IN SEA ISLE City, a daily beach tag costs $5 whether you're running from the cops or just looking to go bodysurfing.

If Anthony J. Rosario, 36, would have paid for his beach tag, it might have taken police a bit longer to find him after he fled a prisoners' work-release program last Friday.

He certainly couldn't cry poor, police said.

"He had money on him," said Sea Isle City Police Chief Thomas D'Intino. "He could have bought a tag."

Around 9:53 a.m. Friday, police said, Rosario walked off the job at the Deauville Inn, in the Strathmere section of Upper Township, Cape May County, where he was washing dishes as part of the New Jersey Department of Corrections' work-release program.

The Penns Grove, Salem County, man said that he was going to visit his sick mother, but instead he made a beeline to the beach at Sea Isle City - where he refused to buy a $5 beach tag from a tag collector near 37th Street, cops said.

The collector didn't make a scene or call police after Rosario snubbed the city's beach regulations. But it left a lasting impression.

When police initiated a search for Rosario shortly after near the city's beaches, the tagger tipped them off.

"She remembered that a guy refused to buy a beach tag and he fit the description," D'Intino said.

Minutes later, police apprehended Rosario, in shorts and a T-shirt, as he tried to exit the beach at 43rd Street near Pleasure Avenue.

Rosario had been living at the Kintock halfway house in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, after two parole violations stemming from a 2001 robbery conviction in Camden County. He also had been convicted of drug distribution in 1995.

Linda Brown, owner of the Deauville Inn, the popular bar and restaurant where Rosario worked, said that she'd never had any problems with him in the month or so he worked there.

"We notified police in five minutes and it was no big deal," she said.

Ironically, if Rosario had simply stayed in Strathmere, he wouldn't have needed a beach tag: Like Atlantic City and the Wildwoods, Strathmere doesn't require beach tags for visitors.

Rosario may have had a little more luck in Sea Isle City had he escaped on a Wednesday, when tags are free there.

"They are nice beaches," said Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard C. Desiderio. "I think the best part of this story is that our taggers were looking for beach tags. We'll have to give her a little award or something."

Pat Allen, Sea Isle City's beach-tag supervisor, said that most tourists and residents comply with the fee, which goes toward keeping the beach clean and paying lifeguards' salaries.

"He didn't buy a beach tag, so of course she remembered him," Allen said. "He didn't put up any kind of fight."

After his arrest Friday, Rosario was taken to South Woods State Prison, in Bridgeton, where he'll lose all "good-time" credits and likely face internal charges, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer.

Fedkenheuer said that it would be up to law-enforcement officials in Cumberland County whether to charge Rosario with escape. Officials there did not return a phone call seeking comment.