Sweeney wants to pay for beach safety and maintenance by getting rid of cops and dpw workers
MMM has called Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) three times since he jumped on board with the Senator Mike Doherty (R-Warren) in sponsoring legislation that would ban shoreline municipalites from selling beach badges or imposing other user fees to pay for lifeguards, beach cleanup and policing, if those towns accept federal and state money to rebuild from the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. He hasn’t called back. Steve Sweeney is a kitten. Kitten, kitten, kitten!
Given that he won’t talk to us, we’ll have to judge Sweeney’s crusade for free sand in his ass by what others report he says. The Senate President invited himself to a meeting with the Asbury Park Press Editorial Board earlier this week to make his case for free beaches.
“You don’t charge me to breathe air, why are you charging me to sit on a beach?”
We should be grateful that the top elected Democrat in New Jersey hasn’t figured out how to tax breathing (yet). But really now, our Senate President thinks breathing air (as opposed to grapefruit juice?) is analogous to sitting on a beach? That is something we should be concerned about, especially since this guy is considering a run for governor.
Sweeney told the APP that Belmar and the other shore communities that impose beach user fees should cover those costs by consolidating police forces and departments of public works. He said he would “beat up mayors down the shore” to make it happen “because its not acceptable, you know, to charge beach fees.”
Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty took Sweeney’s first beating:
“I asked (Doherty), how many people live year-round in his town,” Sweeney said. “He’s got a one-square mile town, he’s got 5,800 people. Now, could we run a shared police department? I met his public works director today, could we run a shared public works office?”
“You guys know how I feel about shared services,” Sweeney told the APP. We don’t know if the APP knows how he feels, but MMM thinks Sweeney is thwarting shared services and other methods that municipalities could use to reduce the size and cost of local government. If Sweeney was serious about property tax reduction and more efficient local government he would have passed Governor Christie’s property tax tool kit.
Myrtle Beach is not free
When he first proposed the free beach legislation that Sweeney piggy backed on, Senator Doherty told MMM that New Jersey should rebuild the shore in the model of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
But Doherty, the senator, didn’t know how Myrtle Beach pays for its lifeguards, cleanup or police. Doherty the mayor didn’t know either, but the mayor is not proposing the elimination of a revenue source without replacing it.
John Pedersen, the Assistant City Manager of Myrtle Beach told MMM that his city’s beaches are privatized.
Each year the city awards four franchises along its 9 miles of beach front. The franchisees pay the lifeguards. The lifeguards are responsible for making sure their portion of beach is clean at the end of each day. The city supplements that clean up with an employee who rakes the beach every night, starting at 2 a.m.
The franchisees generate their revenue by renting beach chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards. The city gets 3% of the franchisees’ gross revenue. Visitors are not charged to enter the beach. They can even bring their own chair, umbrellas and boogie boards. But their access to the best parts of the beach, closest to the water, is restricted. There is literally a line in the sand. Visitors can’t cross that line with their own chair, umbrella or boogie board.
“How much do those rentals cost?” we asked Pedersen. He laughed. “I don’t know, I don’t use the beach. 90% of our beach users are hotel guests. We’re not like the Jersey Shore where people stay in bungalows or rented houses. Most locals do not use the beach.”
It’s a safe bet that those rentals cost more than the $5-$10 that Jersey shore communities charge for beach badges. Jersey locals do use the beach.
Sales taxes to fund the beach communities
To his credit, Doherty the senator has given some realistic thought into how to fund beach safety and maintenance. Also, to his credit, he returns our calls.
It’s not in the legislation he already proposed, but Doherty the senator said he would sponsor a bill that allows beach communities to keep up to 2 cents of the 7% sales tax on purchases made in their communities.
He might be on to something that could finally lead to real property tax relief throughout New Jersey, not just at the shore.
Myrtle Beach has a 1% sales tax. The city implemented the tax in 2009 to fund an advertising campaign to get Yankees to come to their beach and rent chairs, umbrellas and boogie boards. It worked. Since then, the sales tax generates over $20 million per year and locals get an 88% credit on their property taxes. Locals pay less than $1000 per year in property taxes.
Doherty the mayor also takes our calls. He said that the average property tax bill in Belmar is roughly $6800 and reminded us that municipal taxes have not been raised since he’s been mayor.
An 88% property tax credit funded by sales taxes would bring those taxes down to $816. Statewide property taxes averaged $7519. An 88% credit would bring them down to $902. That would make the air a little easier to breathe in New Jersey.