ATLANTIC CITY — For nearly 30 years, Bob Pantalena has spent several hours a day walking up and down the Boardwalk. The 77-year-old retired state parole officer said the world-famous boards could use some attention.
“I’m on the Boardwalk probably three, four hours a day,” he said. “So, like me, I’m an old man and you see all my blemishes, I can see the blemishes on the Boardwalk.”
Pantalena said the city’s Beach and Boardwalk Division of the Department of Public Works does a good job with its limited resources of staying on top of repairs and maintenance, but added that with all the money the state takes from Atlantic City in the form of luxury taxes, room and parking fees, more could be done to assist the municipal workers.
“I think it should be a shared responsibility,” he said. “The state benefits from Atlantic City, ... so maybe a portion of the (taxes and fees) should find its way to the Boardwalk.”
The question of who should ultimately be responsible for the costly, and constant, maintenance of boardwalks throughout the state is a logical one after Gov. Phil Murphy recently vetoed a bill that would have guaranteed $60 million over 15 years to the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority for the city’s main tourist attraction. Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano said he was “disappointed beyond words” over the governor’s veto because locals could not afford to shoulder the cost alone.
“We send tons and tons of money to Trenton and get very little in return,” Troiano said. “It’s not like we’re asking them to generate more money for us, but it’s money that we create and we send to them. And we’d like to keep some of it.”
Murphy’s veto means officials in Wildwood must go back to the drawing board. In Atlantic City, the issue of Boardwalk repairs, maintenance and, possibly, replacement, is an ongoing issue.
The Atlantic City Boardwalk, which opened in 1870, “absolutely” needs attention, said Council President Marty Small Sr.
“I think, big picture, the whole Boardwalk, except maybe the new section (that spans the northern-most area of Absecon Island around to Gardner’s Basin), needs to be redone,” he said.
Small rides his bicycle on the Boardwalk several times a week and said he sees loose boards and hears them rattling under the tires. He noted that the city has faced multiple trip-and-fall lawsuits in recent years as a result of the Boardwalk’s deteriorating condition.
“It’s something that needs to be taken into serious consideration,” Small said. “Obviously, things can be done but we don’t have a magic wand to say ‘kabam, the Boardwalk is fixed.’ That’s a long-term project and it’s going to take a lot of planning. I mean, in this case, it’s an Atlantic City street and we need all the help that we can get.”
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, who voted in favor of the Wildwood bonding bill because of the tourism revenue the Boardwalk generates for the state, suggested that the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which has ultimate oversight of the Atlantic City Boardwalk because it falls within the agency’s designated Tourism District, could help the municipality with costs.
He said that a dedicated trust fund, similar to the state’s mechanism for road repairs, could be set up for the boardwalks along the New Jersey shore and maybe that would get more support.
But, Mazzeo said there was no perfect solution for funding boardwalk repairs and maintenance because lawmakers who represent people from other areas of the state are hesitant to commit public funds to local, seasonal attractions.
State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said the state has a role to play in the upkeep of boardwalks, but, ultimately, the responsibility is on the municipality.
“Atlantic County families, along with the state, depend upon the tourism dollars generated in Atlantic City, which is why having a partnership that ensures we have a clean and safe Boardwalk, holds absentee landlords accountable to keep their properties up to code, and provides proper services for the homeless so they aren’t living under the Boardwalk, will go a long way to replace run-down dollar stores with higher end, family-friendly shops, leading to increased city revenue, which can be used to help repair the Boardwalk without raising taxes on local working families,” Brown said.