CAPE MAY — City Council on Tuesday approved several beach tag increases for 2014 to make sure all costs to maintain the beach are paid by its users. The increases, which begin Jan. 28, raise the price of a three-day tag from $10 to $12, which City Manager Bruce MacLeod said is expected to generate about $80,000. This tag price was last raised in 2009.
The seasonal tag purchased in the pre-season, from Dec. 1 through March 31, will go from $15 to $20 to raise an extra $75,000. Pre-season tags were last increased in 2005. The seasonal tag purchased from April 1 on will remain at $28.
Council also agreed to increase the weekly tag from $15 to $18 beginning in 2015.
The cost of sand-replenishment projects, a state-mandated increase in the minimum wage that will increase beach tag checker costs, constructing new beachfront restrooms and paying off debt on a new lifeguard building were all cited as reasons for the increase.
It’s the second year in a row the city has increased tag prices —last year, daily and seasonal prices were raised — as it tries to keep the Beach Utility Fund in the black. The city budgets the beaches separately, with all costs paid by tag sales.
This year, the increase comes as a surge in December sales — $50,000 higher than last year as people rushed to buy $15 pre-season tags before the price went up — led to a surplus of around $163,000. The city anticipated $1.95 million in revenue in 2013 and realized more than $2.11 million.
The city had hoped to collect as much as $2.3 million last year, due in part to last year’s increases for daily and seasonal tags, but a rainy summer kept sales down, and the city was dipping into to the fund’s $309,532 surplus account prior to the strong December.
“Christmas sales saved us. Maybe that comes back to haunt us later in the season,” Mahaney said.
The hike in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 per hour was cited as one reason to hike prices. Tag checkers started at $7.50 per hour, but now they will start at $8.25.
Mahaney said another large cost is the city’s share for beach replenishment projects, one of which is slated to start in the city next week. The federal government pays 75 percent of the costs. The remaining 25 percent is split with the state paying 75 percent and the city picking up 25 percent. It computes to the city paying just more than six percent of the costs of projects that cost millions of dollars.
Mahaney said from 1990 to 2008, when Bernie Moore was in charge of beach projects for the state, the local share was waived with the state picking it up. Since 2008, the city has had to pay it.
“Bernie Moore didn’t make us pay the local share,” Mahaney said.
Other costs are the new headquarters for the lifeguards going to permanent bonding this year and new restrooms slated near The Oasis Restaurant.
The Beach Utility Fund also pays for litter collection, lifeguards, policing, handicapped access and other costs.
Executive Director Bill Dressel, of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said he has not seen any emerging statewide trends in beach tag costs, but he suggested Cape May is doing the right thing by making it a well-documented user fee.
“We think it’s a good practice to renew and evaluate the fees and fines you assess so they are reflective of administrative dollars to provide the service,” Dressel said.
Shore towns in general, Dressel noted, are having a difficult time keeping beach operations in the black, as any subsidies from county or state sources for such operations have disappeared.
Dressel said a sluggish economy has led to more people vacationing at the New Jersey shore, but this hasn’t necessarily helped beach operations because these people demand so many services such as lifeguards, police, beach cleaning, restrooms and many others. It all costs money.
“The beach tag is the only way to get some of it back,” Dressel said.
Council approved the increases in a 4-0 vote. Councilwoman Terri Swain was absent.
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