WILDWOOD — The nonprofit that operates the yellow trams on the Wildwood Boardwalk wasted no time in responding to the minimum wage hike that went into effect on New Year’s Day.
The state minimum wage went up $1 to $11 an hour, and the Wildwoods Boardwalk Special Improvement District, in turn, raised the fare for a trip on the tram by 50 cents to $4.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a bill last February raising the minimum wage from $8.85 to $10 by July 1, 2019, and then $1 an hour every year until 2024, when it will sit at $15 per hour.
Those increases will cost the nonprofit about $50,000 per year in additional salary payouts, or $250,000 by the time it hits $15 per hour, said Patrick Rosenello, mayor of North Wildwood and director of Wildwoods Boardwalk Special Improvement District.
Other businesses in Wildwood, many of which rely on temporary workers and the brief upswell of commerce in the summer months, are bracing for impact. Businesses in the county are likely to be hit hard by the increase, said Diane Wieland, the public information officer for Cape May County.
The fare hike will bring in about $60,000 per year, and the nonprofit also will adjust discounted ticket books to make do, he said.
“What we don’t want to do is have a fare hike every single year,” he said. “Our goal is to be able to keep this fare for a number of years. But as we get closer to the $15 per hour, we will have to look at it again.”
Young people looking for their first job, or a summer gig, might be hit first, Wieland said. They could be given less hours or passed over in preference for people who can work longer hours, she said.
“We’re gonna see some changes,” Wieland said. “If it’s a Boardwalk or beach grill, or something like that where they rely on young kids, I think it’s gonna impact jobs for young kids.”
Rosenello said the Wildwoods Boardwalk Special Improvement District, which is supported by businesses on the Boardwalk, operates on “very low” margins.
The trams have not been privately owned since 2003, when the company that operated them went out of business, he said.
“If you look at the needs of the tram cars, as far as replacement of them ... I’m a private business owner. I own a lot of private businesses,” Rosenello said. “I wouldn’t buy the tram cars as a for-profit business owner.”
Tracey DuFault, the executive director of the Wildwood Chamber of Commerce, said she’s heard from a number of “scared” business owners in town who are concerned about their ability to weather the yearly hikes.
“We are a very seasonal community, so it is going to be extremely hard for our small businesses to succeed when we have to raise that rate,” DuFault said. “So there is probably going to be a trickle down effect with an increase for the services and goods.”
Scott Chambers, the owner of Zippy’s Bikes on Pacific Avenue, was one of those business owners who reached out to the Chamber with concerns. Zippy’s staff is bare bones in the offseason, with only one or two staffers manning the shop, but can have up to 15 employees in the middle of the summer.
“With everyone shopping on the internet, and our season so short, we can’t continue to compete,” Chambers said.
They will “unfortunately” have to raise their prices, he said. None of his “return” employees were getting paid minimum wage, Chambers said, but the increase causes a trickle-down effect where employees getting paid $12 per hour now want $15 per hour and those getting paid $15 per hour now want $20 per hour.
“I can’t afford to bring in a teenager at $11 an hour. There’s no way,” Chambers said. “It’s a damn shame because ... it takes a village to raise a child. That’s how we bring up the next generation ... by putting them to work. But between the cell phones and the work ethic of the next generation, I can’t be chasing teenagers or handing them a broom and telling them to keep busy at $11 an hour.”