BELMAR, NJ — The days of bargain-priced beach badges in Belmar may soon be numbered.
The borough council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on Tuesday, February 5 to raise the cost of seasonal badges from $55 to $70, seasonal badges for seniors and disabled individuals from $15 to $30, and daily badges for anyone over age 11 from $8 to $9.
The measure also calls for a new junior badge for 12- to 15-year-olds that would carry a $30 price tag for the season. Currently, beach entry is free for children up to age 15. In addition, the qualifying age for senior badges would climb from age 62 to 65.
But even if the price hikes are approved, Belmar would still have the best seasonal deal around among southern Monmouth County beach towns — tied with Asbury Park, where beach badges currently go for $70. (See below for a town-by-town price comparison.)
The proposed badge pricing structure is the result of three major factors: Flat beach badge sales for the past two rain-dampened summers, increasing beachfront costs during that time and the need for better pay to attract more lifeguards and other beach employees, including gate attendants and cashiers.
Without additional beach revenues, Belmar residents could be facing a tax hike to fund the borough’s beach utility, which has nearly depleted its surplus funds, according to Mayor Mark Walsifer, who is pushing for the new badge rates.
After reviewing the beach utility’s current $2.9 million budget, “last year the beachfront was running on a shoestring. We had almost zero in surplus,” said Walsifer during the council’s January 15 meeting when the new beach badge pricing schedule was unveiled. “It’s coming to a point that if we don’t do something, municipal taxes will have to start subsidizing the beach, and I can’t let that happen.”
Beachfront director Gene Cory agrees, particularly when there are so many factors beyond the borough’s control — the reason why having a surplus is crucial to operating the beachfront.
“We have no idea what kind of summer we’re going to have. The last two summers have been rainy, almost every weekend,” he said. “How do you create a budget, where in nice Saturday weather you make $70,000 and when it rains you go down to nothing, and still have the costs? Building up a surplus is mandatory ... We need to do this.”
In addition to replenishing the beach utility's surplus funds, increased beach badge revenues would also allow the borough to raise hourly wages for its nearly 200-member beachfront work force, which currently includes some 80 lifeguards. Depending on years of experience, the current hourly rate for lifeguards ranges from $10 to $15, and for other beach employees, wages start at $7.50 for gate attendants, and $9.50 for restroom attendants and ticket booth employees.
“We need to be more competitive with other beach towns,” said Mayor Walsifer, adding that Gov. Phil Murphy’s push for a $15 minimum wage would also compound the borough’s current situation in terms of meeting the beach utility’s payroll.
Bolstering badge revenues would also ensure the beach utility’s equipment needs are met, including an upgrade to its computer system that allows for credit card purchases of badges, according to both Mayor Walsifer and Cory.
Regarding the new junior beach badge, borough officials are looking to put a stop to teens over age 15 who get on the beach for free. While checking beach badges, beach attendants are confronted with young people without badges who claim they are 15 years old, but they have no way to prove that is the case — and they have too much to do to stop them, Walsifer said.
"Kids in their 20s are pulling up in cars and getting on the beach for free. We have to get some help for our gate attendants," he added, explaining how mandatory beach badges for anyone over age 11 is intended to provide that mechanism.
Badges for the upcoming season at their 2018 prices have been on sale since December. If approved, the new prices would take effect on March 1.
The last time the borough council raised beach badge fees was in 2014 for the 2015 season, with the seasonal rate rising by $5 to $55 and the daily rate by $1 to $8. The senior rate remained unchanged at that time.
Badges are required for entry to Belmar’s 1.3-mile beachfront from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends only from Memorial Day weekend until the full season starts on the third Monday of June. Badges are then required every day until Labor Day.
The borough is also looking to increase its beach storage locker fees — from $192.50 to $200 for a seasonal locker and from $150 to $155 for seniors renewing their annual locker rentals, but with an increase in the qualifying age from 62 to 65.
The borough council is slated to vote on the proposed beach badge fee structure and revised locker rates, following a public hearing, at its February 5 meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Belmar Municipal Building, 601 Main Street.
2018: Beach Badges by the Numbers
In 2018, total beach badges sold slipped by 7,000 to 273,377 over the previous year, resulting in a 2.4 percent decrease in revenue — from nearly $3 million in 2017 to $2.91 million in 2018, according to the borough’s annual beach report statistics.
More than 250,000 daily badges at $8 each, 14,000 seasonal badges at $55 each and 9,000 senior seasonal badges at $15 each were sold. While those numbers reflect a decline in revenues for daily and seasonal badges — 2.7 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively — senior badge sales increased nearly 4.5 percent.
It was the third consecutive loss of declining beach badge revenues, which hit a high in 2015 when 347,551 badges were sold and brought in nearly $3.5 million in sales.
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