Joe Hall Explains Reasoning Behind Salary Cut Pitch

OCEAN CITY — After being
called out for not doing his proverbial homework last week when he sought to
reduce staff pay, Councilman Joe Hall blamed his emotions for getting the best
of him, but he made sure not to take the controversial motion back. 

What may have been
mistaken for an apology to some was actually Hall’s claim that he had done the
calculations concerning the savings that would be accrued by the town before
making the most controversial pitch of this year’s budget hearings — his
motion for a 2.5-percent reduction in pay for all employees of the town of
Ocean City. The council voted down his proposal.

Last Wednesday, Hall was
accused of “arbitrarily” choosing 5 percent as a number to cut employee
salaries by this year, in order to trim another penny off the tax rate, before
settling on 2.5-percent cut in his actual motion.

His colleagues, most
notably Council President Joe Mitrecic, exchanged verbal jabs with Hall and
pointed out that he had not made the calculations to support his motion that
would essentially affect all of the 500-plus Ocean City employees. 

Mitrecic called Hall’s
motion “ridiculous” and calculated the savings to the town on the spot, as Hall
seemed to be uncertain at times to what the amount would be in regards to
either a 5 percent cut (about $1.3 million in savings) or a 2.5 percent cut
(about 535,000 in savings), fumbling over numbers and changing his motion
several times.

On Monday night, however,
Hall took the opportunity to explain his reasoning and convince his naysayers
and whoever else was listening that he didn’t make such a controversial motion
without a lot of thought and research.

“I want to reassure
everyone that I knew that a [5-percent cut] would have saved us over a penny on
the tax rate, and that I was very much aware of what I was doing,” said Hall.
“It was a very emotional issue and a very hard motion to make, so if it
appeared that I hadn’t done my homework, I apologize if it came off that way,
but it did only because it was such an emotional issue.”

Hall said later in the
week that the motion, which was thwarted by the council 5-2, with only Hall and
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas in favor of the 2.5 percent pay reduction for
employees, was the toughest motion that he’s ever made in his years on the
council.

“Without a doubt it was
the hardest one that I’ve ever made, but I don’t take it back,” said Hall. “I
still believe that it is absolutely the right motion to move the town of Ocean
City forward towards a sustainable future.”

Mayor Rick Meehan points
out that the argument over whether or not the employees of the town of Ocean
City have in Hall’s words, “felt the pain that the community is feeling” is
quite true and was substantial enough to not warrant the further pay cuts that
Hall pitched last week.

“If you look at the fact
that our employees have had no step or COLA increases for the last two years,
that accounts for over $2 million in payroll savings, and that accounts for
almost a 12-percent reduction in what their salaries would have been
otherwise,” Meehan said. “We’ve already asked a great deal from our employees
and we’ve already adjusted the payscale.”

Obviously, Hall’s main
objective was to lower the property tax rate even further than what the council
is one vote away from setting in stone after Monday’s vote, which was 39.5
cents per $100 assessed valuation.

Hall also contested the
merits of not having any money allotted to capital improvement projects for the
next year.

Coupled with the town’s
budgetary tabling of capital projects was the recent announcement by the State
Highway Administration that it was out of funds for roadway projects for the
foreseeable future after having to be tens of millions over budget after an unusually
cold and snowy winter in the state.

As a result, it made
sense when Councilman Lloyd Martin motioned that the council would take any
additional savings, once the council finds the 100,000 it needs to technically
achieve the 39.5 cents tax rate, and put it straight to address capital
projects in the town.

When Hall was elected
back onto the council in 2008 after a six-year absence, his first motion was to
table all capital projects in the resort. Now, he says it’s time to get them
higher on the city’s priority list.

“Yes, I voted to table
them all, but that doesn’t mean I wanted them there forever,” said Hall. “We
could’ve found additional money in the 5-percent cut of employee pay and maybe
put only half into the tax rate, which would have gotten it down to 39 cents,
and then put the rest into capital projects. Right now, we have nothing in
there for fixing even a pothole.”

Meehan says that
Martin’s motion was the “responsible” one to make, and a strategy that he
supports, noting that the town’s streets and canal dredging should be top
priorities.

“Last year, we took
$500,000 from the retiree health insurance benefits to get the tax rate to
39.5, and we vowed to pay that back with the first money we found and we were
able to do that,” said Meehan. “This year, I think that we will find more
savings and be able to address some of our infrastructure concerns as well.”

As expected, there are
some in the town’s hierarchy that were none too happy with Hall’s controversial
motion, and he says that although no one has confronted him face to face he’s
felt the ice-cold stares.

“I sense that it’s
there, but no one has said anything to me other than that they understood why I
made the motion, even though they didn’t really agree with it,” said Hall.

 

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