Cape May is the latest town moving to offer free beach tags to veterans and active-duty military personnel, making it the fifth shore town in the county to do so.
The city is taking advantage of a 2013 state law sponsored by Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic. Van Drew said the idea has taken off in Cape May County, but to his knowledge the three other coastal counties have not joined in yet.
“I’m proud to see Cape May County jump on it. I think it will spread, and I hope most municipalities will do it. Hopefully it will come to Atlantic County, Ocean County and Monmouth County,” Van Drew said.
Cape May City Council worked on details of the program this week though the vote to adopt the ordinance is not until March 18. The ordinance is expected to be adopted unanimously and become effective in early April.
The city is not sure how many will take advantage of the offer but has ordered 1,000 unique tags to give out.
Mayor Ed Mahaney said the tags will mention that Cape May honors its active-duty and military veterans. It will have an American flag and be red, white and blue.
“The program is a win, win for everybody. We want the active-duty and veterans to know we respect their service, and we want to honor them by providing them a beach tag,” Mahaney said.
The idea began in Sea Isle City five years ago when a local VFW post began buying tags for veterans. It was not legal at that time for a municipality to offer free tags for veterans, though state statutes allowed free or discounted tags for some groups, including senior citizens and children.
The Sea Isle City effort led to changes in state legislation first to allow tags for active-duty military, and Van Drew’s bill added honorably discharged veterans. Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio and veterans advocate Joe Griffies, of Middle Township, brought the idea to Van Drew and testified for the bill.
“It’s a small thing to say thank you to the veterans,” said Desiderio. “I’m really happy Van Drew got it passed and the governor signed it. Every shore community should offer them.”
Ocean City, Avalon and Stone Harbor are also offering the free tags or in the process of approving programs. Since there are no tags in the Wildwoods or Strathmere, this leaves only Cape May Point without a program in Cape May County.
There is some work involved. Cape May is setting up a program, which will be announced on March 18 and be put on the city’s website, capemaycity.org, on how to qualify. The city will review paperwork showing military credentials and keep a list of those who qualify. Mahaney said it isn’t something they want a beach tag checker to have to do out on the strand. Mahaney said the city will process the paperwork at City Hall and at the beach tag office on the Promenade.
“We can’t do this on the beach,” Mahaney said.
The city also is preparing some budgetary maneuvers in case they are needed to make sure the Beach Utility Fund remains solvent. Mahaney said the program could result in $24,000 in lost revenue. The fund takes in beach tag fees and generates revenue for the beach program and under state statues must remain solvent.
The city’s program pretty much follows the Van Drew legislation. It covers all the branches of the military as well as the New Jersey National Guard, New Jersey Army National Guard and New Jersey Air National Guard. Tags are also offered to spouses and children over the age of 12. Younger children don’t need beach tags here.
Van Drew is happy to see the momentum build and hopes it continues.
“In some cases these men and women lost body parts on beaches all over the world. At least we could let them go on our beaches for free,” Van Drew said.
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