On March 5, residents of Wildwood will vote on whether or not the town can implement a beach tag program.
This would be a big change for Wildwood, which has built its marketing campaign on having big, beautiful, free beaches.
The vote could go either way. Here’s why.
Yes1. The people voting on this issue are residents of Wildwood – full time residents only. As was the case in the OCNJ BYOB vote, second home owners can voice their opinions, but they cannot vote unless they change their residency. Officials estimate that they pay $1 million to maintain the beach every year. Right now, the city gets $225,000 from the Greater Wildwood Tourism Improvement Authority. The rest comes from the city budget, a budget fueled by taxes drawn from businesses, visitors, and homeowners. In Wildwood, property values have tripled since 2000, which means homeowners are paying more per property – a much bigger hit if you live in your home versus renting it out for a higher profit than in 2000. Residents I’ve talked to feel that it’s time to take some of the financial burden of beach maintenance off residents and put it onto visitors, like almost every other shore town does.
2. The fee isn’t that high. The final price structure hasn’t be determined yet, but officials say they are looking at what other beach towns do. In Sea Isle, for example, tags are $5 a day, $10 a week, $25 for the season ($20 if you buy before May 15). I don’t think an extra $10 a person is going to make someone not chose Wildwood, which has a unique mix of rental properties (hotels, motels, condos, whole house), and that boardwalk. Residents could see that too.
No1. Historical precedent. This is the third time Wildwood will hold such a vote. It was shot down in 1976 and 1981. Property taxes for residents weren’t such an issue then, nor the beach so wide. But voters have shown they didn’t want tags before, and beaches stayed free.
2. Bad for business? Many of Wildwood’s business leaders have said they are against this, and tourism is a huge job generator in Wildwood. Of course people trying to attract visitors are going to be against any kind of fee, especially when Wildwood has advertised itself as the free option for so long. So voters could say no because they feel they’ll be working against their own best interests.
3. North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest will still be free. At least that’s what these neighboring towns have said so far. It could be difficult to put in a beach tag program on the middle beach, and then expect people to still come with the north and south beaches are free. The only other scenario like this is Strathmere, which doesn’t have fees like neighbor Sea Isle. But Strathmere is a different kind of beach. Most of it is unguarded, there’s no boardwalk, and the town is smaller and more sparse than any of the Wildwoods.
Now, this doesn’t factor in the bill that would ban beach tags all together. Officials in Wildwood must feel like I do that it doesn’t have a big change of passing.
Still, this vote could be a close one.
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.