New Approach Eyed For Post Labor Day School Start Legislation After Bills Fizzled This Year

school bus

OCEAN CITY – Following an uneventful legislative session for the proposed state-mandated post-Labor Day start for public schools this year, the Ocean City Tourism Commission went back to the drawing board last week to start strategizing for the next legislative session.

The post-Labor Day school start bills, cross-filed in the House and Senate over the winter, never got any traction during this year’s session and both failed to make it out of committee in either chamber.

The two Lower Shore legislators told the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) in early May the effort would continue in the 2016 session. Although a poll earlier this year showed parents and teachers across Maryland supported the proposed legislation, it turned out to be a tough sell in other areas around the state.

Last August, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot was on the Boardwalk in Ocean City to launch a petition drive seeking 10,000 signatures advocating a mandated post-Labor Day start to the public school year in Maryland as part of his “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign. At the opening of the 2015 session in January, the campaign appeared to be gaining momentum as Franchot and its other major supporters, including Mathias, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, other elected officials, small business owners, educators and tourism officials, turned in the petition with over 13,000 signatures. Also in attendance at the press conference was Gov. Larry Hogan, who endorsed the issue.

However, by session’s end, the bills, after routine committee hearings, died a quiet death, at least for the 2015 session without so much as a vote at the committee level. Shortly after the session, Mathias said the bill is complicated and could take two or more sessions to gain the approval of state lawmakers.

“It had previously come up that there is a need for Ocean City having a strategy in moving forward before the next session begins for this to hopefully come to fruition,” Tourism and Marketing Director Donna Abbott said last week. “My only concern would be of the criticism that was coming through that this would be legislation that would only benefit Ocean City, so if move forward with a strategy of our own that may be perceived reconfirming the same criticism from the past session.”

Currently, school systems across Maryland have the autonomy to set their own schedules, as long as they meet the state-mandated minimum number of days. Many are returning as early as mid-August. In Worcester, public schools returned after Labor Day last year and will do so again despite the late date this year. Wicomico will continue to start the week before Labor Day, according to its approved calendar for the next school year.

The bill’s detractors claim a statewide mandate would only benefit resort areas, particularly Ocean City, and have pushed to let the public school systems continue to set their own schedules.

“I am not afraid,” Meehan said in response to Abbott.

In speaking with Mathias and Carozza following the legislative session, Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce President Brett Wolf stated they all agreed there needs to be a plan in moving forward.

“We need to have someone forefront because it is going to be an uphill battle with different voting blocks that are going to be against it for various reasons,” Wolf said. “We need to plan for this and have something in place.”

Michael James of the EDC suggested a meeting with Mathias and Carozza to target the bill’s opposition.

“We should go directly to the legislators from those districts and talk to them about how their voters would prefer it,” James said.

Wolf agreed.

“We really need to figure out why people are against it, and one of the main reasons is based on where they’re from and how it impacts their children. Once we figure that out, Mary Beth [Carozza] and Jim [Mathias] can talk to the delegations from those areas and address their concerns in why they think this is a bad thing and help convince them on why this would be a good thing. I think it’s not just a one size fits all solution,” Wolf said.

Commission Chair and Council Secretary Mary Knight suggested revisiting an advertising campaign the town’s ad agency, MGH, formulated a couple years ago.

In March 2013, MGH Advertising President Andy Malis presented a “fun tongue in cheek” campaign that would promote support for students to return to school after the Labor Day weekend and in turn have attention stirred up towards Ocean City.

MGH came up with two ads beckoning the children of Maryland to “nag” their parents to sign a petition supporting schools starting after Labor Day.

Sections of the ad read, “The government is stealing your fun. In the state where we live, it is Maryland in case you haven’t gotten to that in Social Studies yet, school systems have been systematically shortening your summer vacation. In some cases school now begins on Aug. 20, more than a full month before the actual end of summer. That’s just wrong.”

It continued, “We don’t know the long term effects of being denied that extra bit of fun. What we do know is a few more weeks of skeet ball could have finally earned you enough tickets for that lava lamp that you had your eyes on. But that chance has been snatched away from you by well-meaning bureaucrats who have forgotten the value of fun in a child’s life. Think about it a generation will now grow up without the time to fully master the boogie board.”

A website was proposed to be set up at www.longersummer.com where parents can choose “Yes, I want my kids to enjoy a little more time at the beach just like I did” or “No, I hate fun and I want to pass that onto my children.”

Knight also suggested looking to the $30,000 the town recently received in return from its investment in the “Ping Pong Summer” movie to fund a campaign advocating a post-Labor Day school start date.

In the meantime Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel and Wolf will work on getting a meeting together with Carozza and Mathias to start focusing on the proposed legislation’s opposition.

 

City Seeking Cost Estimate For Beach Ball Water Tower

A water tower painted as a beach ball is pictured in Florida. Submitted Photo

OCEAN CITY – City officials are investigate the possibility of adding a large beach ball to Ocean City’s skyline.

In February, the Mayor and City Council were presented with a five-year water and wastewater plan that called for the elimination of the elevated water towers on Worcester and 15th streets. Replacing these downtown fixtures with a new single water tower at a town-owned property on 1st Street and St. Louis Avenue was proposed.

According to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, the 1st Street Elevated Water Tank project is scheduled for bid opening on June 23. However, there has been recent interest from multiple parties to change the logo that is currently included in the bid package from the “standard logo” that reads “Welcome to Ocean City, Thank You for Visiting Ocean City”. The standard logo can be seen on the 64th Street and 136th Street water tanks.

“As the town prepares to begin another improvement by constructing the million gallon water tower on St. Louis and 1st Street, the Downtown Association would like to see the city use that structure to heighten visitor awareness by designing graphics that would stand out,” Brian McCarthy, board member of Ocean City Maryland Downtown Association, said. “Placing “Ocean City, Md.” on a blue tower would be a loss of a highly visible means of advertising. The tower’s proximity to the Route 50 Bridge, the Boardwalk rides and the White Marlin statue could lend itself to become an iconic memory for guests traveling over the bridge. The Downtown Association would support graphic designs like a beach ball or a crab as examples.”

Adkins furthered an inquiry has also been made by Jim Mosko of the White Marlin Open suggesting a logo indicating Ocean City as the home of the White Marlin Open. Ocean City Development Corporation has also weighed in in support of the standard logo.

Adkins asked if the council’s desire was to explore other creative options for the water tank and if so an addendum would be added to the bid package.

Councilman Tony DeLuca questioned the pricing of other options. Adkins responded when the Art League of Ocean City placed its brand on the 94th Street water tank it cost them $8,000.

Adkins furthered the concept of painting the water tank into a beach ball was explored many years ago when former Councilman Buck Mann pitched the idea. At that time, it was going to cost $50,000 to $60,000.

He acknowledged the Worcester Street water tower has displayed the Dew Tour logo for the past several years. That logo is a vinyl applique, which Adkins did not recommend due to the quality.

“Up until you gave me the price, I was leaning towards the beach ball. I would like to have a current price,” DeLuca said. “When you drive across Route 90 and you look at the ‘Welcome to and Thank You’ logo, it is kind of uninviting, uneventful and blends into the background. It is kind of boring until you get right up on it and you see you the logo. Do you remember the feeling when you were a little kid coming over the Route 50 Bridge? There is an excitement about it and if there was a beach ball, I just think that would be so exciting.”

DeLuca recognized there would be an increase in maintenance costs as well if the tank was painted to represent a beach ball.

“We will do the research to determine if there is a type of paint necessary. You want it to pop and to stay that way for many years. I wouldn’t want it to become a chalky, dull yellow and red configuration, and then we are wondering what we got ourselves into,” said Adkins.

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed nothing says Ocean City more than a beach ball.

“I think it could become iconic,” he said. “I liked Councilman Mann’s idea over 20 years ago. This isn’t a logo. It is painting the tower, and it may be the finished coat. The $50,000 may have been a logo in addition to the finished coat, so that number may be substantially reduced, and the only way to find out is to ask.”

Dare made a motion to add a line item to the bid package asking for a cost estimate in painting the 1st Street Water Tank into a beach ball.

“Beach ball screams family, and we need reminders of that sometimes in town,” Councilman Wayne Hartman said, as he seconded the motion.

The council voted unanimously to approve the motion.

 

Should Ocean City Paint New Water Tower As Beach Ball? Officials Seeking Cost Estimate

A Florida town sports this water tower painted as a beach ball.

OCEAN CITY – City officials are investigate the possibility of adding a large beach ball to Ocean City’s skyline.

In February, the Mayor and City Council were presented with a five-year water and wastewater plan that called for the elimination of the elevated water towers on Worcester and 15th streets. Replacing these downtown fixtures with a new single water tower at a town-owned property on 1st Street and St. Louis Avenue was proposed.

According to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, the 1st Street Elevated Water Tank project is scheduled for bid opening on June 23. However, there has been recent interest from multiple parties to change the logo that is currently included in the bid package from the “standard logo” that reads “Welcome to Ocean City, Thank You for Visiting Ocean City”. The standard logo can be seen on the 64th Street and 136th Street water tanks.

“As the town prepares to begin another improvement by constructing the million gallon water tower on St. Louis and 1st Street, the Downtown Association would like to see the city use that structure to heighten visitor awareness by designing graphics that would stand out,” Brian McCarthy, board member of Ocean City Maryland Downtown Association, said. “Placing “Ocean City, Md.” on a blue tower would be a loss of a highly visible means of advertising. The tower’s proximity to the Route 50 Bridge, the Boardwalk rides and the White Marlin statue could lend itself to become an iconic memory for guests traveling over the bridge. The Downtown Association would support graphic designs like a beach ball or a crab as examples.”

Adkins furthered an inquiry has also been made by Jim Mosko of the White Marlin Open suggesting a logo indicating Ocean City as the home of the White Marlin Open. Ocean City Development Corporation has also weighed in in support of the standard logo.

Adkins asked if the council’s desire was to explore other creative options for the water tank and if so an addendum would be added to the bid package.

Councilman Tony DeLuca questioned the pricing of other options. Adkins responded when the Art League of Ocean City placed its brand on the 94th Street water tank it cost them $8,000.

Adkins furthered the concept of painting the water tank into a beach ball was explored many years ago when former Councilman Buck Mann pitched the idea. At that time, it was going to cost $50,000 to $60,000.

He acknowledged the Worcester Street water tower has displayed the Dew Tour logo for the past several years. That logo is a vinyl applique, which Adkins did not recommend due to the quality.

“Up until you gave me the price, I was leaning towards the beach ball. I would like to have a current price,” DeLuca said. “When you drive across Route 90 and you look at the ‘Welcome to and Thank You’ logo, it is kind of uninviting, uneventful and blends into the background. It is kind of boring until you get right up on it and you see you the logo. Do you remember the feeling when you were a little kid coming over the Route 50 Bridge? There is an excitement about it and if there was a beach ball, I just think that would be so exciting.”

DeLuca recognized there would be an increase in maintenance costs as well if the tank was painted to represent a beach ball.

“We will do the research to determine if there is a type of paint necessary. You want it to pop and to stay that way for many years. I wouldn’t want it to become a chalky, dull yellow and red configuration, and then we are wondering what we got ourselves into,” said Adkins.

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed nothing says Ocean City more than a beach ball.

“I think it could become iconic,” he said. “I liked Councilman Mann’s idea over 20 years ago. This isn’t a logo. It is painting the tower, and it may be the finished coat. The $50,000 may have been a logo in addition to the finished coat, so that number may be substantially reduced, and the only way to find out is to ask.”

Dare made a motion to add a line item to the bid package asking for a cost estimate in painting the 1st Street Water Tank into a beach ball.

“Beach ball screams family, and we need reminders of that sometimes in town,” Councilman Wayne Hartman said, as he seconded the motion.

The council voted unanimously to approve the motion.

 

Mayor On Cruisin Weekend: ‘I Know You Will Be Seeing Some Changes Next Year’

A screenshot of a video that went viral over Cruisin weekend. The vehicle did a 360 on Coastal Highway before spinning wheels for a block.

OCEAN CITY – Local residents stood strong this week in demanding Ocean City officials make a difference when it comes to increasingly rowdy behavior associated with car rally events.

Last month Cruisin hit Ocean City with 3,400 classic cars officially registered for the event and an in-kind number of hangers-on, or “wannabes” as the event promoter refers to them. While the officially registered participants appeared to be well behaved for the most part and attended the event’s official activities at the Inlet and Roland E. Powell Convention Center, the latter group raced up and down Coastal Highway and other streets, dumped trash in parking lots and left a considerable amount of rubber on the roads.

Cruisin’ has become one of the biggest weekends of the year in Ocean City, according to promoter and organizer Bob Rothermel and many business owners. While local residents bristled at the steady roar of the hot rod engines and the consequences of the large convergence, special events drive the economy in Ocean City, especially in the shoulder seasons. Balancing them with the quality of life has always been a challenge.

Immediately following the event complaints were heard loud and clear. However, this week a group of concerned residents came before the Mayor and City Council on Monday evening demanding major changes.

“I am here because last year we heard a lot of promises after the debacle of Cruisin’ weekend, and I’m wondering what happened this year because it seemed worse. When are you going to govern this event? When are you going to protect the laws and protect the people of this town by enforcing our ordinances? People come here and drink in public, reckless drive, squeal wheels, and ignore our ordinances,” local resident Gabriel Mancini said. “I hope this council governs. Form a committee and address the grievances of the public because honestly all of us are fed up with it.”

Local resident Ellie Diegelmann listed several suggestions.

“Stop making excuses and sincerely encourage the public to call the police, especially the business owners and lot owners hosting these lawbreakers. Be sure to emphasize and honor confidentiality. Save the outside police support such as the Maryland State Police and Worcester County Sheriff’s Department for technical police work. Instead bring in auxiliary towing companies to further accommodate responsiveness to the Ocean City Police Department. Form a chaos task force including myself and any other individuals who wish to participate, along with police and other vital departmental staff, and deputize, train and support selected citizens chosen by the task force to be the eyes and ears and first response, including calling tow trucks,” Diegelmann said.

Local resident Debi Thompson Cook, whose family history goes back more than 100 years in Ocean City, wants to see the event eliminated altogether.

“I was disgusted by what happened in town two weeks ago. People were afraid to take their kids to the school bus. I didn’t leave my house. I saw people drinking from open containers, double parked and tractor trailers parked on the street anywhere they wanted. I never saw a police officer all weekend [in my neighborhood], and I didn’t want to call them because they were so overwhelmed and busy that I wouldn’t even call them over a parking violation,” she said. “We are a beach town. Our asset is the ocean, the bay, the surfers, the skateboarders and the beach lifestyle. That is why people come here and we are killing our brand with this kind of event. This does not belong here.”

Cook questioned costs of police overtime during the event and of public works to repair and clean the roadways.

“I am so tired of people saying we need this money [revenue from the event]. I lived here before these events were here … and we were just fine before all of this. It may take us a few years to recover but if we do away with it eventually people will come back to enjoy what is really here. It is appalling and I am begging you to do something about it,” she said.

Mancini suggested extending the season and inviting the events to come during less busier times of April and October.

“We have changed a lot in the past 30 years. Most of these events were formulated to bring people to town on the fringe of the season. Our season has expanded from May to September … those months are now in season and a money making time for us. If you can bring those events, such as Cruisin in the end of April and the motorcycles to mid-October it would help a lot. Right away you would solve half the problems we are incurring with the traffic and noise. We are trying to fit too much into our busy season, and these events are conflicting with the people that are already here,” he said.

Mayor Rick Meehan assured the speakers their voices were not falling on deaf ears.

“We are listening. Things have changed in the past 30 years. We face more challenges today than we have before. The world around is becoming more defiant, and they are moving towards our resort bringing with them some of those same characteristics. All of us up here agree that something needs to be done to address those situations,” he said.

Meehan agreed with Mancini changing the dates of events could be beneficial in moving forward.

“We all [Mayor and City Council] recognize there are problems but give us a chance to address them. I know the issues have been scheduled to be discussed by the Police Commission to bring back recommendations to the full council. I know we talked about this last year and some things didn’t come to fruition but I know you will be seeing some changes next year,” he said.

Council Secretary Mary Knight used H2O International, a VW/Audi rally held in the fall, as an example. She pointed out the town has already been working with the organizer in changing the date of this year’s event to avoid conflicting with Sunfest weekend.

“Our police department has had several meetings with the organizer of H2Oi … we are doing things that the public doesn’t see. The organizer knows a lot of people come to H2Oi that are not registered who cause havoc. It is not a sanctioned event and we are working with the organizer in making it better,” she said.

Meehan concluded by presenting the Town of Ocean City’s new 311 smartphone app. When downloaded, users can view events and information about Ocean City as well as report issues in neighborhoods and around town for prompt action and resolution, such as abandoned vehicles, alcohol or drug violations, animal complaints, city ordinance violations, noise violations, parking complaints, problem properties, public safety concerns, suspicious persons or activities and vandalism or graffiti.

The app is free on both iTunes and Google Play or can be downloaded by visiting http://oceancitymd.gov.

Cruisin promoter Rothermel last month defended his event, although admitted there were unruly visitors in town.

“The problem becomes the people not associated with the event get a little full of themselves and run afoul of the law,” he said. “The event really doesn’t have any authority to control what happens on the street. The police department does a great job, but they can’t be everywhere. The problem is with the wannabes. Those are the people we have to figure out how to control. I don’t know what else we can do as an event. We can only do so much.”

Rothermel is willing to work with the police and town officials on change, but he said the economic impact cannot be discounted.

“You have to remember, this event has turned into a big weekend,” he said. “It’s the major event of the year, bigger than the Fourth of July. With the great weather, we had big crowds and most behaved but there are always those knuckleheads that come here just to rip it up … “If you go to a Ravens game, there will be an awful lot of knuckleheads, but you don’t blame the Ravens. If you don’t like the traffic on the Fourth of July, you don’t blame the forefathers.”

 

Council Looks Past Objections On Proposed Street Performer Changes; New Law Takes Effect July 27

File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – Some Boardwalk performers submitted last-minute concerns this week over a new ordinance regulating busking on the Boardwalk.

This week an ordinance regulating street performers on the Boardwalk that will force buskers to sign up for designated locations from the Inlet to 9th Street, among other things, came before the Mayor and City Council on first reading.

The ordinance states, “The Director shall designate spaces on the Boardwalk between and including South 1st Street and 9th Street … will be available on a first-come, first-serve allocation and selection system for two periods of use; the first period shall be Monday through Thursday and the second period shall be Friday through Sunday … the Designated Spaces will be available for selection twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays one week in advance …”

Each designated space from the Inlet to 9th Street will be a maximum of 10 feet by 10 feet and a minimum of five feet by five feet, and a three-foot clear area around each fire hydrant must be maintained as well as a safe separation from the Boardwalk tram lane.

A list of rules and regulations governing performers and vendors on the entire Boardwalk from the Inlet to 27th Street is also included in the ordinance, such as a performer or vendor may mark the boundary of a space with a rope laid on the surface of the Boardwalk; no performer or vendor can have any item exceeding four feet above ground, allow any street end of designated space to be enclosed, or affix props or equipment to the Boardwalk surface; no performer or vendor occupying a location at a street end or designated space can leave items unattended for a period longer than 15 consecutive minutes; and a performer or vendor having selected a designated space or on street ends between 10th and 27th streets will have use of that area from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. during the week, and from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekends.

Prior to the council casting a vote, a few Boardwalk performers took the opportunity to voice their opinion.

Painter/Caricature artist Michael Moeller stated the limitation of equipment not to exceed four feet is unrealistic.

“Personally one thing I find completely unworkable and appalling is the limitation on height. In a sitting position to have my drawing board and easel in a position that does not wreck my body, my back and arm in pain … four feet is restrictively too low. In a standing position many artists practice plein air painting, and standing up there is no way a four-foot canvas or paper will be functional. Performers that act on top of a latter, such as the juggler, will be out of luck. Even an upright string base would be out of luck or a violinist with a music stand at an appropriate height wouldn’t be able to stand and play, so I think that is a tremendous infringement on the performers,” he said.

Moeller furthered another issue is limiting the buskers to performing until midnight during the week and 1 a.m. on the weekends.

“Sometimes I use music as part of my performance but I am also capable of performing soundlessly and completely unobtrusively. I am not bothering anyone, so there shouldn’t be any restriction on me as far as how late I can be out on the Boardwalk. Just like there is no restriction to any other pedestrian or patron of a bar or restaurant…I feel that it is infringing on my right to perform,” he said.

Moeller stated performers who have a another job are being discriminated against if they are unable to come to Town Hall by 9 a.m. on sign up days for a designated space because they are working. Additionally, if a performer is unable to use his or her designated space the entire day, there is no reason why another performer shouldn’t be able to use the space.

“I have always been told you have to fix the problem with the smallest hammer first, and if that doesn’t work go with a bigger hammer. The changes that are being made are tremendous sweeping changes … why not start with small changes this year and see if they solve the problem before you bring out the sledge hammer,” he said.

Magician/Comedian Joe Smith agreed with Moeller in restricting a designated space to one performer.

“If you have to register for a spot, on the surface that sounds ok but, but for example I was down for a few days because I was sick, so if I had registered for a spot and because of illness couldn’t use it, why shouldn’t somebody else be able to use it,” he asked. “I think there should at least be some modifications.”

Musician Alex Young also echoed Moeller’s concern over a time restriction.

“I understand people are trying to sleep. However, most of us out there play acoustically and I am pretty sure there is already a noise ordinance,” he said. “The bars are open until 2 a.m. and there are still people on the Boardwalk. Some people like me like playing into the night on the Boardwalk. It is therapeutic and fun. Please don’t let a few bad apples ruin it for the rest of us that try to enrich the Ocean City experience for everyone and share our art.”

Taking the comments into consideration, the council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance on first reading. The second and final reading will take place on June 15, and if approved the ordinance will go into effect July 27.

 

Two More Ocean City Hotel Projects Gain Approval

Image courtesy of Atlantic, Planning, Development & Design, Inc. This is a prototype drawing of a Home 2 Suites by Hilton with the Ocean City version having a coastal style exterior

OCEAN CITY – Site plans for two more brand-name hotels within two miles of each other in Ocean City were approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission last week.

The first will be the final phase of the redevelopment at the 45th Street On The Bay, formerly known as 45th Street Village. A five-story, 120-room hotel to include a small retail area and outdoor dining will be built where the last row of the former village stands on the southernmost side of the property.

The hotel will be set back from Coastal Hwy. by at least 60 feet, which will serve as additional parking. There will also be parking provided under the building.

The commission discussed the number of discounted parking spaces, as the 45th Street development has grown into a mixed-use project with the existing retail and restaurant and now plans for the hotel.  With the addition of the hotel parking, the site plan meets parking requirements with a total of 321 spaces.

The hotel’s site plan includes the existing banquet space above Shallow Waters Restaurant, which is located to the west of the proposed hotel. Ocean City’s code allows for a 50-percent reduction in the required number of parking spaces for the banquet space as well as the restaurant space inside of the hotel.

“The code says mixed-use parking will not all be used at the same time, so they give a reduction to encourage more commercial development,” Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith said. “The assumption is they will have adequate parking based on the mixed-use of the property. Not everybody comes at the same time for the same use.”

Once the parking was clarified, the commission voted 4-0 to approve the site plan with members Peck Miller and Palmer Gillis recused and Joel Brous absent.

Keith Iott of Iott Architecture and Engineering was not available this week to comment on the potential hotel brand and when construction will take place. An approved site plan grants the developer 18 months to begin construction.

The next site plan up for approval was a Home 2 Suites by Hilton to be located to the west of the 67th Street Town Center. The five-story, 100-room hotel will be located off between the town center complex and Sunset Island in an area currently used as parking.

The hotel will be built on the northernmost side of the property with parking being located off of 67th Street and partially under the building. The site plan included the required number of 100 parking spaces.

“The hotel will cater to the midtown. It is becoming popular, the number one growing brand in the Hilton family,” Jeff Thaler of Atlantic Planning, Development & Design, Inc. said of Home 2 Suites by Hilton. “Hilton is excited about expanding into Ocean City. There are 120 now in the United States that have just opened in the past couple years. It is the most popular franchise that franchisees are looking to open right now.”

According to Thaler, Home 2 Suites by Hilton is a prototype hotel that is required to be built to specifications. The design is for a social hotel with a pool and outdoor deck as well as a fresco patio off the lobby.

Construction is slated to start in September or October with a completion date in 2017.

Without discussion, the commission voted 5-0 to approve the site plan with Miller recused and Brous absent.

 

Petition Seeks ‘Tax Rollback’ To 2009 Rate In Ocean City; City Solicitor Feels ‘Substance Of The Petition’ Violates State Law

cash

OCEAN CITY – A petition to referendum seeking a tax decrease is entering the signature verification process, but it is the Town of Ocean City’s legal opinion the substance of the petition will violate state law.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ) submitted a petition to lower Ocean City’s tax rate to the 2009 rate of 38 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ) spokesman Tony Christ recognized the Mayor and City Council were scheduled to cast their final vote on the Fiscal Year 2016 Operating Budget that evening that would raise the tax rate 2 percent to 47.8 cents.

“We wish to return the tax to 38 cents, which is a 21-percent reduction of over 9 cents per $100 of assessed value. A tax reduction petition is both unprecedented and needed to stop the trend of residents leaving and declining values in the Town of Ocean City,” Christ said.

OCTSJ members Christ, John Medlin, Mac Balkcom and Herb Pawlukewicz have spent the past 10 months collecting signatures and turned in more than 1,800 on Tuesday.

“Standing up here are not spring chickens and often I am asked why we took the time to carry a petition. The answer is quite simple. From Washington to Annapolis to Snow Hill to the Town of Ocean City, we believe the political class is robbing the younger generation of their birthrights and imposing involuntary servitude upon them. We believe the political class has acted irresponsible with public funds and in doing so has placed the kids’ future in jeopardy and in violation of their inalienable rights guaranteed in this constitution.

When a child exceeds his allowance, overspends, what do you do? Pay him more or cut him or her back?” Christ said. “It is healthy for the voter to take out the cattle prod every now and again to remind the political class who the boss is. Oftentimes politicians promise to be good custodians of the public purse strings to get elected then once in office they don’t live up to their promises and their boss, the citizens, must remind them.”

According to Charter Amendment Procedures for Maryland Municipalities, “the residents of an incorporated city or town may initiate an amendment to a municipal charter by gathering the signatures of at least 20 percent of qualified municipal voters on a petition in the same fashion that a charter amendment approved by a municipal governing body may be petitioned to referendum.”

Once the appropriate number of signatures is verified, the Town of Ocean City will be required to conduct the referendum within 90 days or at the next scheduled election, which is in November of 2016.

The Worcester County Board of Elections reported to the OCTSJ there are 5,274 active voters and 865 inactive voters for a total of 6,139 active and inactive voters in Ocean City. Twenty percent comes to 1,228 signatures of verified voters for the petition to qualify for a referendum. It is important to note the voter role has been reduced by over 1,000 in the past year.

On Monday, City Clerk Kelly Allmond verified she had received 1,827 signatures. However, this does not confirm or deny the validity of the signatures being registered Ocean City voters.

Christ first brought the petition effort to the Mayor and City Council’s attention in October. At that time, Finance Director Martha Bennett had the most recent CAFR in hand pointing out in 2009 the town collected close to $47.9 million in property taxes compared to 2013 when the town collected almost $42 million, which is almost a $5 million decrease in what the town billed the taxpayers of Ocean City.

Bennett also reviewed in 2010 the town collected about $43.8 million in property taxes, in 2011 about $42.7 million and in 2012 almost $42.6 million.

“In 2013, you did not raise taxes, in fact they were lowered. We took extra room taxes during those years because we never saw declining room taxes during the recession. That increased from $11 million [2009] to $13 million [2013], and we were able to balance our budget with other sources and fees but property taxes that we billed the property owners in Ocean City is less in 2014 and 2015 then it was in 2009,” Bennett said.

Former Councilman Joe Mitrecic, who now serves as County Commissioner, also presented the ongoing argument that if the tax rate is cut, city services will also have to be cut.

“When you decide that you want it to be 38 cents you also have to decide what you want taken away,” he said at that time. “Do you want the streets cleaned in front of your house? Do you want the city to stop picking up your trash? Do you want clean water coming out of the tap? That is what it comes down too. We provide services with your tax dollars, and whatever services you don’t feel that you need any more than this council can bring that tax rate down.”

In Christ’s opinion, a cut in city services is not an excuse.

“There is no way this can’t be handled. They can take $1 million out of EMT service to West Ocean City and $2 million out of the police budget. Put them on furlough six weeks in the winter, they would love it … take $1 million off of the winter bus route and save the wear and tear on the buses … the other $4 million can come out of advertising …,” he said on Monday.

The Mayor and City Council voted to approve the FY16 Budget in its final reading on Monday evening. At the conclusion of the meeting, City Solicitor Guy Ayres recommended the council vote to request the Worcester County Board of Elections verify the number of petition signatures.

“I suspect that there may be some litigation over this petition, and the court is not going to reach a determination if the petition has not been verified with the requisite number of signatures,” Ayres said. “The issue is with the substance of the petition. In my opinion, the substance of the petition violates Section 6-303 of the Tax Property Article of the Maryland Code Annotated. The substance of the petition would amend the charter, so your ability to tax would be capped at the 2009 level of taxes, and that is known as a ‘tax rollback.’ In the case of Board of Election Supervisors vs. Smallwood … the court had ruled tax rollbacks are not proper charter material and violate Section 6-303.”

The Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to request the Board of Elections verify the number of signatures on the petition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Council Approves Budget At Constant Yield Rate

OCEAN CITY – Despite final pleas from some, the Mayor and City Council passed the upcoming fiscal year budget based on a tax rate of 47.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

On Monday evening, the council was presented the Fiscal Year 2016 Operating Budget for approval in its second and final reading.

The budget is based on a tax rate set at constant yield of 47.8 cents for $100 of assessed property value. The town’s current property tax rate is set at 47.04 cents. The property tax rate proposed will generate $40,239,417.

As of the end of FY15, which is June 30, approximately $2 million will be available for appropriation, which leaves over $11 million in reserve, meeting the town’s fiscal policy of 15 percent of previous year General Fund expenditures.

Out of that $2 million, the council has been in consensus to appropriate $1.6 million to fund additional capital improvement projects, including canal dredging, street paving, exterior repairs to the Public Safety Building, the town’s local match for the Public Works facility campus plan, a feasibility study for another Roland E. Powell Convention Center expansion project, city security upgrades, the painting of two Solid Waste vehicles, the first phase of Winterfest structure replacements and a social media recruitment campaign for the police department.

The budget was passed on first reading with Councilman Matthew James being the only voice of opposition.

“I didn’t vote for the budget in first reading and I am sticking with my vote,” James said this week. “I understand that my concerns should have been addressed during the budget meetings and the hearing. I really thought we did a good job during the budget meetings, and I learned a lot but it wasn’t until afterwards that I felt we could have cut some spending, and it would have showed the voters that we are listening.”

Councilman Tony DeLuca recognized many Ocean City taxpayers question constant yield in how the tax rate may slightly be raised but only to bring in the same revenue as last year due to a decrease in assessments.

“We know that when assessments go down, the rate goes up and the dollars remain the same. This year our assessments in Ocean City overall went down 1.6 percent and if you look at our .478 versus .4704 that tends to be a 1.6-percent increase,” DeLuca said. “The process went very well. We had 28 departments present, and during those presentations the Mayor and City Council had the opportunity to ask anything. We could have cut, increased and questioned for two weeks … we didn’t increase dollars at all. When you look at total tax dollars, there is no increase at all.”

Budget Manager Jennie Knapp explained the difference in the FY15 and FY16 property tax line item is an increase of $151,000 due to estimated increases in certain line items, not from the tax rate.

“That difference is because in FY16 the State’s Assessment Office is estimating that there will be new construction that is going to give us an additional $96,000 in revenue. Part of that estimate is not just property tax on home owners. There is personal property tax. I increased the estimate of what we will receive from personal property tax by $4,000. The estimation for corporation tax by $3,000 and there is also interest in penalties that I increased by $5,000,” Knapp said. “In FY15, there was also an estimate for new construction and we received $16,680 in revenue. The tax generated in FY16 on the new construction is approximately $26,600. So when you come right down to it the money that we are going to get from homeowners and taxpayers in the Town of Ocean City is the same as last year.”

Former Councilman Vince Gisriel came before the council again requesting the tax rate be held at last year’s rate.

“Councilman James, I want to applaud you for your vote two weeks ago and your indication tonight that you’re going to vote as you did the last time,” Gisriel said. “It is refreshing to have a politician that reflects what the people want. You are reflecting what the will of the people is, and you have a long, successful career ahead of you if you stick to your guns and listen to the people.”

Contrary to what some may think, the council studies expenditures closely during the budget process, according to Mayor Rick Meehan.

“To hold it to constant yield is a great accomplishment,” the mayor said. “Our goal is to come in with the best budget that we could and to provide the goods and services that we think the residents are looking for. When you start to take them away, they start to notice them. It is important that the public speaks and I know part of your goal is to make sure that we are cognizant of what the issues are and what the feelings of the public are. Trust me we are cognizant.”

The council voted 6-1 with James opposed to approve the FY16 Operating Budget and its final reading.

 

Downtown Resort Events Questioned; North OC Concerns Raised

OCEAN CITY – Councilman Matthew James voiced ongoing concerns of the majority of the city’s free events taking place downtown again this summer.

On Monday evening, the annual series of events, OC Beachlights, schedule came before the Mayor and City Council for approval.

In December, the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) reviewed a proposal from TEAM Productions that had requested a three-year commitment to fund OC Beachlights, which consists of laser light shows with fireworks on Sundays downtown in the summer; fireworks on the beach downtown on Mondays and Tuesdays; and fireworks at Sundaes in the Park at Northside Park during the summer.

TAB unanimously approved a recommendation to fund $300,000 for TEAM-produced events in 2015 and 2016 and postponed a third year decision. Subsequently, the council approved TAB’s recommendation to approve the two-year contract.

On Monday, Councilman Matthew James, who works with the Carousel Group Hotels, echoed an ongoing concern among uptown businesses over most free events centered around the downtown.

“I have talked to many business owners in North Ocean City and quite a few residents and nobody feels that the funds are being distributed equally,” James said. “From what I understand this has been an issue discussed with TAB for years, and every year they say they will bring attention to it. I don’t think this is being addressed.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight, chair of the Tourism Commission, said a comprehensive review of the city’s free events will be scheduled for the commission in August and September. By that time, survey results will be available to provide input from visitors on the free events.

“We haven’t really looked at our free events comprehensively … hopefully it will help address concerns in the future,” Knight said.

Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out there is a larger population downtown in the summer but there is a shift in population in the off-season when most events move uptown.

“It is a good idea to evaluate all of the events and their numbers but it isn’t an uptown vs. downtown issue, its where the majority of people are. These events are to bring people to Ocean City as a whole, not to take them to one particular part of town,” he said.

The council voted 6-1 with James in opposition to approve the event schedule.

OC, Worcester Partner On Formal Inlet Dredging Request; New Minimum Depth Sought For Inlet, Channel

OC, Worcester

OCEAN CITY – Worcester County and the Town of Ocean City simultaneously approved this week sending a letter of intent asking for assistance to improve channel depth in order to keep commercial fishing and recreational activity thriving in the Ocean City area.

On April 21, a meeting, arranged by Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (District 38C), was held at the request of local commercial watermen to discuss the increased shoaling of the Ocean City Inlet and Harbor and other areas in the local bay waters.

Over 40 representatives from federal, state and local agencies as well as commercial and recreational fishermen and members of the business and environmental community, attended the meeting. All agreed that the shoaling problem is increasing and is negatively affecting local commerce and recreation.

Carozza has been working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Worcester County and the Town of Ocean City to draft a Letter of Intent to be presented to the Army Corps of Engineers requesting the Corps’ assistance with dredging action of the inlet and harbor to a deeper standard of 14-16 feet.

The current depth of 10 feet is no longer adequate since the area fills within a short amount of time. The effort has been supported by other federal and state officials, including the Coast Guard, United States Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, United States Congressman Andy Harris and State Senator Jim Mathias.

Before the Ocean City Mayor and Council on Monday evening was a request to have Mayor Rick Meehan sign a letter of intent asking for assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers to improve the federal channel at the Inlet and West Ocean City harbor.

According to City Engineer Terry McGean, over the years and continuing to the present, sand has been coming through the Ocean City Inlet and depositing itself in the Inlet, harbor and surrounding bay waters. The degree of shoaling has increased dramatically in recent years to the degree that it is severely impacting economic and safety issues for both commercial and recreational boaters.

In 1998, the Ocean City, Maryland and Vicinity Water Resources Study was completed by the Army Corps of Engineers. It correctly predicted many of the sediment problems taking place now but it appears that they are developing more rapidly than expected. The Study recommended that the Inlet and harbor depth be increased to 14 and 16 feet, respectively.

“That was dropped due to a lack of federal funding in 2005. Since [Superstorm] Sandy it has been getting much worse despite the twice a year effort that the Corps does, even that is not keeping up with the  shoal and it is basically where the harbor and Sunset Marina channels empty out into the Inlet. Just a little bit east of there is where this tends to happen,” McGean said.

The resulting negative economic impact to the city, county and state is millions of dollars of lost revenue, McGean stated. Many commercial vessels have left the area and others are threatening to leave because of constant problems returning to their dock to unload their catches and vessel damage in the attempt.

In 2011, Joe Letts managed a fleet of five commercial clam boats in Ocean City. He had 42 employees. It took 2.7 million gallons of locally purchased fuel to run his boats. Groceries alone cost him $60,000 that year.

Lett was forced to move north to New Jersey because the ever-decreasing depth of the Ocean City Inlet made it harder and harder for him to get his 100-foot boats in without damage.

According to Letts, with a depth of 12 feet and sand constantly coming in, even the smallest boats are now having trouble navigating the channel. At 100 feet, the boats Letts managed were constantly scraping bottom. Trips to the shipyard for repairs, typically done every three years, became annual events, costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars and weeks out of the water.

McGean concluded on Monday the letter of intent serves as a request to use the findings of the 1998 study and any update as necessary to verify that the conditions remain the same or are most likely worse since 1998 and to request that the Corps of Engineers move forward with the recommended project.

By signing the letter, it does not commit any funding at this time. However, if the project is ultimately authorized by the Corps of Engineers, the city could assume responsibility for some portion of the 10 percent local share of project costs. When the project was originally approved in 1998, the city had agreed to fund $35,000 toward the project.

McGean recommended after the Corps completes the project update and cost estimates, and the Mayor and City Council wish to remain a partner in the project that it be under the same cost sharing arrangement with the state and county that Ocean City uses for Beach Replenishment, which is 50 percent state, and 25 percent each city and county.

Councilman Dennis Dare was concerned over city funding going toward dredging in an area that is the county’s responsibility.

“When this was originally discussed back in the late 90s, the same point was brought up at that time. The council felt because the county had been such a good partner with us in beach replenishment that they would partner with us on this. That can be a decision to be made when the numbers come in on design and how much everything will cost. It may be we can do a lot of this with just in-kind services,” McGean said.

Councilman Wayne Hartman pointed out an increase in dredging depth would benefit vessels heading north into Ocean City limits.

“If we get anymore visiting tall ships, they would be impeded by this,” he said.

The council voted unanimously to have Mayor Rick Meehan sign the letter of intent asking for assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers to improve the federal channel at the Inlet and West Ocean City harbor.

On Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners also agreed to sign and send the letter of intent. Bob Mitchell, the county’s head of environmental programs, said signing the letter would enable improvements to begin and would get the channel to a depth more manageable for boaters.

Commissioner Bud Church, long an advocate of dredging local waterways, said he was pleased to see some progress.

“I’m thrilled with the way things are going,” he said. “Finally things are beginning to happen. People are paying attention.”

Carozza is grateful to Maryland’s DNR, the Worcester County Commissioners and the Ocean City Council for recognizing the urgent need to address this issue and agreeing to join together as non-federal sponsors to request the Army Corps explore the required actions and present a plan to them for possible approval.

The letter to the Corps states in part, “We respectfully request that you review and confirm the dramatic increase of shoaling in the Ocean City harbor and inlet area as soon as possible in order that immediate dredging relief can be provided to keep these commercial waterways open and safe, and to prevent further loss to the local commercial and recreational boating industry.”

Carozza added, “When the storm of 1933 created the Inlet, it forever changed the profile and economy of Ocean City, making it a premier boating and recreational destination. It is up to us and future generations to take whatever action is needed to preserve that legacy.”