OCEAN CITY – In the brief this week, the City Council was reassured the state had not made a final decision on the new Route 50 bridge plan, the turbine issue got yet another tweaking before second reading and the town outlined a stringent plan for retiree health insurance.
SHA Says New Bridge Still In Planning Phase
State Highway Administration (SHA) District Engineer Donnie Drewer reassured the Mayor and Council that even though the bridge planning committee within the SHA has made a decision on the new Route 50 Bridge, the SHA as a whole has not.
“I know our bridge planning team asked for your input and thoughts, and I think it came out of that conversation that (option 4) was the SHA’s final decision, and that’s not the case,” said Drewer, “We haven’t made a final decision on which option we would like, and I wanted to make it understood that the decision hasn’t been made yet.”
Option 4 is a $400 million, 45-foot fixed span bridge that would cause the largest amount of property and resident displacements and would create an urban off-ramp onto Baltimore Avenue.
The SHA’s bridge planning committee urged the Ocean City Council to make a decision a few months back and also went before the County Commissioners in mid-March for a similar decision.
The council voted for option 4, while the commissioners didn’t give their blessing to a particular option but leaned toward rehabilitating the existing bridge. Drewer’s comments came as a bit of a surprise as the bridge planning committee expressed Option 4 was the one that the entire administration was recommending.
Either way, Mayor Rick Meehan was grateful for Drewer’s reassurance.
“We were put in a position where they asked us to make a choice, and though we made some indications, we followed it up by saying that there was a lot more discussion that needs to happen before we figure out how the new gateway to Ocean City is going to look,” said Meehan. “I know the citizens, and property owners will appreciate some more dialogue and compromise.”
Turbines Tweaked Again
In hopes of finally figuring out a way to legally allow for wind turbines to start spinning in Ocean City, the council asked for a discussion of the ordinance before it comes to them on second reading next week.
An ordinance had been passed earlier this year allowing wind turbines, but was vetoed by Mayor Rick Meehan, who thought that the law was too restrictive and counter-productive.
“I didn’t want to pass an ordinance that with all good intentions, allow something that wouldn’t be practical or feasible anywhere, and the limits of that ordinance pointed in that direction,” said Meehan.
Small changes in the verbiage as well as educating council members on the exceptions that could be allowed concerning waterfront properties were topics of discussion.
“On the bay, there is basically no property line on that water side, so that allows a bit of flexibility in your conditional use, said City Planner Jesse Houston. “So it may allow it to go closer, but it still must adhere to all other setbacks from adjoining properties.”
Though the new ordinance will provide exceptions for property owners who may not be able to meet the setback requirements through the Board of Zoning Appeals, the ordinance still gives the final say to the Mayor and City Council.
Retiree Health Insurance
Gets More Stringent
Ocean City has much stricter standards than many other municipalities in reference to retired employee health benefits, according to an actuarial report given by Kay Moran of Bolton Partners Inc. on Tuesday.
The town established a trust fund that they will contribute money ($2.6 million this year) to fund the retiree health benefits, which the town pays as an employee uses them, and it will be amortized over the course of 30 years. By comparison, Worcester County will put in $17 million to cover employee’s retired health insurance.
It should be noted that the county has 1,591 employees compared to the city’s 577, but the interesting comparison is when employees are considered eligible for retiree benefits.
In Ocean City, general employees must be either age 55 with 30 years of service or 65 with 25 years of service. In comparison, Worcester County will award benefits at age 60 with only 12 years of service. The city pays for 80 percent of the benefit and does not cover spouses or dependents after retirement, whereas the county pays 90 percent of employee benefits and covers spouses after retirement.
Town Finance Administrator Martha Lucey said that she hasn’t found a municipality that has a stricter eligibility rule on this issue, saying it saves the town a considerable amount of money.
Also, in funding the trust fund, the town will receive a 7.5-percent discount under a rule that gives municipalities a reduction if they pre-fund their established trust funds created to pay these benefits.
Mayor Rick Meehan said the plan is really targeted for and encourages “long-term employees.”
“It is designed for the career employee, and this has us going in the right direction, and this puts us in a lot better position that a lot of other places”, said Meehan, “because no one wants to become another General Motors.”