Wildwood looks to shared service to aid money woes

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Wildwood commissioners announced Feb. 13 they would kill the beach fee vote, and instead make up lost revenue by organizing shared services with North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest.

Exactly what those services will be, how much it will save municipalities, and when they will start sharing are all questions yet to be answered. But it seems clear that the towns of Five Mile Beach are ready to work together on this.

“Truth is, if Wildwood sinks, so does North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest,” Crest Commissioner Don Cabrera said. “I think we have to look at saving and cutting back wherever we can before we start taxing the largest income to our island.”

Shared services were introduced as an alternative to beach fees at the Feb. 13 meeting. The money brought in from the fees would be used to offset the cost of the beach, which Wildwood commissioners said costs about $1 million annually.

This year, Wildwood faces a $1.6 million shortfall in its budget, so fees were a possibility to offset that money. After a proposal to start requiring beach tags was met with opposition from business owners, neighboring municipalities, and some residents, Wildwood commissioners said, they began looking into other alternatives.

Lifeguards, beach maintenance, fire and police are all services Wildwood officials have said could potentially be shared. While Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said that the elected officials are all willing to work together to create the shared services, he said that some residents were hesitant about the idea. He added that residents were concerned that if services like police and fire were shared, they would be centralized in Wildwood, and then the Crest and North Wildwood would not have as much protection.

“The problem is not necessarily with the elected officials, but with the people who elect them but won’t allow them to govern,” Troiano said during public comment at the Feb. 13 meeting.

Besides just sharing public services, Troiano mentioned that he would not be opposed to consolidating the three local governing boards into a single government on the island- an idea that has been argued since 1911, when then governor of New Jersey Woodrow Wilson urged the towns to merge. When it went to the voters that year, however, Holly Beach and Wildwood affirmed the merger, while North Wildwood and the Crest did not. In 1990, then-Wildwood Mayor Ralph Sheets said he supported a merger of the towns, but North Wildwood and the Crest were reluctant to take on the city’s debt, according to reports from the time.

There are five municipalities on Five Mile Beach, including West Wildwood and a section of Lower Township south of the Crest known as Diamond Beach. While the possibility of merging the governments has often been discussed, it seems unlikely to move beyond talk any time soon.

“I’ve said since day one that if this government was to go tomorrow, and there would be one government for the whole island, I would step down right now,” Troiano said at the Feb. 13 meeting.

“Is it potentially inevitable that that could happen? Yes,” Cabrera said. “Is it in the near future? No.”

In discussions on social media websites regarding the news, some residents believed shared services to be a smart move. Others, however, were not convinced.

“So Wildwood balances its budget by sucking revenues and services from the NWW and WWC tax base?” one Facebook user wrote. “What's in it for residents in the non-cash strapped municipalities?”

Because of reactions like that, North Wildwood Mayor Bill Henfey said that the best way to figure out shared services was to start small.

“Not necessarily is bigger better,” he said. “It is going to be a shock to the community to do some things, so you have to start small and then you increase at a little bit at a time.”

Henfey mentioned that this wasn’t the first time the island had looked at shared services, but said that the beach fee question had restarted the conversation.

For example, Henfey said that the municipalities had looked to share trash removal previously, but hit a road block before it could come to a completion. While Henfey said it would have been cheaper for the municipalities to use one trucking company, they were unable to come to an agreement on how to handle tipping fees. Tipping fees are the fees charged to municipalities based on the weight of the trash that is brought to the landfill.

“We have to really look at it and then it would be a combined decision of what we think would work best,” Henfey said.

Crest Commissioner Cabrera agreed that the process needed to be slow and careful, and admitted that shared services would probably not start until 2014. The Crest’s budget is already planned for the upcoming year, and set to be introduced in a few weeks, he said.

Cabrera added that the committee should spring for an outside expert to do a study on which services would be best to share, and then once they have the research the officials should move forward.

“You have to leave personalities behind and see what will be the best decision,” he said.

In addition to elected officials, the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority will also be involved in the shared services discussions.

“This is the first time in many, many years I have seen everybody come together for the common good,” said John Siciliano, executive director of GWTIDA. “I do think that coming to the table and discussing shared services is a win-win for the entire island, so I commend you all for opening your minds and having these conversations.

“It’s good for the city, and it’s also going to be good for tourism,” he added.

Wildwood Commissioner Pete Byron said that some meetings have already begun about beach maintenance and public works.

“Everyone has been upbeat, there have been no arguments,” Bryon said at the Feb. 13 meeting. “All of us taking the time to meet with these individuals and bring ideas to the table is tremendous, I think the future is going to be bright for us.”

Christie Rotondo can be reached 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.wildwood.shorenewtoday.com. 

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