
"The people we hear from are typically not taxpayers of the city of Wildwood who are against it," Wildwood Mayor Pete Bryon said. "Someone has to pay for the maintenance of the beaches."
Each mayor cites costs of maintaining the beach and some long-term projects that need funding. Plus lifeguards, public workers and Class 2 seasonal police officers who will all be getting a raise in 2022 as a result in the increase in the state minimum wage.
"We have been discussing, along with the Convention Authority, along with our state legislators, ways to fund critical tourism infrastructure in the Wildwoods," North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello told New Jersey 101.5. "These are big, big projects."
The projects include beach replenishment, bike paths, boardwalk renovation and pier extensions, according to Rosenello. There's also the cost of maintaining and operating them.
The mayor said North Wildwood is spending $18 million this year on shore protection. The Wildwoods boardwalk, which spans the three communities, is in "desperate need of replacement," Rosenello said.
The consensus between Rosenello, Wildwood Mayor Pete Bryon and Wildwood Crest Mayor Don Cabrera is that beach fees are a fair way to fund them along with a possible increase in the tourism tax. Rosenello said that property owners already pay a beach fee.
"Do we raise the tourism tax? Do we implement beach fees? Do we do a combination of the two? Because at the end of the day we've got these two assets, the beach and the boardwalk, that are used by millions and millions of people and they are funded by 15,000-20,000 property owners in the Wildwoods, Rosenello said.
The tourism tax is assessed on hotel, motel and short-term rental space plus prepared food and beverages that is returned to the convention center or convention center operations and applied to island wide special events and advertising. The tax is an additional 2% added to the 6.25% state sales tax.
Beach fees would be implemented by an ordinance in each municipality but the state Legislature would have to approve an increase in the tourism tax.
The state mandated minimum wage for municipal beach workers will also need to be funded.
"When I became mayor eight years ago lifeguards were making $8 an hour. By next year they're going to be making $15 an hour," Rosenello said. "If the seasonal guy who picks up trash on the beach is making $15 an hour then the full-time equipment operator wants to make twice that."
Bryon, a Democrat, said he is on the same page as Rosenello, a Republican.
"We're weighing the pros and cons and the feasibility of moving forward with something like that. It would not be representing our constituents properly if we didn't look at every opportunity to provide new sources of income," Byron told New Jersey 101.5.
Other Jersey Shore beaches not requiring tags include Atlantic City, Highlands, Ideal Beach in Middletown, Jennifer Lane in Manahawkin and Union Beach. Sandy Hook beaches are free although the federal government charges vehicles to enter the park.