One of the key issues the Ocean City Mayor and Council will confront in the coming months is the future of the resort’s fire service, specifically changes in its structure, the costs associated with those modifications and how to address the concerns of the volunteer and career firefighters. Last year a controversy mounted over the future of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) after a memo surfaced detailing a potential plan for future fire protection including a combination fire department of volunteer and paid personnel and a city-paid fire chief. Heated exchanges in the media and at public meetings took place between the OCVFC’s leadership and City Manager Dennis Dare, who was at the center of the firestorm, and the matter will be addressed again in the coming months as the city prepares its budget for the new fiscal year. Although there’s no indication it will be a pleasant experience, we hear there have been some positive developments of late as far as communication goes between the parties involved. This is not a particularly complicated matter, but what does convolute matters is the personalities involved and the fact the town’s elected officials will likely find themselves in the precarious role of mediator because relations between the city manager and the volunteer firefighters are extremely strained and there’s also some tension between the volunteers and the city’s paid firefighters/paramedics, who are members of a union.
Irony is an interesting concept. There are times when it’s concealed and other examples when it’s simply blatant, which was the case recently when an area man had his day in court for allegedly driving drunk. After subsequent postponements, his day finally arrived and the case was thrown out because the officer was not in court. It’s not unheard of for this to happen in Ocean City, particularly with the turnover of arresting officers and the seasonality of the area. However, there was more to this case. This arresting officer turned out to be the cop who was recently terminated by the Ocean City Police Department after he received a DUI in Delaware after the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police’s holiday party.
Members of the Ocean City Tourism Commission seemed to be on the same page last week while discussing spending $25,000 to advertise on a local fishing show that’s now airing on a national network. Whether the council will agree is unknown at this point. Nonetheless, the discussion over fishing being untapped resource to market in Ocean City deserves some more attention. Thousands of dollars are spent to market Ocean City as a golf destination each year, but nothing is spent on fishing. By the nature of their size, some of the local fishing tournaments, notably the White Marlin Open, the Tuna Tournament and the Ocean City Shark Tournament, bring attention to the offshore industry. However, Ocean City should throw some ad attention at those land-locked areas being targeted already and inform them about the various kinds of fishing available, from the dockside to the back bays to the deep sea. Another sector worth considering is shopping, specifically what’s available on the Boardwalk and in West Ocean City. My pitch would be something along the lines of this – while the cat’s away (fishing), the mouse shall play (shopping).
Officials in area municipalities and the county have already begun turning their attention to planning their next fiscal year’s budgets. From Pocomoke to Ocean City, governments will be facing a funding shortfall by my estimation. There will be at least two culprits – property assessments returning to normal levels, which will result in lower tax revenue, and declining building permits across the board in Worcester County. The state’s revenue shortfall made big news last year, and I expect local elected officials will be facing some tough decisions around budget time as revenues will likely be falling short of expenses in many areas.