Board members of the Joint Council of Long Beach Island Taxpayers have agreed that we need to start an urgent conversation on Long Beach Island with municipal leaders and homeowners to solve, long term, our very serious LBI employee and volunteer shortages, causing many hardships to LBI businesses.
Can public safety be assured if the Island has a shortage of volunteer EMTs, firefighters and lifeguards?
Each day restaurants, hotels, motels and shop owners are faced with the question “Will I have enough employees to survive, stay open, provide quality service and make a profit?” Also, a lot of LBI business owners themselves are faced with finding affordable housing to remain open. Last year, Anthony’s Restaurant on LBI closed because the owners and their staff could not find affordable housing.
This very serious employee shortage has major implications for all LBI homeowners and vacationers. LBI businesses run the risk of not surviving without enough employees, which would lead to erosion of the tax base and increased taxes for LBI taxpayers.
Since LBI houses now average about $1 million each, affordable employee housing is out of reach and almost impossible to find. And very few families with working-age kids are moving to LBI. The local mainland area isn’t really an affordable housing solution, either, as rental prices went up a lot after Superstorm Sandy.
Seasonal family rentals that once were common on LBI are now scarce, making even fewer possible employees available.
The Long Beach Island Trailer Park in Holgate, with 147 family trailers housing seasonal workers, was wiped out in Sandy, resulting in a lot fewer employee housing options and a lot fewer possible LBI employees.
The J-1 student foreign worker visas have been cut, bringing fewer workers to LBI.
Acme Market on LBI has upgraded from an older, smaller Acme to a much larger, modern Super Acme, requiring over 100 workers. Buckalew’s Restaurant added beautiful Station No. 117 Tavern and Garden next door, needing additional employees. The spectacular Hotel LBI in Ship Bottom has opened, requiring over 125 additional seasonal workers and making an already very serious LBI employee shortage extremely serious.
LBI business survival requires relaxing some of the LBI municipal codes and rules and also land use board approvals to encourage and streamline approval procedures and fees, resulting in more affordable employee and business owner housing. There are many one-story businesses all over LBI. It is in the best interest of Long Beach Island to help one-story businesses add second- and third-floor additions or entirely new mixed-use buildings to house employees and/or owners. Also, some LBI businesses may own properties that are large enough for employee campers, RVs or trailers to help their serious employee shortage.
We must assist our LBI businesses to survive for the good of “living the dream” on LBI. Our property values may go down if LBI can’t retain our businesses for the vacationers who want more and more services.
To begin to start solving, long term, the LBI employee shortage, the Joint Council board applauds the mayor and commissioners of Long Beach Township for starting the new Manahawkin bus shuttle stop. We also thank all of the LBI towns that contributed to the LBI shuttle bus that now travels to the N.J. Motor Vehicle office parking lot in Manahawkin to pick up possible employees and transport them to LBI. In our opinion, this new LBI shuttle stop in Manahawkin will bear much fruit now and into the future.
In addition, all business owners are already paying what they feel is a reasonable wage to attract and retain employees, so we need lots of additional workers. We encourage seniors, retirees and school teachers (off for the summer) to consider working part time to help with this employee and volunteer shortage. Also, homeowners, please allow or invite family and kids/grandkids down for the season to work, if possible.
One great housing example of what we are proposing to happen is the recent second and third floors of housing in the newly built, mixed-use building in Beach Haven next to the old bank building. The first floor has retail shops, and housing is on the second and third floors. Also, Beach Haven approved the Victoria Rose project, replacing the old Beach Haven bank with 20 condos including four condos designated as affordable housing, and that project is underway.
The serious employee shortage on LBI has come to all 18 miles, with Barnegat Light having a flashing sign as you enter the town that states “Borough of Barnegat Light – Seasonal Help Wanted.” In Surf City there is “Help Wanted” advertised at the Surf City municipal building. Some businesses have even gone to hanging big “Help Wanted” banners across the front of their businesses.
If LBI businesses start closing, it becomes a snowball effect that will impact the stability of our tax base, lower LBI property values and decrease the number of vacationers because they won’t be able to receive the services they require here. If the tourists can’t get the services on LBI, they will vacation somewhere else, hurting the LBI economy.
LBI competes in a worldwide vacation market as a vacation destination. Everyone needs to be involved to solve the affordable employee and volunteer housing shortage now, as tomorrow may be too late.
Bill Hutson is president of the LBI Joint Council of Taxpayer Associations.