Wildwood again weighs beachtags

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Special meeting for beach fees set Jan. 4

 WILDWOOD – The city is set to hold a special meeting on Jan. 4 to discuss and possibly adopt a resolution that will authorize the City Clerk to hold a special election regarding charging beach fees.

Since the beaches in the Wildwoods have always been free, the idea of beach tags have been brought up numerous times over the years. The last time beach fees were discussed by the City Commission was last year as a method of helping to pay to maintain the city’s miles of beaches. However the city has never made any formal moves to establish beach fees.

Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. has said in the past that the city should take another look at, “Are you free this summer? The Wildwoods are," which is the Greater Wildwood Tourism Improvement and Development Authority’s campaign to draw visitors to the five-mile island.

John Siciliano, executive director of GWTIDA, said he’d like to see the beaches kept free.

He said that a free beach separates Wildwoods from other shore towns that charge a fee. That distinction, he said, draws people into the city and has been an asset for tourism.

Siciliano said GWTIDA contributes about $225,000 to Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood for beach maintenance. In order to start charging, he said, beach fees would have to bring in more than $225,000 to make it worth it because the towns get that much without even doing anything.

Troiano has said that city residents should have a say if beach tags should come to Wildwood.

"My position has always been this situation is a life-changing situation on the island and I believe that the public should have the right to vote on what we do,” he said regarding beach fees.

While Wildwood is considering beach fees, some legislators are working on a bill that would eliminate beach fees for any municipality accepting government funding for beach replenishment. State Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Hunterdon, Somerset, Warren, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, are primary sponsors of the legislation. Under to the bill, if taxpayers are paying to replenish beaches with sand after Hurricane Sandy, they should not have to pay again to use the beaches. Gov. Chris Christie has not said whether he would sign or veto such a bill, but has expressed skepticism.

In December, more than 20 leaders from from six beachfront communities in the county that require beach tags gathered in Sea Isle City for a press conference and called on the state Legislature to drop the proposed bill.

County officials argued that shore communities generate far more in tax revenue each year than they receive in return. They stated that eliminating beach fees shifts the cost of maintaining and monitoring beaches entirely onto taxpayers rather than spreading the burden between locals and visitors.

Wildwood has been looking into ways to generate revenue from the beaches including beach boxes and cabana rentals. But those sources may not bring enough income.

The city had expected a $1.6 million in a lease agreement in last year's $24.4 million budget. The lease was with Eastern Exchange, LLC for a boardwalk building and portion of the beach, but the contract had to be rescinded after a group of city residents presented petitions challenging the lease of 4101 Boardwalk, commonly called the monster truck building.

Without the money from the lease of the boardwalk property the city has a $1.6 million hole in its budget.

According to Jeanette Powers, the city's chief financial officer, the city not receiving the $1.6 million contract doesn’t mean the city’s budget stops. It means that it has to be raised in revenue in next year's budget.

“The $1.6 million is on the revenue side of the budget,” she said. “So since we are short on the revenue side this year, it might result in a deficit in operation that has to be raised in revenue in next year’s budget.”

Powers said that the amount of revenue doesn’t have to equate to $1.6 million. She explained that revenue is a changing thing, so if the city makes more money somewhere else, the hole doesn’t have to be as big as $1.6 million.

The meeting will be in City Hall, located at 4400 New Jersey Ave., at 2 p.m. Public comment will be taken.


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