Facing a $22,000 shortfall stemming from the state’s new minimum wage laws, Lavallette officials made the decision to raise seasonal beach badge prices for the 2020 season through an ordinance introduced Monday night.
The ordinance – and thus the badge prices – are subject to a public hearing and second vote at the Nov. 18 council meeting. Officials said they need to act now and set next season’s prices since people often give badges as gifts during the holiday season. Councilman Michael Stogdill said between 80 and 85 percent of all season badges are sold “pre-season” when there is a discount in place. The ordinance introduced Monday only covers the cost of seasonal badges; daily and weekly badges will be examined over the winter season, and the council may take a look at reviving “half-season” badges as well.
For 2020, seasonal badges will rise from $40 to $50 for pre-season sales, and from $50 to $60 for the regular price after the pre-season deadline ends. Seasonal badges for senior citizens will rise from $15 to $20. Initially, a $5 increase was proposed for pre-season badges, but council members said during a later discussion that they wanted to ensure fairness and keep discounts and increases steady at $10.
Robert Brice, the borough administrator, said for the 2019 season, 12,711 season badges were sold during the pre-season period and 2,036 were sold during the regular season. Another advantage to selling pre-season badges comes in staffing, he said.
“We were able to significantly reduce the number of people selling badges after the season opened up,” said Brice, since so many people bought them beforehand, which only requires the manpower currently existing at town hall.
Mayor Walter LaCicero said the state’s minimum wage increase, which will incrementally continue to grow over the next several years, led to a reduction in beach revenue this year. While seasonal jobs enjoy some exemptions, it is more difficult to find staff without raising salaries that are competitive with year-round businesses. Previously, for example, officials have said they lost some beach staff to the Acme supermarket, which does not carry a seasonal exemption since it is a year-round operation. Additionally, salaries at Island Beach State Park went up significantly this season.
“It was a change that we weren’t quite expecting, and we’re going to continue looking into it,” said LaCicero. “We were $22,000 short this year, and manpower was light. Even on the 12 manned streets, on many days we didn’t have anyone.”
The borough uses a combination of checkers at entrances and roving checkers on the sand. Adding staff may not necessarily be covered by the revenue generated with the badges they sell, officials have said, placing the borough in a difficult position when it comes to striking the best balance between revenue and the size of the beach patrol staff.