A bill in the works to boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour has some seasonal shore businesses worried.
“It’s definitely going to negatively impact us,” said Chris Connelly, manager of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. “We would have to raise the price of a ticket.”
Proponents of increasing the minimum wage contend it would boost spending in local economies and take pressure off state and federal assistance programs. Opponents say it would increase service costs for seasonal Jersey Shore businesses that rely heavily on three months of summer tourism.
By the end of the year, Gov. Phil Murphy said he wants lawmakers to send him a bill that would gradually boost the minimum wage from the current $8.60 an hour to $15 over a series of years. New Jersey’s minimum wage is adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index — a plan approved by voters in 2013 after then-Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a hike.
The quirky Ripley’s museum has about 12 employees year-round, most of whom Connelly said are young students paid $10 an hour.
“When we hire a 16-year-old for their first summer job, they live with their parents, they go to high school. They don’t need a living wage,” Connelly said.
In Cape May County, mom-and-pop shops are wary, too.
Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, said she expects businesses to cut back hours, automate positions and eliminate jobs as a result of increased labor costs.
The organization represents more than 800 businesses and more than 20,000 workers in the tourism industry. Many run on a narrow profit margin, she said, and would have to bump the pay for more experienced employees as well as minimum wage earners.
The chamber is urging the Legislature to carve out exemptions for seasonal and student workers from the minimum wage hike. In 2014, Cape May raised the price of weekly beach tags from $15 to $18, citing a $1 state-mandated minimum wage increase the year prior that affected some municipal employees.
“We are dependent on a seasonal, tourism-based economy,” Clark said. “This would have a very extreme impact on us.”
Local lawmakers, including state Sen. Chris Brown, Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Assemblymen Vincent Mazzeo and John Armato, are trying to get exemptions into the final bill for seasonal workers and farmers.
Senate President Steve Sweeney has expressed support for such proposals in the past. Murphy does not.
“I see the benefit of having carve-outs in place for our farmers and other seasonal employers,” Armato, D-Atlantic, said in a statement. He wants the bill to allow small businesses to implement the $15 minimum wage at a slower rate than large ones.
Others welcome a raise for all workers at the shore, where the cost of living is among the highest in the country.
A minimum wage increase is long overdue in New Jersey, said Ellen Mutari, a Stockton University economics professor. She cited a University of California, Berkeley study that found in Seattle, where the city passed a gradual $15 minimum wage three years ago, workers saw higher incomes with little reduction in employment.
To lessen the impact on shore businesses, she said, legislators be looking to Seattle. The city has two implementation tracks for large and small companies. Smaller operations are given more time to adjust to the changes.
“If New Jersey workers face one of the highest costs of living in the country,” she said, “then they need to be a part of this movement.”
Last year, New Jersey was the seventh most expensive rental market in the country, a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found. In Atlantic County, workers would need to make $19.04 an hour to make ends meet, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal-leaning think tank.
Census data show more than 30,000 people in the county are employed in the food-service and recreation industry, where workers often rely on tips and regular hours.
Terrie Merlino, manager at Atlantic City’s Pic-a-Lilli Pub off the Boardwalk on Tennessee Avenue, said Thursday she hopes the bill passes.
The bar employs about eight bartenders and waitresses in the winter. Some who rely on tips, she said, struggle to afford rent and other necessities. She doesn’t expect Pic-a-Lilli to suffer from higher labor costs.
“I think people are going be able to spend more here,” Merlino said.
Some small shop owners along the Boardwalk don’t expect to be impacted.
Ray Khan, owner of Boardwalk Gifts, said he and his wife run the store with no employees. That’s the case for many of the neighboring shops.
“I don’t really have any employees. ... When I need help, I call my daughter,” Khan said. “In that case, we wouldn’t have any problems.”
East Point Lighthouse, a more than 160-year-old structure on the Delaware Bay in Maurice River Township, is increasingly threatened by rising sea levels and beach erosion.
This month, the state outlined a temporary solution to protect the historic lighthouse — one of the oldest in New Jersey — from coastal flooding in a meeting with members of the local historical society that manages the building.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which owns the property, is placing a 900-foot long Geotube from a nearby boat ramp to the bulkhead, said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna.
Geotubes are large, durable tubes made of synthetic material that are filled with sand. They are typically 8 to 10 feet in diameter.
The cost of the plan is not known at this time, but a 390-foot Geotube project in Beach Haven cost $470,000 in 2010. Once complete, the tube will be covered in sand to resemble a dune.
Work to install the Geotubes won’t begin until next summer, due to timing restrictions required for the protection of migrating shorebirds and horseshoe crabs.
"It's neglect that caused this... Now we just have to get through another winter," said Nancy Patterson, lighthouse caretaker and president of the Maurice River Township Historical Society.
The project’s costs will be covered by the State Historic Preservation Office through funds secured from the National Park Service, Hajna said.
A feasibility study initiated a few years ago by the Army Corps of Engineers and DEP looked at ways to save the lighthouse from flooding, including a possible beachfill project. That study was put on hold last year as the state pursued other interim solutions.
Built in 1849, the Cumberland County lighthouse has a storied past.
It was designed to guide fishermen and boaters to the Maurice River, but went dark at the beginning of World War II and was later transferred to the DEP. Vandalism and a fire contributed to the structure’s deterioration. In the 1970s, The Maurice River Township Historical Society raised money to restore the lighthouse.
Over the past decade, it has seen more flooding due to increased beach erosion and rising waters.
Earlier this year, the state bought 8.8 adjacent acres for $8,600 in order to provide more access and protection to the lighthouse. A $650,000 restoration project wrapped up last year, and included installing two pumps to prevent the structure’s basement from being inundated with water.
Hours before a detective from the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office fatally shot a teenager in Vineland, the county agency notified local authorities it was monitoring a car rental agency for his girlfriend.
Jacob Servais, 19, of Millville, was shot and killed by Detective John Caccia on Oct. 18 during an investigation into a violent crime that had occurred in Cape May County, according to a statement from the Attorney General’s Office after the shooting.
Servais was known “as a possible suspect in the investigation,” according to the statement.
Detectives notified local authorities just after 9:20 a.m. that they were waiting for a woman to return a blue Toyota Corolla to Just FourRental at 2587 S. Delsea Drive, according to dispatch recordings released by the Attorney General’s Office in response to an Open Public Records Act request.
The investigation is ongoing, Peter Aseltine, public onformation officer for the Attorney General’s Office, said in an email Thursday. He said the office is not releasing any additional information at this time before declining to comment further.
The dispatch recordings are heavily redacted and do not include the name of the woman the detectives were surveilling.
“Her boyfriend, who usually is with her, has a warrant for his arrest,” one detective said.
More than an hour later, Caccia called dispatch and said he and another detective were in the area and mentioned the woman they awaited.
“Her boyfriend’s an (expletive) too,” Caccia said. “He’s got vehicular homicide — he’s got a bunch of warrants.”
Caccia named Servais when the dispatcher asked for the boyfriend’s name.
State Police charged Servais in June with death by auto in an Elk Township, Gloucester County, crash that killed Servais’ 17-year-old passenger, according to the Daily Journal of Vineland.
The crash came after a police chase that started in Franklin Township, the Journal reported.
After the October shooting took place about 3:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the rental car agency, dispatchers received multiple calls for police and emergency medical responders. There is no body camera footage of the shooting.
Servais allegedly resisted police and threatened or attacked an officer, or another, with a car before Caccia shot him three times, according to the use of force report.
Caccia has been placed on administrative leave, Cape May County Prosecutor’s Capt. Michael Emmers said. Caccia’s annual salary is $73,518, public records show.
The Oct. 18 incident was the second time this year a man was fatally shot in Vineland by authorities.
In July, Vineland police fatally shot Rashaun Washington, of Camden, during a standoff outside a home. Washington threatened to trigger an explosive device.