Beach tag ban proposal baffles shore mayors

TRENTON - December 10, 2012

Cape May County officials are puzzled by a bipartisan proposal that would force coastal communities accepting state and federal money to rebuild beaches to stop charging for beach tags and provide public bathrooms.

"This is absolutely the wrong time and the wrong legislation. Many, many people are hurting," Mayor Len Desiderio of Sea Isle City said.

Shore mayors say their towns have been devastated by Superstorm Sandy and now more than ever they need the money brought in by beach tags to pay for services that keep the tourists coming.

"Our beach tag revenues generally go for lifeguards, for public safety, for maintenance. That's a user fee," Mayor Suzanne Walters of Stone Harbor said.

"200,000 people who buy beach tags and use the beach should pay the cost. If you don't use the beach, you shouldn't have to pay for it," Mayor Ed Mahaney of Cape May said.

Officials say without the income from beach tags property taxes will have to go up.

Few details about the proposed bill have been released.

One of the sponsors is Senate President Steve Sweeney.

"We're going to spend $1-billion to a $1.3-billion of tax dollars to rebuild the beach and then I got to go in my pocket and pay for it? It's like charging me to breathe air," Sweeney said.

We asked some beach-goers what they think.

"I'd love to have it be free, but the reality is it costs an awful lot to maintain a beachfront area," Bill Shannon of Hamilton, New Jersey said.

"So it's like double dipping if they get paid for us going. they take federal and state money and then we also pay," Alicia Day of Delran said.

Cape May County officials say getting rid of beach fees for accepting replenishment money is the same as asking roads built with state and federal money to get rid of their tolls.

Obviously, there's going to be enormous pushback on this, but the senate president says the no beach tag bill will be part of a package of Sandy-related legislation lawmakers will vote on early next year.

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