Rising Costs Tax Beachgoers in Surf City

May 17, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill Surf City beach badges will now cost $30 preseason and $40 in season.

Now that the summer season is around the corner, taxpayers in Surf City are feeling the pinch of an increase in the beach badge rates. The issue was raised during the May 10 borough council meeting – six months after the increase was approved.

Council members agreed to the $5 increase for preseason and season badges at their Nov. 9 meeting. The badges now cost $30 and $40 respectively. Weekly badges, which were increased to $18 in 2016, now cost $20. Daily badges remain $7.

At that time, the council cited the increase in minimum wage as the reason for the hike in beach badge prices. That story hasn’t changed.

“We need to get up to speed,” Councilman Peter Hartney, who heads the beaches and environmental committee, said, explaining the increase in pay for lifeguards and other seasonal beach workers, “in order to remain competitive with the other Island towns.”

Mayor Francis Hodgson seconded that notion, saying the five other Island municipalities are paying their seasonal workers roughly $12 an hour.

“We can’t go that high,” he said. “It’s not in the budget. We need a tractor, a front loader and (an increase) in insurance. Sometimes it’s difficult.”

The $5 increase in the borough’s beach badge fee is comparable to what other Island communities are charging, Hodgson said.

“Ninety-six, 97 cents raised on every dollar is spent on the beaches,” he said, adding the borough offers residents such things as in-house trash pickup while other Island municipalities farm that work out to contractors. Also, “We use public works to do our snowplowing. Now, we’re having trouble getting public works employees.”

The borough is hiring 80 seasonal employees, whose contracts will run out as necessary. None will be on the books after early November.

“A day at the beach is very cheap compared with a day in New York City,” the mayor said.

In 2016, the borough sold a total of 33,993 badges. Revenue topped $582,362, which is $132,362 more than anticipated in the budget. Total expenses, however, came out to $582,566, for a deficit of $204. According to Hartney, it cost the general budget 1 cent per badge.

Children younger than 12 and seniors 65 or older will still be permitted to access the town’s beaches for free without having to obtain a badge. The municipality also offers free badges to active military personnel and their immediate families with the proper identification.

According to state law, shore municipalities are permitted to charge beach badge fees for the purpose of funding the towns’ beach operating expenses. Surf City’s growing costs stem from the state’s 6-cent minimum wage increase, from $8.38 per hour to $8.44 per hour, effective Jan. 1.

Voters in a statewide November 2013 referendum agreed to modify the New Jersey constitution requiring the Department of Labor to annually assess the minimum wage and advertise any increase for the following calendar year by Sept. 30. Since the referendum’s approval, the state’s hourly minimum wage has increased $1.19 in total.

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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