Wildwood beach tags? Hotels say no, one mayor wants to ask voters
Hotel and motel owners in the Wildwoods are opposed to charging fees to enter the beaches, which have been one of the few in New Jersey to remain free.
The discussion began after the three mayors of the Wildwood municipalities said their budgets need more money to maintain the beaches and pay for lifeguards and seasonal police officers, who will be getting a raise in 2022 as a result in the increase of the state's minimum wage.
But The Greater Wildwoods Hotel and Motel Association has told the mayors that a beach fee would be "counterproductive," according to the Cape May Herald. The group's president, Stephen Tecco, told the Herald that such a fee would chase visitors to other free beaches such as Cape May.
Tecco told the Herald that his group and other stakeholders should have a say in whether or not a fee is implemented.
Wildwood Crest Mayor Don Cabrea, meanwhile, wants to put the question to a local vote and ask the state for more money.
"I think there's an opportunity and a diligence to approach the state ... because the state sets all the regulations as to what you can do with the beach and what you can't do. If you're going to do that, you have a financial responsibility," Cabrera said.
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello and Wildwood Mayor Pete Bryon support adopting municipal ordinances to implement the beach tags starting as soon as next year.
Cabrera wants to put it to a referendum, as he believes people are evenly split on implementing beach fees and should have a voice after considering the facts of such a decision.
"You're not going to see the governing body of Wildwood Crest make that decision. We know that's a sensitive issue with vacationers, with our residents. We would probably put the matter up after fully educating everyone about our referendum and allow them the opportunity to make a vote on it," Cabrera said.
He wants the public to understand and consider the impact of beach fees
"How could it affect business? How could it affect our tourism marketing? How could it affect people who have come here year after year after year if we charge a fee? Does it drive them away? I think these are all important questions," Cabrera told New Jersey 101.5.
A referendum would place the question before registered voters in the municipality. Those who come from the rest of New Jersey and other states to spend weekends and summers would have to register their opinion other ways. Some local businesses, including the hotel industry, fear that visitors would vote with their feet.
Cabrera said that beach fees would specifically go toward the operation and maintenance of the beach such as lifeguards, trash pick up, sweeping sand off walkways, lifeguard chairs and the decking on walkways.
Cabrera also pointed out that switching to beach fees would come with an initial cost of nearly $700,000 — including $400,000 in operating costs involved with hiring new staff and a loss of $300,000 from the tourism board, which by law would not be required to make the contribution if the municipalities implement beach fees.