It was refreshing to see some frank talk about this summer season. The general summation is it was one unique summer with some businesses reporting it was a record breaker and others referring to it as forgettable. That dichotomy was addressed several times during this week’s EDC meeting by panelists representing the private sector as well as town government.
Here’s a review of some comments that jive with business people I have spoken with in recent weeks.
OCHMRA Executive Director Susan Jones: “Depending on who you talk to, it was either the worst summer or the best summer ever. The reactions have been all over the board. I’ve never seen this much emotion attached to a review of a summer season.”
D3Corp President John Gehrig: “We have a great community here and things are good, but things are getting tougher. We need to work harder when things are tougher … This year was good, not great, but it is sure is finishing great.”
Tourism Commission Chair and Councilwoman Mary Knight: “You have to really keep up on online review sites like Trip Advisor because consumers are utilizing those more than ever when making decisions. I talked to one restaurant owner who was up 35-40 percent and credited positive reviews on Trip Advisor for that. You have to read those and stay on top of it, and respond to negative comments if necessary. It works both ways.”
Tourism Director Donna Abbott: “We have a $5 million advertising budget and we’re going to look at how things went over the winter and see what markets we need to target. We’re going to use the money the best way we can. As you all know, we are outspent by a lot of our competitors. This has been an interesting season, and we’re going to take all the feedback and see where we need to go.”
Although it’s a worthwhile effort, Ocean City will likely never get a tax differential because the Maryland General Assembly will not pass legislation making it possible.
The fact is it’s unfair that Ocean City property owners pay twice for certain services, such as Recreation and Parks, Fire Marshal’s Office, Emergency Services and Public Works. Their tax dollars not only support the Ocean City departments through the town’s tax rate, but they also support the county’s efforts when they pay their county taxes.
Let’s take Recreation, for example, because it’s the most simplistic. All Ocean City property owners pay property tax and some of that money collected by the city is used to fund the town’s recreation department and its programs. Ocean City property owners also pay a county tax rate and a portion of that revenue supports Worcester’s recreation department in Snow Hill and its vast offerings. Therefore, an Ocean City-based family is funding recreation programs in the resort as well as in the county, although it’s almost certainly only utilizing those services in the resort. The argument is that’s not fair to the city’s taxpayers, and the city maintains the county needs to either reduce the taxes city property owners pay to the county or return more in grant money to the city because the county’s services, such as soccer leagues in the recreation example, are not being extended to Ocean City.
The issue here is the precedent a change of this magnitude will set and the major economic hardships it would cause for the county governments. If legislation would be introduced permitting tax differential, municipalities throughout the state will seek the differential because it would significantly reduce the tax rate the property owners pay, resulting in the county they are within suffering irreparable financial harm. In Worcester case, a tax differential would mean a $17 million reduction in county tax collections, per a recent study. Instead of the tax rate being set at 77 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in the county, the property tax rate will jump to 95 cents for all property owners, except those who live in Ocean City, who would pay a reduced rate.
If it was simply a fairness issue, a tax differential would be in place. However, in this case, it’s more about the money and politics. Those two factors will keep the legislature from ever passing this sort of measure in my opinion.