Wildwood’s beaches will be free again this summer.
City Commission voted Wednesday to rescind a ballot measure that would have put the question of beach fees before the city’s 2,800 voters on March 5.
Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said that the decision to put a halt to the beach fee vote followed discussions among the city, its neighboring towns and local business leaders about alternatives to charging visitors to use the beach.
Those alternatives include greater use of shared services and holding more events and concerts on the beach.
Officials in both North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest said they had no plans to institute fees, meaning Wildwood would have been the only town on the island to charge if voters had approved the measure in March.
Wildwood officials had said the beach fees were needed to support the city’s budget and the cost of maintaining the town’s expansive strand.
Maintaining the beach costs about $1 million annually, with taxpayers covering $760,000 of that cost. The rest is covered by about $240,000 paid each year to the city by the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority from tax revenues generated by visitors.
City voters had been asked at least twice before, in 1976 and 1981, whether they wanted to charge beach fees, and both times they said no.
Troiano said that this time around he had heard from many for and against the fees.
Local business groups such as the Greater Wildwoods Hotel Motel Association didn’t support the fees, and a majority of the members of the Greater Wildwoods Chamber of Commerce also opposed them.
The business groups noted that the free beaches have been used to market the island to visitors looking for budget-friendly attractions.
North Wildwood Mayor Bill Henfey said Wednesday night that Wildwood’s neighbors wanted to help the city.
“We are going to make a concerted effort, the Crest and North Wildwood, to potentially save some money and help Wildwood,” Henfey said.
In the 1970s, many other resorts adopted the fees, but the Wildwoods resisted.
The topic seems to come up for discussion almost annually in the Wildwoods. When the issue came up as recently as 2011, the Greater Wildwoods Hotel Motel Association summed the fees up as a bad idea.
"The beach fee is a user fee, a tax by another name, which is regressive, inefficient and objectionable to many," the group said.
City Clerk Administrator Chris Wood said Wednesday that, with the March 5 election just three weeks away, the work of preparing for the election was well under way, but he said less than $5,000 had been spent so far.
The total cost of the election was to be about $25,000,.
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