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Lavallette Officials: N.J. Minimum Wage Hike Hit Beach Revenue, Badge Prices May Need to Rise

Lavallette life boat. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Lavallette life boat. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Despite a freshly-replenished beach, a surging number of summer visitors and good weather, Lavallette’s revenue derived from beach badge sales was down in 2019, and officials believe the downturn was spurred by the state’s new minimum wage law.

Lavallette generated $963,680 from beach badge sales this season, Councilman Michael Stogdill said, down from two consecutive season that generated over $1 million. Last season, the borough sold $1,006,290 worth of badges. Whilst sales of seasonal badges were up by about $30,000 this season, daily badge sales plummeted by more than $43,000 and weekly badge sales also fell.

“I think we anticipated that we were going to see a dip in some of those categories,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero.

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Officials placed much of the blame on the state’s new minimum wage law, which increased the minimum to $10 as of July 1. Seasonal workers did not see the same increase, but businesses that are open year-round raised their salaries to comply with the new law and remain competitive. Lavallette’s badge checkers, paid $8.85 per hour, often left as soon as they found other employment. Some chose to work at the local Acme supermarket in Ortley Beach – a year-round establishment that is not exempt by seasonal policies – which was paying significantly more money.

“With the beach badge checkers, they made $8.85 an hour, whereas they could go to any fast food establishment and make $11 or $12 per hour,” said Borough Administrator Robert Brice. “We had one person who went to a supermarket and got an entry-level job making $12.”

Compounding the salary issue was the fact that Lavallette’s beach entrances increased from seven to 26 in one season since a federal beach replenishment project was completed and dune crossings were built at every street-end. Since Superstorm Sandy struck in 2012, Lavallette maintained just seven crossovers to limit intrusion upon the then-fragile dune system. Having so many beach openings mean they can’t all be staffed, which likely led to many beachgoers never encountering a badge checker when they arrived.

Putting it directly: “Increasing enforcement would not cover the cost,” said LaCicero.

The borough does utilize the services of roving badge checkers, who walk the beach and sell badges to those without them, but there was near constant turnover this season.

“The majority of our population that works for us comes from over the bridge, where they don’t have to adhere to the seasonal minimum wage,” said Jack Caucino, the borough’s beach patrol chief. Paying more for entry-level positions could have ramifications of its own, he surmised.

“Then there is the question, ‘if you’re paying $11 for someone to sit at the end of the beach, what do we pay for skilled labor?'” he asked rhetorically.

Privately-owned beaches were also paying more this season, and the state itself significantly rose salaries at Island Beach State Park, Brice said.

Next year, badge checkers will arrive at their posts at 10 a.m. rather than 11 a.m. to cover morning beachgoers. But there also could be more direct revenue-generating measures.

Lavallette officials are considering raising beach badge prices for next season. Though no ordinance doing so has been formally proposed, the borough council is on a tight deadline to introduce, publish and hold a public hearing on a price hike so it can be implemented before holiday badge sales begin.

A draft proposal would raise the price of a season badge to $60 in-season. Discounted prices of $45 would be available until March 1, then prices would rise to $50 until the start of the summer season, when they would rise to the full $60. (Season badges now top out at $50.) Weekly badges would increase from $30 to $40, and daily badges would rise from $10 to $12.

Senior citizen badges would rise from $15 per season to $20. A season badge for disabled veterans of any military service and all military service personnel on active duty status would remain at $15.

“We’re in a position now where the state – or our governor – forces our hand,” said LaCicero.

Brice said he expects other towns to encounter the same observations when they look at how their badge sales fared this year.

“I am sure that all these other beaches will be raising their prices, too, on top of whatever they did last year,” he said.

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