The cities of Ventnor and Margate are analyzing fees charged in other beach towns along the Jersey coast and considering raising the amount they charge for beach tags.

Margate Chief Financial Officer Lisa McLaughlin and Ventnor Administrator Maria Mento havetalked about the possibility of increasing fees for the tags, which can be used in both cities. The proposal was discussed by commissioners in both towns during recent board meetings.

Ventnor and Margate have an agreement to share in the cost of purchasing tags and must charge the same fees to prevent beachgoers from purchasing tags in the other town. Each town keeps the revenue from any tags they sell. The last time fees were raised was in 2005.

Ventnor and Margate charge $7 for seasonal tags purchased before June 1 and $3.50 for senior citizens. After June 1, the cost of tags increases to $15. Both towns have a $10 weekly fee.

Longport charges $15 for the pre-season rate and $30 during the regular season. It charges $5 for senior citizens pre-season and $10 during the season.

However, other beach towns charge considerably more for beach tags. Brigantine charges $15 pre-season and $20 during the regular season, and $8 for seniors pre-season and $15 during the summer. Brigantine also provides one free tag for seniors with identification.

Ocean City, Avalon and Sea Isle City do not have senior citizen rates. Ocean City and Sea Isle sell pre-season badges for $20 and the cost increases during the season to $25. Their daily fees are $5 and weekly fees are $10. Avalon charges $23 pre-season, $28 in-season. Daily and weekly fees in Avalon are $6 and $12 respectively.

McLaughlin reported Margate sold $325,061 in 2017 and had a $17,478 drop in sales in 2018. Rainy weather may have caused the decrease, she said.

Year-to-date sales totaled $307,541, with more than 78 percent of them sold at pre-season rates before the end of May.  McLaughlin said the city spent $87,000 in salaries for beach tag checkers and $13,150 in operating expenses.

According to Ventnor’s Chief Financial Officer Toro Aboderin, year-to-date sales of beach tags in Ventnor are $10,645 more than end-of-the-year sales in 2017. Ventnor generated $273,107 in total beach tag revenue in 2017, and $283,752 as of Aug. 31 this year. More than 65 percent of all sales took place before the end of May when tags are cheaper. Holiday tag sales during November and December 2017 totaled $5,160. Total salaries for checkers and supervisors was $41,634 this year.

Longport took in $213,950 for beach tag sales this year, with 67 percent of them sold before the end of May, CFO Jenna Kelly said. Last year’s sales were slightly higher at $214,292.

McLaughlin recommended the board consider increasing the fees for 2019 from $3.50 to $5 for seniors, $7 to $10 during the pre-season and from $15 to $20 for in-season badges.

“I was very conservative with my recommendation,” McLaughlin said. “I know it’s the feeling of the governing body not to gouge people. We want to create a friendly environment for our residents and businesses.”

Although fees have not increased since 2005, costs have increased substantially, she said, including the minimum wage paid to checkers.

All three Downbeach communities have experienced increased costs for maintaining the beach since the Army Corps of Engineers build one-continuous sand dune across all of Absecon Island, including purchasing specialized equipment to scrape sand off the top of dune crossovers and leasing or purchasing dune buggies to transport senior citizens and the handicapped over the dune.

“Everything is costing us more to operate the beach,” McLaughlin said. “Compared to Longport, Brigantine, Sea Isle and Avalon, we are the lowest.”

“This is not a tremendous revenue generator, but I think we should think about covering costs as they increase,” Commissioner Maury Blumberg said at the Sept. 6 Board of Commissioners meeting. “My recommendation would be to leave the senior price as it is.”

Since the origin of the request came from Ventnor, Margate Mayor Michael Becker said, “we should ask them what they are thinking.”

Although Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman asked Becker to consider the fee increase six months ago, he was waiting for Ventnor to take action, he said.

Commissioner John Amodeo said he is not in favor of increasing fees, but he understands the recommendation is “well-warranted.” He said he would support the recommendation of his fellow commissioners.

An ordinance to raise fees for the 2019 beach season should be introduced and adopted in October to be able to sell seasonal tags for the holidays, McLaughlin said.

Ventnor and Longport sell special “holiday” badges for gift-giving at pre-season rates with upcharge for the gift box, but Margate does not offer gift-boxed tags.

“We do sell badges year-round now. We no longer do the holiday tags, but we sell tags during December,” McLaughlin said.

Tags must be ordered in November to be available to sell in December, she said.

“We’re the two lowest in Atlantic County,” Commissioner Lance Landgraf said at the Sept. 13 Ventnor Board of Commissioners meeting. “Up north in Belmar, it’s $80.”

He agreed that the senior fee should remain the same.

Aboderin said the cost of tags, although relatively inexpensive – 13.2 cents per badge – costs will likely rise this year, she said.

Children under 12 do not need a beach badge in New Jersey. Active military and veteran tags are also free with identification.

Once the municipalities come to a consensus, an ordinance could be introduced in each city to raise the fees.

Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.