A plan by the State Senate Environment and Energy Committee (SEV) to place the operation and maintenance of the all bay and oceanfront beaches under the responsibility of New Jersey's four coastal counties is extremely misguided.
While we can only speak from Monmouth County's experience, our fear is that the desire to provide a one-size fits all approach to the operation of beaches will be detrimental to each and every community.
Each municipality is best equipped to operate its beach in the manner that best suits the town. Facilitating county control of the beaches will remove each town's authority and the revenues to ensure that a beach is in sync with the unique characteristics of the town.
The local mayors and town councils should be commended for the effort that they put into the running and operating of their beaches. From Sea Bright to Brielle and from Keyport to Highlands, residents and visitors can find the beach experience that they seek
We suspect that all our municipalities will "opt-out" via municipal ordinance, having only one or two non-contiguous municipalities that choose to "opt in" creates an even greater challenge for equipment sharing, staffing, rules of operations and law enforcement.
Monmouth County has 27 miles of oceanfront and 26 miles of bayfront beaches: that could translate to 53 miles of additional operation, maintenance and responsibility.
Monmouth County is fortunate to have experience in the operation of an oceanfront beach facility at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park. This beautiful stretch of beach gives us some critical insight into the day-to-day operation of a beach as well as the capital costs to deliver a quality bathing experience for the public.
The annual cost to run Seven President's less than one mile of beach is just under $1 million annually. Projecting that out, it would be approximately $53 million dollars a year to operate and maintain all of Monmouth County's beaches in accordance with uniform rules and regulations for use and maintenance standards.
Monmouth County lacks the resources and staffing needed to adequately expand and address year-round beach operations and maintenance along the entire bay and oceanfront.
For the County to hopscotch maintenance equipment from town to town is a logistics and management challenge. Establishing maintenance facilities in towns to accommodate seasonal staff needs and equipment will expand county operations during a time when Monmouth County is actively reducing the square footage of office and warehouse space it needs. Consolidation of county operations to increase our economy and efficiency of all our operations is a priority for this Board as we weather the financial downturn and Sandy recovery.
Monmouth County's summer population swells by as much as 73% in our beachfront communities. On a holiday weekend the population can increase as much as 107%. These figures are part of a 2008 study conducted by the County's Planning Board that looked to quantify the summer population in our seashore communities.
The summer population estimate was designed for a practical purpose; it assists with Monmouth County's Coastal Evacuation Routes plans. It wasn't so long ago that Governor Christie had to tell people to get off the beach as Hurricane Irene approached in late August.
And of course the beaches are not only open during the daytime. Monmouth County does not have law enforcement resources to patrol the beaches round the clock.
This freeholder board has strongly supported and advanced shared services with our towns and other counties. This proposal is far more than shared services. If successful, it will be another unfunded mandate forced upon our counties.
One of the benefits of shared services is to ultimately reduce the burden on the taxpayer. This effort could ultimately put a $53 million increase on the backs of all Monmouth County taxpayers. All of our 53 towns would be paying for the services delivered in 15 oceanfront towns and eight Bayshore communities.
Monmouth County has been opposed to this county takeover of the beaches proposal every time it comes up; most recently this was in March 2013.
If the end game is ultimately to eliminate beach fees, then the State legislators should work directly with the local municipalities to develop a stable source of funding to help towns maintain, manage, secure and protect one of New Jersey greatest natural assets.
In the end, rather than providing benefit to the involved parties, we believe that passage and implementation of Senate Bill 2171 will adversely affect Monmouth County and its municipalities, as well as the three counties other oceanfront counties.
The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders opposes the advancement of Senate Bill 2171. This is not the type of enhanced role that Monmouth County or our municipalities desire.
We know that the beaches are a major attraction for residents and visitors. We roll out the welcome mat and promote our beaches because they help drive the economic engine of our coastline communities. But that comes at a cost; a cost to our infrastructure and local services.
* Members of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders are Director Lillian G. Burry, Deputy Director Gary J. Rich, Sr., John P. Curley, Thomas A. Arnone and Serena DiMaso.