SURF CITY — Proposed legislation would take $1 from the sale of every beach badge sold in New Jersey to help save Barnegat Bay.
The plan, which is in subcommittee, has shore town mayors outraged.
The “Save Barnegat Bay Act” legislation, just one of several bills that focus on preserving the bay, would take $1 from each municipal sale of a beach badge and put it in the “Save Barnegat Bay Fund.” Municipalities would be prohibited from increasing fees to offset the $1 donation to the fund, a copy of the bill states.
Surf City Councilman Peter Hartney said the legislation penalizes shore towns such as those on Long Beach Island.
“Most of the runoff that’s hurting the bay is coming from over there,” Hartney said Monday morning as he pointed across the frozen Barnegat Bay toward Stafford Township.
The legislation introduced Dec. 6 by two Ocean County assemblymen came just days before the state released a $110 million plan to save Barnegat Bay. The Legistlature gave approval Monday to that multimillion-dollar plan, which demands more stringent fertilizer rules, storm-drain upgrades to stop pollution in the bay and boating restrictions.
Mainland municipalities, however, bear little or no burden in addressing the pollution under the “Save Barnegat Bay Act,” Hartney said.
In a letter Hartney wrote earlier this month to the bill’s sponsors — Assemblymen James Holzapfel and David Wolfe, both R-Ocean, Monmouth — Hartney states “to tax beach badges is like trying to get blood out of a stone.”
Hartney wrote it is a commonly held myth that beach badge fees are “a source of abundant revenue for a municipality.” But the cost of the seasonal 12 weeks of beach operations uses all the revenue generated by beach badge fees, Hartney said, and the cost of maintaining a beach year-round exceeds the money collected in beach fees for shore towns.
“To make the assumption that $1 is even available for the proposed fund is an assumption ground on the shifting sands of myth and misconception,” Hartney said.
The Barnegat Bay is an asset and ecosystem that needs to be protected, Harvey Cedars Mayor Jonathan Oldham said, but not at the expense of shore towns.
“Most of the pollution is coming from the mainland with all the lawns and fertilizer that is used, so why should we take beach badge revenues to fix this? It doesn’t make any sense, does it?” Oldham said. He said he plans on contacting the 9th District Legislative offices to express his opposition.
He said the borough brought in about $200,000 in the last year on beach badge fees, but all of the money is spent on paying lifeguards and beach badge checkers during the summer season.
“The state’s trying to save money up there in Trenton, but they’re pushing it down on the towns,” he said.
Farther south from Barnegat Bay, Margate Commissioner Dan Campbell said the last thing his town needs is more lost revenue.
“If we’re going to lose a dollar out of our beach badge fee I’m against that because it’s a good source of revenue for us. We’re seeing revenue cuts everywhere,” Campbell said.
And for Campbell, the geography doesn’t make sense: “And this is for Barnegat Bay, which in no way benefits the city of Margate. And Margate is how many miles away from where the problem is?” he said.
About 40,000 badges were sold over the last year in Margate, Campbell said.
“That’s $40,000 they would take. Where are we going to get for that $40,000? That’s an employee. If you’re taking revenue away from us it’s wrong because we’re already getting cut by the governor.
“This bill makes no sense for anyone but the people who benefit from Barnegat Bay,” he said.
Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio said municipalities across the state will find a way around the bill’s prohibition against increasing beach badge fees.
Desiderio said over the past year, Sea Isle City has sold $1.1 million worth of beach badges, which included 49,000 seasonal badges, 16,000 weekly badges and 28,000 daily badges.
“So we would have had to kick in about $95,000 into this fund? Some people will say it’s only a dollar, but to me it’s $95,000. For us to get hit with another buck, I can’t see this happening right now,” he said.
“I’m sure they need this money for the Save the Barnegat Bay Fund, but once you start taking a dollar here, you’ll be taking a dollar from there and then a dollar from there. There has to be a better way, especially in these tough economic times when every municipality is pinching,” he said.
Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther said all towns have challenges in the upcoming budget year and the state needs to look elsewhere for Barnegat Bay funding.
Guenther said any impact on the environment has a trickledown effect to other areas but he agrees with Campbell that Barnegat Bay’s problem is more of an Ocean County issue than Atlantic County issue.
“I certainly understand the importance of saving Barnegat Bay, however, this is no time for municipalities to be losing revenue. And Brigantine would be looking at losing $30,000 to $40,000 in beach badge revenue. This is something I’d urge our legislative team not to support.”
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