A proposal to raise an additional $12,000 annually through increasing Boardwalk amusement game fees was whacked like a mole at Tuesday night’s Borough Council meeting.
Instead, a new proposal to raise $6,000 through increased license fees will be voted on at the April 19 meeting.
Councilmen Tim Lurie, Sean Hennessy, Frank Rizzo and Jeffrey Dyer voted against adopting an ordinance that would have raised fees by about 75 percent to purchase licenses to operate a wide variety of amusement games. That would have yielded an additional $12,000 a year in revenue.
Lurie and Dyer said the increase of 75 percent was far too drastic.
Dyer said, “I have no problem with raising the fees, but not to raise them by 75 percent.”
Councilman Michael Corbally, who first proposed the increase in mid-February, and Councilwoman Kristine Tooker were the only council members to vote for that higher increase.
At the March 8 meeting, when the ordinance for the higher increase was introduced, only Rizzo voted no and Dyer was absent.
Corbally said the higher increase would have meant that a game proprietor pays about “$5 a day for a hoop game and $3 a day for running an arcade. That is not an enormous fee. Everyone has to participate in paying for our costs, not just the residents.”
The original ordinance called for charging $500 to $1,000 for each annual license, with prices varying for different types of games. The charge would have been $500 to $750 for most of the licenses.
However, there would have been a $1,000 annual license fee for arcades.
Mayor Vincent Barrella made it clear he supported the higher increase, saying that $12,000 represents “one furlough day.” However, the mayor only votes when there is a tie.
Borough employees, except for police officers, have to take 17 unpaid days this year, due to budget constraints.
Council members then voted unanimously for introduction of a new ordinance that calls for an increase that would raise only $6,000 through increased fees on game licenses.
Barrella then said, “That represents half a furlough day, for anyone who cares.”
“By throwing out furlough days, you’re stirring up controversy,” Lurie retorted. “If this town hadn’t spent so much on legal fees, we wouldn’t have needed any furloughs.”
The new ordinance will be on the April 19 agenda for a public hearing and adoption. It calls for fees to increase by only half as much as the original ordinance voted down Tuesday night.
Corbally and Tooker, along with the other four councilmen, ultimately voted in favor of the lower increase, after the higher increase was voted down. Voting no on the lower increase would have meant no increase.
But Tooker made it clear she wasn’t thrilled.
She noted that $6,000 doesn’t even buy the borough a seasonal employee.
“That’s not even enough for a summer employee to help clean up,” she said.
“What does that have to do with this ordinance?” Dyer asked.
“Because it doesn’t help our public works or police during the summer,” she said.
“We have less employees in public works and the police department,” she said. “The tourists are impacting the quality of life and we can’t hire more people.”
Dave Cavagnaro, a Parkway resident, told the council he thought the original ordinance calling for a 75 percent increase “is not unreasonable. I’m in favor of this.”
John Dixon, a former Beach councilman and Niblick Street resident, clearly felt differently.
“What are the costs the town inherited since last year?” he asked. “It’s incumbent on you to show why the fees are increasing.”
Corbally said the fees were last raised in 2003.
“I think we’re actually catching up,” he said.
He said the proposed increase of 75 percent would have made Beach fees comparable to game license fees in North Wildwood.
In response to Dixon’s question, Corbally said he does not know what formula North Wildwood uses to calculate its fees.
Corbally said that, based on a study, North Wildwood, despite its higher game license fees, is one of the most popular beaches in the state, ahead of Point Pleasant Beach.
“They must be doing something right,” he said.
He did not mention that North Wildwood, like Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, have free beaches, which has historically been a big draw.
Borough Clerk Maryann Ellsworth said the state has said it is now going to enforce a requirement that police inspect all amusement games, which is an additional cost to the borough.
Regarding the impact of higher fees on local businesses, Dyer said that high taxes and fees have driven businesses out of the state and some companies are even leaving the country because of high taxes.
“Are you hinting that the amusement games are going to relocate to Manchester or Lakewood?” Barrella asked him. “Because I don’t think they’re going anywhere.”
“That’s where we disagree, Mayor,” Dyer replied.
Ellsworth said on Wednesday morning that the Beach now allows for a maximum of 35 amusement game licenses, but that the new ordinance would increase that to 40.
Most borough employees will take two of their furlough days Thursday and Friday. However, the court staff, which already took one furlough day, will be at work those two days, Ellsworth said.