OCEAN CITY – Multiple suggestions were made this week as to funding an Annual Street Improvement Program, including the increase and expansion of paid parking around town.
This week the discussion concerning an Annual Street Improvement Program and its funding options returned to the Mayor and City Council following numerous meetings in order to come up with proposals.
“The longer we ignore it [street improvements] they will not stay static and it will continue to degrade,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said. “We have not invested heavily in the roadway infrastructure for a number of years, that’s a given. If you look at the overall street inventory program … you got about $41 million worth of work which is not realistic to fund it all at one time.”
According to Adkins, the town is currently completing approximately $1 million worth of improvements annually but it just isn’t cutting it.
Adkins returned to City Hall Tuesday explaining that an annual allocation of about $3 million is needed to “set pace” with annual improvements and paving in the years to come.
Recent discussions amongst city staff have resulted in a couple proposals in creating such a funding mechanism. Adkins suggested using the annual casino proceeds to be allocated to Ocean City through the Revenue Sharing Agreement estimated in the amount of about $450,000. Also, the annual Highway Users Funds that are allocated to the town is estimated to be about $150,000. This would total about $600,000 in new revenue.
A couple other suggestions were made including a two-cent adjustment on the current tax rate to fund roadway infrastructure, which wasn’t even discussed amongst the council during Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, and an increase in parking fees.
According to Adkins, city staff has estimated an annual revenue from the Cale Meter Operation could be increased by about $500,000 if the fee was increased from $1 an hour to $1.50. This could also provide the opportunity to revise the time frame of required parking fees by eliminating paid parking Memorial Day through Labor Day, Monday through Thursday, except for special events.
The potential increase in revenue from paid parking plus the other suggested revenue sources adds up to about $1.1 million towards the $3 million goal.
Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out that eliminating paid parking downtown during the week would also eliminate parking enforcement, which would also save costs.
“So you can accumulate approximately a little over $1 million and on a yearly basis take a look at what your fund balance is and see if there is additional revenue in there that on a yearly appropriation that you would want to put into that program,” he said.
Next Councilwoman Margaret Pillas shared a suggestion from the business community, and that is to go out for a bond to fund the street improvements and dedicate the $1 million in revenue toward the interest.
“That way we can jump ahead of the curve and maybe get some of these streets done in the next four or five years,” she said.
Councilman Joe Hall said that the estimate to dedicate $3 million a year towards the program is low.
“I think at a minimum we need to do $4 million a year,” he said. “That means that we can get the roads that need to be done today done … and along the 10-year period we are still going to have roads that wear out and it is going to continue and I don’t think $3 million a year gets us caught up.”
Joe Hall added that before the town moves toward increasing parking fees in current Cale parking zones, other potential areas need to be investigated.
“Basically the most metered portion of our town is south of 15th Street and commercial areas north we don’t have that income,” he said. “I believe that it would be acceptable to the community, the visitors and the taxpayers that we expand our Cale system in other areas if it was explained that that money was going towards the infrastructure and maintenance of the roads.” Councilman Lloyd Martin said he would like to see the replacement of the town’s failing storm drains be included on the project, which the town has also fell short in funding.
“I am not against going to the bond market for something that users pay for as long as the bond doesn’t outlast the use of the roads,” he said. “We need to look at those storm drains along with the paving because if we are going to pave these roads we need to work on our storm drains as well.”
Council President Jim Hall agreed with increasing the current paid parking zones, eliminating paid parking during the week in the off season, as well as exploring the bond market. He asked Adkins if the department could handle $3 to $4 million worth of work improving the city’s roadways a year.
“It becomes a project management issue,” Adkins said. “It is not something that you can do with your own employees and your own staff … but yeah we could.”
Meehan concluded that all of the suggestions made would be further explored and the discussion would be furthered in the near future.