Ocean City Council wary over anti-beach tag legislation

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Ocean City Council wary over anti-beach tag legislation Ocean City Council wary over anti-beach tag legislation

OCEAN CITY – A proposed piece of state legislation to eliminate beach tags in shore towns that receive state funds for beach replenishment is gaining bipartisan backing, and has Ocean City Council concerned.

Councilman Keith Hartzell said he has “grave concern” on the legislation proposed by Sen. Michael J. Doherty (R-Warren/Hunterdon/Somerset) that will require shore towns that accept state or federal funding for beach fills to provide free beach access and restroom facilities.

Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-3) joined Doherty to introduce the legislation on Monday, Dec. 3.

“I think we’ve got to get very proactive on this,” Hartzell said. “I think we’ve got to get a resolution out and letter out.”

Hartzell said that he believes the move is for political gain, at a time of suffering for many shore communities.

“The problem with it is … is the very people that are affected by Sandy are going to pick up the bill for the beach tags,” he said. “That’s grossly unfair. It doesn’t make sense.”

Hartzell said the city collects about $4 million in revenue from beach tags. He said the loss of that revenue that could mean a 3- or 4-cent increase to the tax rate.

“This is a dangerous thing that’s in front of us,” he said.

“It’s going to look good to people who don’t live here, who didn’t suffer it,” Hartzell said. “It’s going to get paid on our citizens’ and taxpayers’ backs.”

Hartzell said the beach fees are the fairest thing the city can do because it’s completely user-based.

Mayor Jay Gillian said he had already spoke to Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio, who he said is “lining up as many mayors as he can” to meet 10:30 a.m. in Monday to speak out against the proposal.

Gillian said he is concerned with the power of Trenton.

“They’re playing with our livelihoods,” he said.

City administrator Mike Dattilo, weighing in, noted that the price of beach tags is comparable to the cost of operating the beach.

“Our beach fees relate very, very closely to our costs of operating the beach. I’m not certain that’s the case in some other parts of the state,” he said.

Noting the “State Mandate, State Pay” amendment to New Jersey’s constitution, Dattilo said that if the state mandate that beaches are free, they should then have to take on the cost of running them.

In supporting the legislation, Doherty states that because a massive amount of public resources are used to replenish the beaches, it is only fair that the beaches are free.

“It is likely that state and federal taxpayers will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to repair and replenish New Jersey beaches that were washed away during Hurricane Sandy,” said Doherty. “Considering the massive public resources that will be directed at rebuilding many New Jersey beaches, it only seems fair to ensure that everyone have the opportunity to enjoy free access to the beaches they will support and help rebuild with their tax dollars.”

Ocean City Council President Michael Allegretto pointed to a variety of state-funded operations like the Turnpike Authority and the Camden Aquarium which also charge user fees, in addition to their state and federal funding.

The legislation, S-2368, would apply to towns that accept grants or aid from the state or federal governments after Nov. 2, 2012 for the purpose of replenishing storm-damaged beaches. Those towns would not be allowed to collect beach tag fees, or otherwise charge for access to a beach. Furthermore, those municipalities would be required to provide free public restrooms between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“Where taxpayers are paying for beach restoration, they shouldn’t be taxed a second time just to walk on the sand,” Sweeney said. “As New Jerseyans, we are all in the recovery and rebuilding process together. That means we should all be able to enjoy the reopening of our state’s greatest natural resource together, too.”

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