Jul 28, 2014
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City Asks Voters to Join Fight Against Repeal of Beach Tag Fees

Ocean City would have to make up for the loss of $4 million in beach tag revenue.

City Asks Voters to Join Fight Against Repeal of Beach Tag Fees

City Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday opposing a Senate bill that would require beach towns that accept state or federal money for beach replenishment to provide free beach access to the public.

Ocean City  to offset the cost of cleaning beaches and providing lifeguards, and the council resolution called the proposed bill "an unfunded mandate."

Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio opened Thursday's meeting at the Ocean City Free Public Library with an update on what Cape May County is doing to fight the proposed legislation.

He said six mayors (Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Cape May and Cape May Point) have drafted a letter expressing their opposition to the bill and outlining the potentially devastating impact on local budgets.

"It will be impossible to meet the 2 percent cap," Desiderio said. "We are communities that give far more to Trenton than we receive back."

Desiderio also encouraged local taxpayers to write or call the bill's sponsors, Democratic Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Republican Senator Michael J. Doherty, to let them know taxpayers are voters and that they oppose the measure. He also suggested contact Cape May County's Senator, Jeff Van Drew, who opposes the bill, and local Assembly representatives Matthew Milam and Nelson Albano.

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Mayor Jay Gillian and Councilman Keith Hartzell accused the senators of pushing the ill-advised measure to gain political favor.

Sweeney had said New Jerseyans "shouldn’t be taxed a second time just to walk on the sand.”

“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,” Doherty said. “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.”

The legislation, S-2368, would apply to towns that accept grants or aid from the state or federal governments after Nov. 2 for replenishing storm-damaged beaches.

The bill is still at the committee level and would likely not be considered further until the new legislative session in 2013.

"The very people most affected by Sandy are going to pick up the bill," Hartzell said last week. "It's going to get paid on our citizens' and taxpayers' backs. To think we're going to pick up $4 million is ludicrous."

Ocean City spent $3,963,000 in 2010 to provide lifeguards, beach tag inspectors, insurance, beach replenishment, dune construction and daily maintenance. But it brought in only $3,428,000 in beach tag revenue.

That $500,000 gap lead to a $5 increase in the cost of seasonal beach tags in 2011.

"Our beach fees relate very closely to our costs of operating the beach," Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said.

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