Wildwood mayor, Morey face off over beach events

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WILDWOOD— About a dozen community members, including Morey’s Piers Vice President Jack Morey, attended a Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday in hopes that the governing body would vote to reverse its hike in beach event permitting fees.

No such decision was made, but those in attendance waited more than two hours while the commission held a closed-door executive session, during which they planned to discuss correspondence from the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority regarding a contractual matter.

Morey, who sits on the GWTIDA board, said that the authority had sent a proposal to the governing bodies of Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, and North Wildwood presenting a new fee structure that would be implemented in 2015, to offset the additional costs incurred by municipalities for hosting events that have an island-wide impact. 

According to Morey, these fees would not fall on the taxpayers, but no additional information was immediately available Wednesday night.
In return, the authority had asked Wildwood officials to rescind an ordinance that established a per person fee for beach events and to return those fees to the 2013 rate. They did neither on Wednesday night.
While the commissioners did not officially take any comment from the public after Wednesday’s executive session, after the close of the meeting many asked what the commissioners planned to do about the beach event fee situation.
“We are in the process of trying to resolve this,” Mayor Ernie Troiano told them. He added that they were working with GWTIDA to come to some sort of solution, and that it was not the governing body’s intent to see the beach events relocate out of town.
He added that the fees are being imposed to stabilize Wildwood’s tax rate. According to the mayor, a recent revaluation has caused Wildwood to lose $130 million from its ratable base, and the city is looking to make up $1.7 million in tax revenue.
“If we introduced the same budget as last year, we would still be in the hole,” he told the crowd.
Morey asked the mayor if he could articulate how much it costs the city for events such as Cape Express Beach Blast to be held on its beach. In response, the mayor said that Wildwood spends hundreds of thousands to maintain the beach each year so these events can go on.
“If it were up to me, I’d let that beach go natural,” he said. He added that he believes these events are a burden on some taxpayers who see no benefit from an uptick in tourism.
“Sometimes, you act as though the boardwalk doesn’t pay taxes,” Morey responded.

At several points, Commissioner Pete Byron and City Attorney Mary D’Arcy Bittner reminded the mayor that the topic is a matter of potential litigation.
Both Byron and Troiano insisted that the beach fees are not intended to single out any particular promoter.
“This isn’t us against you,” Byron said to Morey.
After the discussion, Morey told the Leader that he was “very disappointed” the governing body did not vote to rescind the ordinance. He added that he felt as though GWTIDA’s proposal was fair and a positive solution. 
“Events are not here to fund the municipal budget,” he said. “But, they shouldn’t put any additional burden on the taxpayer either.”
When asked if the Morey Organization was currently involved in litigation with the city over the beach event fees, Morey said it was not. But, he said his company and the city did have “philosophical differences” over New Jersey’s Public Trust Doctrine. That doctrine, which has roots dating back to before the American Revolution, establishes New Jersey beaches as public land, open to everyone. In many shore towns, the effect of the doctrine is on the beach tag policy. For instance, towns cannot provide free tags to property owners, and there is a legal precedent that beach tag revenue should only cover the cost of the beaches, not to raise revenue for the general fund.

But, Morey said that it was “more than a possibility” at this point that events like Cape Express Beach Blast could be taking place on the beaches of North Wildwood or Wildwood Crest this summer, instead of their usual location near Mariner’s Landing Pier. 

 

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