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Citizens group recommends increasing ice cream vending fees

  • Ventnor

VENTNOR Members of the ad hoc Citizens Advisory Committee created to advise the Board of Commissioners about issues affecting homeowners, have revived a controversial topic that polarized the community last spring - increasing fees charged for vending ice cream on the beach.

Resident Peter Kleiner, a member of the ad hoc committee, said the 15 appointed members who attended a recent advisory board meeting agreed to ask the commissioners to reconsider raising the fee, which he called a gift given to four local veterans and 11 others who do not live in the city or pay property taxes.

Why are we subsidizing four Ventnor residents at the expense of all the other residents when most other cities enjoy significant revenue? he said. The city should put it out to bid, and/or raise the fee to $5,000 for the privilege, yes privilege, of having an exclusive right of ice cream sales in our community.

Kleiner said the city could require the winning bidder to hire the four Ventnor residents.

The city currently charges veterans $55 to vend ice cream on the beach between May and September.

After receiving a high bid of $93,000 from ice cream vendor Paul Van DeRijn of Jack and Jill Ice Cream of Egg Harbor Township in 2017, Margate saw its ice cream vending revenue cut nearly in half for 2018. Van DeRijn threatened to sue Margate because the dune building project of 2017 severely cut into his profits, he said. He agreed to a $54,000 contract for the 2018 summer season.

Van DeRijn also failed to renew his 2017 contract with Longport, which would have increased his $36,300 fee by 5 percent to $38,115 for 2018. He later bid $30,000 for the summer of 2018.

Some of the Ventnor vendors purchase their ice cream from Van DeRijn.

Kleiner said if the city could generate $65,000 in license fees, it would be enough to provide each of the 6,777 taxed properties in Ventnor with $10, which is more than the cost of a pre-season beach badge.

Kleiner said there are 190 veterans who own homes in Ventnor who already get tax breaks. Selling vending licenses for $55 amounts to an additional $20,000 subsidy to the four veterans who live in the city, he said.

The city could earmark the additional revenue for beach improvements, such as new lifeguard boats or WaveRunners, beach cleaning machines or outdoor showers on the boardwalk, he said.

We had that discussion last year and it raised significant passion in the community, Commissioner Lance Landgraf said.

Andy Starer, vice chairman of the committee, said the committee agreed that the status quo is not fair to taxpayers.

We weren't all in agreement at the committee as to how to proceed, but there was unanimity that doing it the way we are doing it and having Margate get $85,000 and Ventnor $850 just seemed wrong, he said.

He recommended the commissioners try to find a compromise to generate revenue closer to what Margate receives.

Something more than nothing, he said.

Commissioner Tim Kriebel, who faced backlash from residents when he brought up the possibility of putting licenses out to bid for 2018, said increasing the fee to generate revenue closer to what neighboring Margate receives might be a solution.

A lot of the backlash was directed toward an anti-veteran sentiment, which it was not, he said.

Summer resident Mark Neman obtained 12,589 signatures on an online petition to allow the veterans to continue to sell ice cream on the beach.

Some of the vendors, including resident John McLaughlin, have been selling ice cream on Ventnor's beach for more than 40 years and have become a part of their family, he said in his change.org petition. They know the children and add to the family-friendly atmosphere enjoyed on the Ventnor beach, he said.

Pushback from residents, and some on social media who called commissioners unpatriotic for not supporting the veterans, raised the ire of commissioners, who said they were seeking ways to increase revenue for the benefit of all taxpayers. Earlier this year, the commissioners also looked at raising beach badge fees, but the proposal did not receive support from neighboring Margate the city's partner in selling beach badges.

During a heated meeting last spring, Police Chief Douglas Biagi, who was a runner for the vendors when he was a teen, stepped in to mediate what had become a turf war among the vendors. He called a meeting to discuss the behavior of some of the vendors, who claimed territories and erected tents on the beach where they sold water, which is not permitted in the ordinance.

Biagi schooled the vendors on the city's ordinance and chastised those who quarreled with each other over territory in front of beachgoers.

I agree with committee on this one," Kriebel said. "I think it's something I'm willing to stick my neck out for and look at increasing the fee and keeping the veterans involved rather than putting it out to bid.

He said a $5,000 fee would be too high, but he would be amicable to raising it to a reasonable amount.

State law requires that veterans have priority in obtaining vending licenses, Solicitor Tim Maguire advised.

Raising fees may be better than putting it out to bid, he said.

Maguire said that he would draft an ordinance once the commissioners agree to the fee amount.

STEWARTVILLE

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