OCEAN CITY – Citizens stepped up this week to publicly confront the majority of the council on the sweeping cost cutting efforts currently underway.
This week’s Mayor and City Council meeting finalized the ordinance for the Ocean City Employee and Public Safety Employees Pension Plan and Trust to include the mayor and the entire council as trustees.
For the second time, Councilman Joe Hall was questioned on his fiduciary responsibilities as a pension trustee member.
A couple of weeks ago. Tom Kane, a retiree of the town’s fire department, questioned Joe Hall’s responsibility as a trustee as well.
On Monday, Ocean City Police Officer Michael Levy, who represents public safety employees as the elected trustee, also questioned Joe Hall’s authority as a trustee.
“As a trustee, I have a fiduciary responsibility to look out for the welfare of the people who benefit from that trust,” Levy said.
Levy quoted the ordinance, as Kane did, in reflecting his concern.
The ordinance reads, “The trustee shall discharge his duties under this plan fully in interest of participants and beneficiaries for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and their beneficiaries.”
During a discussion of reducing and eliminating town employee pension plans a few weeks ago, Joe Hall said, “Once they [town employees] retire, I think the town should be done with them. The future of the council should not have to be funding people that no longer work for the town.”
This comment has caused citizens involved with the town’s pension plan great concern.
“I can speak to the concern of every single beneficiary, potential beneficiary, and the long-term ramifications of certain things that we are proposing to do to the pension system,” Levy said.
Levy asserted that amending the ordinance to include the full Mayor and Council is a serious matter and requires additional study.
“That no matter what your [Mayor and City Council] wisdom chooses to do this evening, these comments…are contradictory to the fiduciary responsibilities that you take on when you become a pension trustee,” Levy said.
Levy’s argument did not sway the majority of the council because the amendment passed in a 6-1 vote.
“If you like to have the ethics board schedule a ethics hearing on that, discuss it and have the proper people there to address your concern. I think it is important,” Joe Hall said.
The end of the meeting resulted in a handful of citizens approaching the council voicing concerns regarding the changes in the town employee pay and benefits.
Terry Steimer, a town employee and Surfriders Foundation member, asked the council to keep the “bottom 100” in mind.
“The bottom 100 is the people with the shovels in the sand,” Steimer said. “They’re the people who clean up the Boardwalk, the people who clean up the trash after July 4th, the people who clean up the beach after the Nor’easters…for that reason, us being the front line, we should get a little bit of consideration.”
Joe Hall she he is looking out for the lower level town employee positions.
“I feel in my heart that I am sincere in trying to maintain a solid strong municipal work force that continues to provide Ocean City at the highest level it can achieve but it has to be in a sustainable way,” Joe Hall said.
Richard Fisher, who has worked for the town for 17 years, doesn’t understand why the council is cutting salaries and benefit shares when the town is in need for new hires.
“We have nine to 10 people short in maintenance, probably 20 some people short in construction,” Fisher said. “New hires are working for $9 an hour, by the time you take out that 401(k) which they cant afford, by the time you take out the Medicare…look at what you’re going to get for $7 an hour.”
Fisher asserted that without any raise incentive the town is going to loose new employees or only be able to retain part-time positions.
Councilwoman Mary Knight thanked Fisher for voicing his argument so “eloquently”.
“That was my whole point about starting people at poverty level,” Knight said. “People don’t realize that when you’re at that poverty level…it exasperating and everybody that is paying more taxes.”
Mike Maykrantz, an Ocean City public safety employee and fire/paramedic union representative, asserted that there is no proof that the town is in a budget crisis.
“Help us understand,” Maykrantz said. “Is this pure retaliation against employees or just to make a point? I haven’t heard any justification on why you’re doing this.”
Joe Hall responded that the town’s financial report looks solid but there are other issues that need to be addressed.
“The town’s financial report is supported by a tax, it’s not optional to the property owners of Ocean City, and it goes on an assessed value that doesn’t even meet current market,” he said. “So the revenues won’t change for the town unless we lower the tax rate.”
Mayor Rick Meehan went on record with his disagreement with Hall.
“We are a very successful community, and I think a lot of that has to do with our interactions with our businesses and citizens and what we’ve done to cut expenses and change the way we do business,” Meehan said.
As the meeting came to a conclusion, Joe Hall wanted to set the record straight.
“I know that as we go through people will see our intent is well intentioned,” he said. “It was insinuated that I am not optimistic about Ocean City’s future. I know it will sustain, I know it will be great.”