WILDWOOD - Beach fees are not coming this summer, but the city is still looking to its expansive stretch of sand for other sources of revenue.
"The beach is going to be a big part of it," Commissioner Pete Byron said Monday as the city prepares its annual budget. "We need to bring in new revenues and take advantage of the vastness of the beach."
The state's Division of Local Government Services requires municipalities to introduce their 2012 budgets by March 9 or by the next regular meeting following that date, which is March 14 in Wildwood's case.
By that date, city commissioners expect to introduce a budget that makes use of the beach through such things as the leasing of space to beach bars - something Wildwood does not currently have - to the addition of cabanas and beach boxes for storage. Byron said the city is also exploring the possibility of having recreational vehicles park on the beach.
Byron said the city has been talking with the state Department of Environmental Protection and is closing in on which of the revenue-generating ideas can be put in place this year.
The beach bar option would involve leasing city-owned beach space to private businesses that already have liquor licenses or having the city obtain a concessionaire's license, then bring in a beach bar operator.
The city already has 56 retail liquor licenses, but City Clerk Christopher Wood said about eight of those are inactive, or pocket, licenses. In addition, the city has two club licenses, five motel/hotel licenses and six liquor distribution licenses.
Tracey Dufault, executive director of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce, said that some of the organization's members are not excited about the possibility of competing with beach bars, while others think it will be an added amenity for visitors to Five Mile Beach.
She said the group would survey its roughly 625 members before taking a position. "Anything we can do that is for the betterment of the island is good. It's a matter of how it's going to be done," she said.
The city has also created new fees for beach events under an ordinance that requires a $1,500 fee for a single-day event to $2,500 for multiple-day events. In addition, camping on the beach for those events, such as the annual soccer tournaments and scouting activities, will come with an added cost of $10 per tent.
The city has not estimated what the beach-related revenues could amount to, but they would be combined with a mix of other revenue sources and cost-cutting efforts as the city looks to introduce a budget that does not increase the tax rate or the tax levy.
In 2011, the total budget was $23.46 million with an accompanying tax levy of $17.1 million. To support that budget, the city also approved an emergency appropriation of $2.15 million because the budget came with a proposed 42 layoffs put forth by the previous administration, cuts the current administration said would be damaging to the resort's public safety.
Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said Monday that he was confident the city could find the money through the beach projects and other plans, such as the pending effort to turn the city's backbay landfill into a solar farm, to avoid laying off any of its employees.
Currently, the city has 166 year-round employees, down from 200 or more in recent years.
"At this point, there's no talks of layoffs," Troiano said.
Troiano said the search is also ongoing for new ratables and the city will continue defending tax appeals to maintain the ratable base. The city is currently valued at $1.56 billion, Tax Assessor Jason Hesley said.
Commissioner Tony Leonetti, who oversees public safety, said retirements have helped his departments keep their budgets steady. The police department has 31 full-time members including the chief, while the fire department has a staff of 17 full-time firefighters.
"In my eyes, I'm planning on holding the line in all the budgets," he said.
Wood said other savings measures include reducing city trash pickups, particularly to businesses, which means the tipping fees the city pays to the county would be reduced about $100,000 to $200,000.
The city also will see a full summer of increased parking meter rates, which went up from 15 minutes per quarter to 10 minutes per quarter. Other revenue options include the sale of the city's Boardwalk property formerly used for monster truck rides.
Byron said he will offer a full presentation on the budget when it is introduced, likely at the March 14 meeting.
"It's still a little bit early to do any projections," he said.
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