A proposal to eliminate beach fees in New Jersey may play well in other parts of the state, but it would be a major problem for shore towns and their taxpayers.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, and Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Hunterdon, Warren, have introduced a bill that would ban any shore town that accepts state or federal aid to rebuild its beaches from charging beach fees. It also would require these towns to offer free restrooms. The bill was introduced shortly after Hurricane Sandy struck the state, when it was clear that just about every shore town would need beach replenishment.
No doubt the idea has a certain initial appeal for many. Nobody enjoys paying for a beach badge.
But the logic behind the bill is flawed. When you buy a beach badge you aren’t paying for sand. You’re helping to pay for all the services that make it possible to enjoy a day on the sand.
Those services include picking up trash, maintaining the beach and providing lifeguards, things that make the state’s beaches clean, safe and enjoyable. Without them, the Jersey shore just wouldn’t be the same.
Somebody has to pay for those things. Towns are already prohibited from charging more for beach fees than they spend on their beaches. Without beach tags, they would pass those costs on to local residents, driving up property taxes.
And, of course, beaches aren’t the only things that benefit from federal and state money. Drivers pay tolls to use highways and bridges that have been built with tax money, and residents and visitors pay entrance fees to many state parks and other facilities.
It is true that in the past some beach towns in North Jersey have used unreasonable daily fees in an effort to keep commoners off their beaches, but that’s not the case in South Jersey.
Down here, for less than the price of your lunch, you can spend a day on the beach, knowing that your children can play in the surf in front of a lifeguard stand. Buy a seasonal tag in your favorite shore town — most offer a preseason discount — and it is even cheaper. In fact, New Jersey’s beaches are one of the cheapest forms of entertainment available.
Some towns, such as the Wildwoods, have not instituted beach tags, believing that offering a free beach gives them a competitive advantage in attracting tourists. But Wildwood officials continue to debate the idea, and they estimate beach-related expenses at $1 million a year.
“We, as taxpayers and property owners, we do pay beach fees,” Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said recently.
The decision of whether or not to charge beach fees is best left up to local residents, not the shoobies in the state Senate.