The political season continues, at least in Berlin, where a three-man race has developed for the District 1 council seat, a vacancy created by Gee Williams’ recent election to mayor. This is a compelling situation. As we learned in the October election, three-way races in a small town can be interesting, and it’s really anyone’s game because the vote becomes diluted. A certainty in most special elections is low voter turnout, and this election on Dec. 16 should be no different. In last month’s election, 394 votes were cast in the District 2 race and that’s believed to be a record as far as turnout. The winner was Lisa Hall, who secured 42 percent of the vote, or 167 votes. Logic dictates fewer residents will turn out as last month when a contested mayoral race was featured on the ballot. Additionally, the candidates will surely be battling a bit of voter fatigue among the constituency as next month’s election will mark the fourth time many have voted this year and three times in the last month.
A number of local organizations and businesses are pooling their resources to try and help the county’s Humane Society in West Ocean City after it was victimized by a burglary last week. It was reported the facility’s stockpile of pet food and other goods was cleaned out, leaving the shelter in a precarious position. Unfortunately, it will be a tall order for authorities to catch the culprit, but my guess is someone with knowledge of how the shelter operates pulled this off. We understand some shelter volunteers have a suspect in mind that may or may not have volunteered previously, but proving it could be problematic for police. Whether there will ever be any justice in the case is unknown, probably unlikely, but it’s refreshing to see the community is trying to right the wrong by lending a hand.
Ocean City property owners received a citizens’ report on fiscal year 2008 in the mail this week after it was presented to the Mayor and Council last week. The report gives an overview of the town’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, an extensive 132-page document that details just about everything you could ever want to know about the resort. I spent some time this week trudging through the impressively organized and detailed report. Here’s some things I found interesting:
— The town’s principal employers showed who had the most number of employees for the quarter ending June 30, 2008. Topping the list was the Harrison Group, owner of 10 hotels, five restaurants and eight cafes and pools bars in town, 1,130 employees, or 3.67 percent of the total county employment, followed by Phillips, 650, 2.11 percent; Seacrets, 510, 1.66 percent; and Bayshore Development (the two Jolly Roger amusement parks and three resort hotels), 500, 1.63 percent.
— The average summer population hit its peak in 2001 at 266,901. In 2008, it came in at 258,726.
— The Harrison Inn Stardust Inc. (the Hilton property) tops the list of principal taxpayers in Ocean City with a property valuation of more than $64 million. Rounding out the top three were Americana Stowaway Motel, Inc., $57 million, and 91st Street Joint Venture (Princess Royale Oceanfront), $41 million.
–Although the property tax rate has declined over the last three years, from 47 cents to 41 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, the town’s property tax revenues have soared from $33 million in fiscal 2006 to $43.7 million in fiscal 2008. Just for comparison’s sake, in fiscal 1999, the town collected $18.1 million in property taxes.
— As expected, most of the town’s revenues come from property taxes. The breakdown includes property taxes, 57 percent; other taxes, which include room, admissions, income and highway user taxes, 18 percent; charges for services, such as licenses and building permits, fines and others, 17 percent; capital/operating grants and contributions, such as Program Open Space, tourism development and police and security programs, 4 percent; and other, including investment earnings, 4 percent.
— The town currently has 3,006 traffic lights, compared to 2,997 in 2007 and 2,042 in 2006 and 2,320 in 1999.