OCEAN CITY – City officials are excitedly moving ahead into 2012, although future challenges are acknowledged.
This past year has been a “whirlwind” in Ocean City, as Council President Jim Hall puts it.
Many changes have taken place around town from cuts in town employee pay and benefits and the dismissal of former City Manager Dennis Dare to bringing new events to town including the OC BikeFest and the Dew Tour.
Taking a look back at 2011, Jim Hall said he has “no regrets.”
“It was year where the majority of the council is working to conserve and watch their spending and make sure that the tax rate can stay low, and people can still afford to live and vacation in Ocean City,” he said.
Jim Hall said the most encouraging thing has been city employees working together to come up with ideas and strategies in ways to save money.
“They have all pulled together in these tough times to make Ocean City a little bit better,” he said. “We are down 100 employees from what we had a year and half to two years ago and that has really saved us a lot of money and we have changed the pay and benefits, and in the long run that is going to save us a whole lot of money, millions and millions of dollars. That is just forward thinking to get us through these tough times.”
Looking ahead into 2012, Jim Hall said that it is going to be another conservative year. He personally is looking forward to having the US Air Force Thunderbirds aerial team return to the OC Air Show, the new High Tide Music Festival and especially the opportunity to have horseback riding on the beach, which was proposed by fellow Councilman Brent Ashley.
“That is going to be a really cool thing,” he said. “Not only being able to ride private horses but possibly franchise out and do some horseback riding on the beach, it is going to be beautiful. Most upscale resorts have that.”
Jim Hall is also excited to move forward in the Roland E. Powell Convention Center expansion, including its new Performing Arts Center.
“More importantly, it is about keeping the beach clean, and open, and having good weather,” he said. “That is what people really come here for. They want to be safe and secure, and enjoy the beach.”
Mayor Rick Meehan agreed with Jim Hall that it has been a positive that the town has remained conservative through their budget process and held the tax rate another year but still provide the services and amenities that residents and visitors are looking for.
The mayor added that the 2011 summer season was successful as the numbers in visitors increased from the year before. One of the summer highlights in his book was the Dew Tour.
“That was a huge event to have two days of national daily coverage of a beautiful event taking place right here on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland,” Meehan said.
The Pantech Open of the Dew Tour, an extreme sports competition, took place in Ocean City for the first time last June.
A situation that took place that wasn’t on the mayor’s favorites list was the change in the city manager position.
“I didn’t support the change or in particular how it was done,” he said.
On Sept. 8, the Mayor and City Council met in closed session “to discuss the appointment, employment, assignment, removal or resignation of appointees, employees or officials over whom it has jurisdiction; or any other personnel matter that affects one or more specific individuals.”
By the next day, the council announced a 4-3 vote, with council members Joe Hall, Brent Ashley, Jim Hall, and Margaret Pillas in favor, to ask for Dare’s resignation after 29 years of service to Ocean City. They had also voted in the same 4-3 fashion to terminate Dare if he chose not to resign.
The split vote of 4-3 among the City Council became prominent over the last year as a new majority was formed while discussing diverse topics such as cuts in town employee pay and benefits.
Jim Hall said the only reason the 4-3 vote “sticks out” is because of the actions the majority of the council had to make in order for conservative changes.
“There is a very conservative four on the council and … the three that are not have a different means of managing Ocean City,” he said. “Our four is very conservative and we want to watch the tax rate.”
Meehan said he looks forward to 2012 since it is an election year.
“I look forward to some change,” he said. “I hope we are able to re-establish some integrity and credibility on the council and take a step back to move forward in a more positive fashion.”
The mayor added that he looks forward to hiring a new city manager.
“I am ready to hand over the keys,” he said. “I look forward to the process. I am not happy with where we are but I am certainly an optimist and look forward to working with a new city manager that comes on board moving Ocean City forward.”
Moving ahead into 2012, Meehan recognizes the challenges on the table as assessments decrease and a number of infrastructure projects are on the table, including the renovation of the Boardwalk, the expansion of the convention center, and the building of the new art center.
The mayor is also looking forward to have the Thunderbirds return to the OC Air Show this summer as well as having the Dew Tour return in August.
“Those are all exciting things that have happened in 2011 and will carry on to 2012,” Meehan said.