So, to sit on the beach one day in Key West, I paid $12.50 in straight fees. That’s not including taxes I paid on my hotel room, my lunch, my beer, and my suntan lotion.
That makes Sea Isle’s $5 one-day beach price tag look like a bargain.
No matter what, you pay to use the beach. If N.J. bans beach tags, shore towns will find some other way to pay for beach maintenance, whether it’s adding fees, charging more for parking in more places, or raising taxes on visitors, residents (though that will be hard given the 2 percent annual property tax increase cap) or both.
Let’s not sugar coat what will happen if towns are forced to get rid of lifeguards: people will die.
Could towns raise money in other ways? Sure. I’ve long preached about shared services. I like the idea of an all-state beach tag, but that reform, like shared services, will take a lot of work and a lot of cooperation from towns that cling to home rule (though that’s changing – Sea Isle’s high school students go to Ocean City’s school, and Avalon and Stone Harbor’s kids are now going to the same schools).
So it’s worth using Sandy to start that shared services conversation, but coming in and saying “next summer, you can’t do that” is wrong.
These shore towns will already be working with less money in 2013, whether it’s from lost revenues from the days the storm shut the towns down, or lower tax base from homes and businesses that have been damaged or destroyed. June 2013 has the potential of being a dud, too, since many N.J. towns have extended the school year because they lost so many days due to Sandy. This could short the season, leading to lower revenues.
If we want to talk financial reform for our shore towns, that’s fine. But to do it this way, in the shore’s darkest hour, by trying to smash through reform by holding money hostage is vile, and it’s wrong, especially when beach tags are a bargain.
Let’s also not forget that it’s in the state’s best interest to have those beaches re-sanded and ready for Memorial Day weekend. Tourism in N.J. brings in about $40 billion a year, much of it from our shore towns. Poorly kept, more dangerous beaches mean fewer people coming back to the shore this year, and less money to be redistributed throughout the state.
I don’t know what Sweeney’s after, but if it’s to win favor in a possible lead run against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, he’s doing it in the absolute wrong way, and putting the finances of our shore towns are risk while doing it.
Jen A. Miller writes the Down the Shore with Jen blog for NewsWorks.org. Jen is author of The Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May, which is now in its second edition.