OCEAN CITY – The new City Council grinded the Ocean City machine to a temporary halt on Tuesday, suspending all capital improvement projects pending further review.
A list of all capital improvement projects will be brought to the Mayor and City Council by City Manager Dennis Dare and other town officials in upcoming weeks, in order for the council to prioritize which projects are imperative in light of the country’s economic crisis.
Councilman Joe Hall, who had promised to make a motion in his first meeting to “suspend all major capital improvement projects for six months”, stayed true to his word, making that very motion, but got little support and was quickly encouraged to revise that motion by his colleagues.
“We can’t just do carte blanche on this issue. Everyone is concerned with the financial times, but we need to look at every one of these items on a case-by-case basis, and follow the governmental decision process,” said Councilwoman Mary Knight.
Some of the projects that will be brought before City Council include the St. Louis Avenue improvement project, a potential expansion of the Convention Center, the Caroline Street Comfort Station and the South Ocean Drive revetment.
The council’s apprehension to spend frivolously in these economic times was heard “loud and clear” by Public Works Director Hal Adkins, who pleaded with the council his case to proceed on what he called necessary projects.
While speaking on the proposed half million-dollar improvement to the Artic Avenue Wastewater Pumping Station, Adkins said, “this one can’t be postponed for six months. It’s got to get done by June or we’re going to lose a whole year on this. The majority of the cost is electrical and mechanical, and if I don’t start on this soon, I’m going to have to take the whole station off line and take it apart, which wouldn’t be popular with the residential neighbors on either side of the station.”
Joe Hall questioned whether the station was “fully operational” and “absolutely needed” to be revamped with a half million-dollar improvement project.
“The station is over 40 years old, and we haven’t done too much to it in those 40 years,” Adkins said. “Yes, it’s operational, but there are no emergency functions on the station.”
The council, after much deliberation and tweaking to the original Joe Hall motion, which was eventually seconded by Margaret Pillas, voted 4-2, with Council President Joe Mitrecic absent, to have all projects listed and prioritized before going forward with spending.
Mayor Rick Meehan, who remained quiet during the sometime heated discussion between Joe Hall and other council members, voiced his approval of the newly revised motion.
“I think this is a much better motion. I think that we should look at the list that Dennis [Dare] will bring to us and we will see what is essential in these trying times for everybody,” the mayor said. “We don’t want to deny critical projects that need to be done.”
Some of the projects, such as the South Ocean Drive revetment, are funded by a DNR loan and others, like the Artic Avenue Pumping Station, would be paid for from the town’s wastewater fund. The “million-dollar plus” Caroline Street Comfort Station project on the Boardwalk was a big concern for Pillas, who criticized its cleanliness and its efficiency.
“Those bathrooms were non-operational so many times this summer, and they need to be looked at as that is an essential station to Boardwalk visitors,” she said.
Dare said that “maybe after [the council] decides which projects are essential, we can ask the bidders on these projects to give us their best and final prices, and that could cut some costs”, as he did point out that “all were over budget.”