Anti-beach-tag bill would strip $530,000 in revenue from Brigantine

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Coastal communities still reeling from the October visit of Superstorm Sandy are now faced with a new threat to their beaches: a proposed bill that would make them choose between funding for beach replenishment or collecting beach tag fees.

State Senators Michael Doherty (R-Hunterdon/Somerset/Warren) and Stephen Sweeney (D-Salem/Gloucester/Cumberland) are the primary sponsors of Bill S2368, which proposes that any municipality that accepts federal or state funding for beach replenishment after Nov. 2, 2012, would no longer be able to create or enforce laws requiring beach tags.

The bill was introduced in the state Senate on Dec. 17 and was referred to the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. The bill would also require municipalities to provide public toilet facilities on these beaches during the tourist season.

The Atlantic County Mayors Association has sent a letter to Gov. Christie’s office opposing the proposed legislation. Cape May County officials have called for the legislature to drop the bill, stating that the proposed law is irresponsible, an affront to home rule, and simply foolish.

Brigantine is scheduled for a major beach replenishment project in 2013, following an emergency project on the beach in front of the north sea wall in 2012 using both federal and state funding.

Normally the federal government pays for 65 percent of approved beach replenishment project costs, while the state and local governments involved pay the remaining 35 percent. Of that remainder, the state pays 75 percent and the municipality pays the rest.

Sales of beach tags generated $537,315 for Brigantine in 2011, and have generated $526,642 this year (as of Dec. 18). The city’s budget for 2013 does not include any increase in expected beach badge revenue, according to Chris Johansen, the city’s chief financial officer.

In 2012, the Brigantine City Beach Patrol had salary costs of $685,687 and other costs of $59,767. There were additional costs supporting the state-mandated pension fund of $20,000. The Beach Fee Office had salary costs of $85,784 and additional costs of $18,418.

Public Works (among other duties) rakes/cleans the beach seven days a week from April 1 through Sept. 30, with estimated salary costs of $59,920 and additional costs of $7,000. Add in 9 percent payroll taxes for all three areas and additional healthcare costs for public works employees, and the total cost is $916,576. Average beach tag revenue is $530,000 and results in a net loss of $386,576 to be paid by the city.

Losing this beach tag revenue would be the equivalent of an approximate .01 cent increase in property tax if this law passes, according to Johansen.

This has angered barrier island residents who are still concerned with rebuilding and recovering after the storm.

One noteworthy question is whether the beach badge charge is for access to the beach or for the cost of the water safety coverage provided by the lifeguards.

The mayors of Margate and Ventnor recently announced that their municipalities will increase the costs of beach badges in 2013. The badges can be used on either beach.

While the costs of the badges as a revenue stream is necessary, raising them might be a double-edged sword, as Jersey Shore communities need to encourage the dollars that summer tourists bring.

To read the full text of the bill, visit www.njleg.state.nj.us and search for S2368.

For a response by Sen. Sweeney, see the companion article Sweeney: Proposed bill about much more than eliminating beach fees.

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