Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

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In Ocean City, it’s going to be interesting to see how the re-emergence of the town’s subcommittees works out in the long term.

At this point, it’s known subcommittees will be formed once again in Ocean City after being abruptly abolished in October of 2010. The previous council disbanded all of them for the most part with the idea it would allow each of the Mayor and Council members to hear all the information simultaneously while also providing greater transparency. Whether that ever happened is debatable. Those of us in the media prefer the previous committee format because it gives us more content to report on an opportune basis.

Exactly what structure the new subcommittees will take is not a certainty at this point, and it appears City Manager David Recor will formulate some options for the council to mull over in the coming weeks. Not all of the committees are expected to return, but surely there will be at least a handful reinstated.

At City Hall, it’s no surprise there is a division among the new council. The last election resulted in the two senior members of the former dominate council majority, Jim Hall and Joe Hall, being defeated and replaced by former City Manager Dennis Dare and Joe Mitrecic, who had served two terms previously before losing in 2010. That drastic shakeup resulted in Council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas immediately being put in the minority on many issues and tilting the power to Mayor Rick Meehan, Council President Lloyd Martin and Council members Doug Cymek, Mary Knight, Dare and Mitrecic.

The inevitable contention, and resentment on some levels, has remained under the radar for the most part since the election. Battle lines are now being seen, however, on some issues. The major differences of opinion seem to broadly deal with government structure and policy approaches to spending and budgeting.

Discourse can be healthy among elected officials. It’s okay to disagree over committee formations but that doesn’t mean those in the minority should not be a part of the process. I am interested to see which committees the individual council members desire to sit on and whether everyone participates.

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At Monday’s meeting, the Berlin Mayor and Council listened to the objections, mostly from the business community, regarding the stormwater utility and then quickly voted unanimously to approve the utility and the subsequent fee structure.

While the views expressed during the public hearing were varied, a great majority of the 22 speakers signed up were opposed to the utility, specifically the fee structure that put 80-plus percent of the cost of the private sector subsidization at the hands of town businesses. Understandably, Berlin business owners take umbrage with that vast disparity.

Above all, the only non-option in this entire stormwater debate was to do nothing. The town has done just that for too long. The best course as of now is to agree to disagree over the fee structure and hope the town does in fact immediately address some of the major flooding problems in town. I applaud the Mayor and Council for finally resolving to target stormwater improvement projects in town and am hoping for the best.

However, my guess is Worcester County and Atlantic General Hospital are not going to simply accept this new fee without some action. Whether it’s through the courts or direct communication with the town to negotiate a cap of some sort is unknown, but I’m guessing this is not over. With the four public schools located in Berlin, Worcester County will have to find $14,825 in its next budget to fund the new fees, and Atlantic General Hospital will have to cough up $5,025. Worcester Preparatory School is looking at a new expense of $3,750. That’s going to be challenging for all of them.

I will be watching closely to see if any of these entities seek to challenge the fee structure in some fashion.

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I have been a diehard Ravens fans since they moved to Baltimore in 1996 and played their first games at the old Memorial Stadium, a frequent haunt of mine since I lived four blocks away while attending Loyola University Maryland. Therefore, my Super Bowl prediction should not come as a surprise — Ravens 30-49ers 19.

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