On an almost weekly basis, it seems the Ocean City Mayor and Council is facing tough decisions, revolving largely around saving money while trying to balance financial common sense and quality service to the community and visiting public.
All in all, the judgment of the town’s elected officials seems to be on par. Proposals to cut expenses have been presented by the town’s appointed officials, such as City Manager Dennis Dare, Public Works Director Hal Adkins, Police Chief Bernadette DiPino and others, and the council has sorted through them, approving some and frowning on others.
An example of a pitch shot down was Adkins’ proposed reduction in bus service, which was aimed at reducing expenses. It was proposed eliminating or reducing the graveyard shift in the winter month would save as much as $100,000. The council was facing an interesting dilemma here, as any decrease in the bus schedule was going to inconvenience local residents who utilize the bus during the overnight hours. The city had already significantly scaled back bus operations, saving thousands, but there was an opportunity to see a big decrease in expenses.
We believe the council failed to make the right call with this proposal. Yes it was a difficult decision, but these officials are elected because the voters feel they can represent them with a view of the big picture. In this case, the financial ramifications should have won out here, rather than inconveniencing a select amount of people.
One proposal presented to the council to increase revenue currently on the table is a proposed hike in parking at the Inlet and at side streets in the downtown area. Last week, the council tabled any decision on this increase until all the budget cuts have been exhausted. The idea here was to look at all possible means to reduce expenses before resorting to hiking user fees, which come with a risk.
While we understand this approach and agree all efforts to reduce expenses is the way to go at first, there is no question the cuts will not be enough. Somewhere along the way fees are going to have to be increased, and parking in the downtown area is an obvious place to start.
The council should forge ahead with this fee increase, which is forecast to bring in approximately $1 million more in revenue. The city has long tried to discourage people from bringing their cars to the downtown area. That’s an exercise in futility for the most part because people are married to their vehicles due to the convenience factor, but it’s consistent to continue on that mission and increasing the Inlet rate for the first time in six years is logical. Add the off-street parking hike to the mix also makes sense for a number of reasons including continuity.
This is a winter of huge decisions, none of which are pleasant. However, it means something when Dare says this is the “toughest” budget process he has faced in 26 years. Dare is also right when he says visitors to this town should not have to concern themselves with the town’s budget concerns. It’s irrelevant to them. They come here for the beach, ocean, bays, restaurants, hotels and bars and all the hospitality.
Economic conditions, a drastic decrease in property values and perhaps some pork in certain department budgets have combined to create a nightmare of a budget. The city is following a laudable process here, starting with cuts and soon moving on to fee hikes. One they should okay immediately is the parking fee increase proposal.