Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said taxpayers can "no longer shoulder the burden" of paying for beach maintenance. The city has been tried various moneymaking endeavors to pay for lifeguards, police patrols, beach cleaning and rebuilding - monster truck shows, concerts and the much-disputed notion of establishing a campground there - but none has panned out.
Wildwood's vote comes at a time when the Legislature is considering a bill to ban beach tags in any Shore town that accepts public funding to make repairs or cleanup after superstorm Sandy. It is unclear whether Wildwood would receive any of the federal storm assistance.
Local and county groups associated with promoting Wildwood as a tourist destination have not formally issued a position on whether they support the proposal.
"I don't think it would be good to do this at this time with the way the economy is right now. A lot of people come to Wildwood because the beach is free, so it's a big selling point for this town. Why drive people away now?" wondered Sal Gittone, 61, whose family operated a pizzeria on the Wildwood Boardwalk.
In the meantime, beach town officials have vowed to fight the state legislation and in some places have considered increasing beach fees this summer to help defray costs associated with rebuilding beaches devastated by the Oct. 29 storm.
Officials in neighboring North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest say they have no plans to join Wildwood's beach tag foray. Besides the Wildwoods, the only other free beach in Cape May County is Strathmere, in Upper Township. In Atlantic County, Atlantic City has a free beach.
Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-848-6229 or email@example.com