N.J. plan allowing counties to take over beach operations gets cool reception

Some local officials in New Jersey are questioning the need for a state proposal to let counties take over management of municipal beaches. 

State lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow Shore towns to yield control of their beaches to county governments in Atlantic, Cape May, Ocean, and Monmouth counties.

None of the Shore towns has asked for the county to take over beach management, said Ocean County Freeholder John Bartlett. What’s more, he said, the county could not do a good job of caring for the beaches.

“This isn’t just a lifeguard at a lake or at a pool or something like that. These waters are dangerous, and you have to have absolute professionals and continuing training and continuing supervision,” he said. “You really can’t do that from Toms River in a county that has 44 miles worth of ocean coastline.”

Several towns already have a shared arrangement for some beach services with neighboring communities. Bartlett said he doesn’t think a countywide system would significantly reduce costs.Supporters say any savings could be used to lower beach badge fees or expand services.

Michael Laffey, who directs operations for Cape May County, said the Shore communities are doing a fine job of maintaining their beaches.

When they do need help, the county steps in, he said.

“Whether it’s equipment, manpower, or anything else, there’s a resource now that we can get into shared services agreements on an individual basis to help them with their needs,” Laffey said.

Proponents of the plan see it as a way of reducing costs.

“There would be economies of scale and hopefully savings so either beach fees could be lowered or hours of lifeguards or services at the beaches could be expanded,” said John Weber of the Surfrider Foundation.

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