The top Democrat in the state Legislature, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, and a Republican senator from Warren County, Michael J. Doherty, have drafted legislation that would require beach towns that accept state or federal money for beach replenishment to provide free beach access to the public.
In Ocean City, which to help offset the cost of cleaning beaches and providing lifeguards, the potential legislation is frightening.
"I have a grave concern about the bipartisan support for repealing beach tag fees," Councilman Keith Hartzell said at council workshop on Thursday (Dec. 6).
Hartzell suggested taking a pro-active approach to fighting the proposed measure. He accused the state legislators of taking advantage of the devastating Superstorm Sandy for political gain.
"The very people most affected by Sandy are going to pick up the bill," Hartzell said. "It's going to get paid on our citizens' and taxpayers' backs. To think we're going to pick up $4 million is ludicrous."
Mayor Jay Gillian said that Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio is lining up mayors from shore towns for a meeting at 10:30 a.m. Monday (Dec. 10) in Sea Isle to rally the opposition.
"They're playing with our livelihood," Gillian said.
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.
The proposed legislation suggests municipalities that accept aid for rebuilding beaches should not be allowed to collect fees for beach badges. It also would require municipalities to provide free public restroom facilities between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
Sweeney 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.