SNOW HILL — Worcester officials this week agreed to adhere to Ocean City’s request to restore the county’s budget contribution to 2009 levels, but not after a considerable debate.
For years, the town of Ocean City and Worcester officials have wrestled over an acceptable formula for grants and other funding from the county to the town and have typically come away at odds over the final appropriation. At the heart of the issue for years has been tax differential, or basically the cost of duplicated services such as police and fire protection, which Ocean City provides for itself, yet is often taxed the same rate the other municipalities in the county.
To that end, several years ago, the county began providing the same basic funding formula applied to the other municipalities including Berlin, Snow Hill, Pocomoke and recently Ocean Pines. In addition, while stopping short of honoring Ocean City’s tax differential request, the county in recent years has provided the resort with an unrestricted grant to offset the perceived differences.
If the county reverted back to the fiscal year 2009 unrestricted grant to Ocean City, that figure was $1.95 million. However, the proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2014 includes a $2.5 million grant to Ocean City. Some County Commissioners on Tuesday questioned why the county was considering more funding.
“I don’t mind giving back, I just want to give them back what they asked for,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley. “That’s exactly what they asked for. They stood here and said please take us back to 2009 levels and we agreed, so I’m not sure why we’re considering bumping that up by another half a million dollars.”
Commission President Bud Church said the town would likely continue to push the tax differential issue if the county did not sweeten the pot somewhat.
“If we don’t give them a little bit back, we’re going to have to deal with differential and that is going to cost us a lot more money,” he said.
Commissioner Louise Gulyas said Ocean City’s situation is unique in terms of restricted police and fire grants.
“I know it’s formula driven, but they don’t always see it that way,” she said.
However, Shockley countered each of the other municipalities in the county adheres to the same formula but Ocean City.
Each of the other three municipalities will see their annual grant from the county increase from $400,000 to $450,000 this year, while Ocean City will receive the large unrestricted grant. Gulyas said the resort’s importance to the county’s overall economy warrants the difference.
“We’re just being benevolent,” she said. “That’s the largest tax base area in the county.”