Some residents say beach tags are overdue

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WILDWOOD- While local business owners and officials are concerned about the effect beach fees will have on the island’s tourism, voting residents are claiming they are tired of shouldering the financial burden of the beach.

“I think it’s kind of ridiculous that as taxpayers, who do not profit from tourist season, we are paying for a free beach that lines the pockets of businesses in town,” said Gerry Vessels, a Wildwood resident and city firefighter.

Vessels also spoke out in favor of fees at the Jan. 4 commissioners’ meeting- where officials voted to hold a binding referendum on beach fees March 5. 
Maintaining the beach, according to Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr., is about $2 million annually, about 8 percent of the city’s $24.4 million budget. Currently, the city is facing a $1.6 million deficit in its budget because an anticipated 50-year lease of Wildwood’s monster truck building and beach property was canceled after residents petitioned the lease.

Troiano has said that if voters turn down beach fees, the city will have to look into layoffs.

The city’s financial situation, and what it could mean to Vessel as a taxpayer, is why he supports beach fees, he said.

“It’s nearly 8 percent of our budget, and we’re looking at cutting costs every where we possibly can,” Vessels said of the beach. “This could potentially positively impact the tax payers of the city of Wildwood.”

In regards to business owners’ concerns about the impact fees will have on tourism, Vessels said these concerns and statements were “fear mongering.”

The Greater Wildwoods Tourism and Development Authority issued a statement against proposed beach in early January, stating that the authority believed fees “would not be advantageous and in the best interest to our overall tourism economy.” It argued that there would be “obvious” logistical problems with implementing a beach fee on only one portion of the island, and that the city would stop receiving funds from GWTIDA to cover beach maintenance expenses, currently at $250,000 a year from the authority, and jeopardize its share of the Tourism Development Fee. Last year, $175,000 was collected through Tourism Development Fees, which are used to pay for boardwalk police and toward events.

The Hotel Motel Association has also spoken out against beach fees, as well as the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce.

According to an email survey sent by the chamber to its members, 70 percent said they were not in favor of beach fees in Wildwood. Business owners and operators made up over 60 percent of those surveyed.

Sandra Richardson, another Wildwood resident and local Realtor, said she also was in support of beach fees.

“It’s a solution that will offset the cost of hosting tourists,” Richardson said. “We’re for it because we’re getting the brunt of the tax bill on our back.
“It can’t go any higher, it’s high enough right now,” she continued.

As a Realtor, Richardson said she has seen home buyers choose not to live in Wildwood because of the current tax rate.
“We have to try something, we can’t afford another increase,” she said.

As for the effect the fees will have on tourism, Richardson claimed that Wildwood is still home to a majority of the boardwalk shops and eateries, as well as the Morey amusement parks.

These features, she said, will keep tourists close by on the city’s beaches, rather than traveling to neighboring Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood to soak up the sun.

“I don’t think we have anything to worry about, as long as new money is managed properly,” she said.

Ultimately, registered voting residents will make the call on whether the city will impose fees in a referendum on March 5.

Christie Rotondo can be emailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story at www.shorenewstoday.com.

 


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