Wildwood beach fees

The City of Wildwood is considering the implementation of beach fees for the city beaches. A view of the Wildwood Beach at the 3200 block looking north on Jan. 9.

Dale Gerhard

Wildwood residents have just three weeks left to register to vote on an issue that will affect the estimated 9 million visitors that come to Five Mile Beach each summer.

City Commission officially announced Jan. 4 that voters would decide if the city starts charging beach fees this summer, but so far the county has not reported any drastic increase in the numbers of registered voters in the city.

As of Tuesday, the Cape May County Clerk’s Office said there are 2,801 residents registered.

That number is down from the number of voters registered to vote in last year’s presidential election.

At that time, 2,979 people were registered in the city, but only 1,404, or 47 percent, of them actually voted.

Voter turnout was about the same the last time residents chose their three city commissioners. In the May 2011 election, 46 percent of the city’s voters made it to the polls.

City Clerk/Administrator Christopher Wood said Tuesday that his office has distributed only five information packets containing the ballot question and beach fee ordinance to residents.

“We haven’t had much interest,” Wood said, noting that he is developing the sample ballots that will be mailed to voters.

Whether that translates into a low voter turnout won’t be known until Election Day, March 5, but for now even those who once actively opposed beach fees are noncommittal.

Al Brannen, a former city commissioner, worked against beach fee proposals when they appeared on the ballot in 1976 and again in 1981. It was during that same time frame that other towns such as Cape May adopted the fees.

“We felt you shouldn’t have to pay to go into the ocean. God gave us the ocean, and we should be allowed to go in it without paying for it,” Brannen said.

But today he said he is neither for or against the beach fee plan, though he would support seeing a study done to determine exactly how the beach fees would benefit the town and how they would be administered.

Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said he has also heard little on the subject, though its announcement made headlines across the region.

“I think it’s more of a concern to the visitors than it is (to) the residents. The residents are tired of paying for it,” Troiano said.

So far, no active campaigning has taken place, but as the vote comes closer groups such as the Greater Wildwoods Hotel & Motel Association are expected to speak out about the plan. Association President Steve Tecco said the group opposes the fees.

“We just want to try and let people be informed,” Tecco said, calling the idea a “quick fix.”

But Tecco said the association is hoping to find a way to avoid having a referendum altogether by finding alternative revenues for the city.

The city has projected that the fees could bring in $1 million a year to the city, which would be used for everything from beach maintenance to lifeguard staffing.

The fees would in turn relieve the burden placed on taxpayers, city officials said.

However, the city receives about $250,000 a year from the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority for beach maintenance and that money would no longer be given to the city if fees are imposed.

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