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Councilman-Elect James: ‘I Believe My Age Will Be Positive For Council’

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OCEAN CITY – Matthew James rocked the local government scene this week as not only the youngest person to be elected to the City Council but the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s municipal election.

James, 21, received the most votes in the 2014 municipal election becoming the youngest person to ever serve on the Ocean City Mayor and City Council. James received 1,666 votes followed by Wayne Hartman, who received 1,345 votes, incumbent Council President Lloyd Martin, who received 1,342 votes, and Tony DeLuca, who received 1,287 votes. There were a total of 2,348 voters in this year’s election.

All the votes were in by 8 p.m. on Tuesday night and an hour later the public filed into the hall where the voting took place that day at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. All candidates took stance with pen and paper in hand prepared to begin tallying the votes.

The number of votes each voting booth received per candidate was read aloud, and by the third machine attention started to gather toward James, who was surrounded by family and friends. In the end, James was announced as the winning candidate receiving the most votes as his supporters gathered around him.

“I am extremely excited, and just couldn’t be happier right now. I received a lot of support from my family and friends, and obviously the voters of Ocean City, so I am very appreciative of that,” James said on Wednesday morning.

The James clan had a long day on Tuesday greeting and speaking with voters, as many candidates do on Election Day.

“I was getting a lot of positive feedback from the voters, so I felt pretty good about the way things were going,” James said. “I never would have expected to be the top vote getter. I had a few people tell me right before we went in that they had heard a lot of positive feedback throughout the day, and they thought it was possible but this being my first time running for anything I was surprised to get the most votes. I thought he [Martin] was going to get the most votes. He has been very supportive, and I can’t thank him enough for all he has done for me.”

James was the most nervous the morning of Election Day but as he spoke with voters throughout the day his nerves began to calm. He said he walked into the announcement of the election results with confidence.

James attributes receiving the most votes to his extensive campaign that included thousands of dollars in advertising and old fashioned campaigning.

“I knocked on a lot of doors and met a lot of people. I had a lot of people ask about my age but I usually left the door feeling confident in the conversation that I had with the voter. Getting out and meeting people was the biggest thing, and leaving them with an experience for when they walked into the voter booth and saw my name they remembered I had to say,” James said.

James, who is son of Carousel Group Hotel Managing Partner Michael James and his wife, Marilyn, was raised in Ocean City’s tourism industry, as well as assisted in his father’s political campaigns for Maryland State Delegate in 2006 and Maryland State Senate in 2010.

“We are a pretty politically active family, and I think that could have helped. I did have people question why I was doing this or what made me run for City Council, and I think my political involvement on my dad’s two campaigns is what led to my interest in politics at such a young age,” he said.

James also attributed his votes to being able to relate to the younger Ocean City generation. However, he pointed out the majority of voters in Ocean City is an older population.

“I believe my age will be positive for council. Having a young person on council will be beneficial just to have a different outlook on things, and to have a different perspective on many of the things that come before the council,” he said. “I am open to hearing what everybody has to say. Even if I don’t agree with them … I will always listen to a person’s views and new ideas.”

As far as living a life of a 21-year-old while serving on council as well as being a college student, James believes he will be able to balance both.

“I don’t think I am cutting myself short at all. If anything I think I am helping myself. This will be great for me, and positively affect everybody,” he said.

After being sworn in during Thursday evening’s Mayor and City Council organizational meeting, James is looking forward to beginning the learning experience.

“At first I think I am going to listen to the council members, residents, and business owners, and hear what everybody has to say. It is going to be a learning experience. Obviously I have never done this before,” he said. “Coming into this as a new face in local government, at first I need to sit down and listen.”

During the organizational meeting, who will serve as council president and council secretary will be voted on, both of which James says he has no interest in at this time. However, it is possibility one day.

“I definitely see myself staying around the area. I love Ocean City and I plan on being here for a long time. I am not sure I am going to serve on council for the rest of my life but I plan to be involved in the community and an active participant in local politics,” he said.

 

 

Election Results

Matt James: 1,666

Wayne Hartman: 1,345

Lloyd Martin: 1,342

Tony DeLuca: 1,287

Chris Rudolf: 1,075

Joseph Hall: 775

Joe Cryer: 464

 

 

 

 

More Enforcing Of Rental Regs Sought In OC; Planning Commission, Council To Discuss Rentals

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OCEAN CITY – Although a formal recommendation to the Mayor and City Council was not a result of this week’s Planning and Zoning Commission’s deliberation over rental issues in Ocean City, a list of goals was formed as the commission looks forward to an open discussion with the legislative body.

The Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing last month to consider amending Ocean City’s Code in regards to Single Family Residential District (R-1) and Mobile Home Residential District (MH) for the purpose of regulating short-term and long-term rentals to protect the character and compatibility of the districts as single-family neighborhoods.

The public hearing came on the heels of growing complaints over rental properties. According to the city, there are 3,845 parcels included in the R-1 and MH districts with 276 of those obtaining rental licenses. Between 2013 and now, there have been 67 complaints logged in those areas over 19 months. Only 13 properties received complaints, which is 4 percent of the total number of 276. The complaints received are primarily from residents of the Mallard Island community.

The hearing left standing room only in council chambers with the majority of speakers asking the commission to focus on enhancing the enforcement of existing rental regulations, as well as complaints over overflowing trash, noise, parking congestion and the number of occupants of rentals being well over then the code allows.

On Wednesday evening, the commission reconvened to deliberate the findings of the hearing with each member taking their turn to state an opinion.

“The last thing I want to do is create more laws, rules and regulations or ordinances, so whatever path this takes us down I think our path ought to be to utilize the tools that we already have and not create more,” Commission member Palmer Gillis said. “It seems to me with the testimony that we heard and staff comments there are existing laws, federal and municipal, that will prevail and create a framework from which we can provide further guidance to the community.”

Gillis questioned additional funding for enhanced funding and pointed out the City of Salisbury provides enterprise funds for such expenses.

“I don’t know the money aspect as much but I think we need to put laws around the rental licensing money that is generated, which I believe is $1,060,000 a year to better enforce and improve the methodology that we have to enforce, implement and monitor existing laws,” he said.

Commission member Joel Brous was in agreement existing regulations need to be better enforced, adding smaller subsets of the R-1 district could be focused on when it comes to rentals.

“Not across the board because too much is set in stone but focus on the integrity of some of the smaller areas of R-1,” he said.

Commission member Peck Miller furthered, the town could better educate property owners and renters of existing rental laws.

“Tying into the landlords is very important in enforcing the existing laws that we have. I am not up for more rules and regulations, but I do want to make sure the sanctity of the single-family homes is taken care of, especially the people who live here,” he said.

Miller added the commission should consider placing a seven-day minimum on rentals in the R-1 district to help address problems.

Commission member John Staley recognized property owners’ frustrations with the police when a complaint is received, as many explained the police would drive by but wouldn’t stop and the problems, especially noise, would continue into the early hours of the morning.

“Also regarding licensing, for the number of people that rent versus the number of people that pay for a license is a big difference. There is a lot of money involved in that, and I think we should do a better job in licensing this,” he said.

Commission member Lauren Taylor felt that the rental license database should be better accessed by police followed by a notification to property owners.

“What seems to be missing is the attachment of how many people are allowed. The rental agreement has to state the law of occupancy,” she said. “In this age of databases, it seems to me the police should be able to pull it up to find out how many people are supposed to be there.”

Commission member Chris Shanahan also recognized a major complaint was high numbers of people occupying a rental.

“We have to solve that on the front end because that is resulting in the other problems of trash and noise. It is just too many people in a small area, so we have to determine how to regulate that better,” he said. “I am also of the opinion that we don’t need more fees or costs associated with having a rental property. I think the hammer should be on the back end with violations. These people have to understand the rules are in place and if they are violating the rules on a consistent basis there has to be a serious hammer that comes down on them financially.”

Shanahan also felt the rental database should be better kept up to date, especially with police filing reports of complaints to keep accurate figures with it comes to problem tenants.

“Enforcement is the key. I don’t think the police can do it all themselves. I think we need more zoning officials to help,” he said.

Commission Chair Pam Buckley echoed many of the same opinions as her colleagues.

“There are some issues, but I don’t think we need to start from scratch and recreate the zoning ordinance,” she said. “A rental license is a privilege and with that comes responsibility, and you are responsible for that property and its surrounding neighbors.”

Buckley furthered, the first piece of information required for a rental license should be a 24/7 contact who can be available if a problem should arise, and if the contact does not respond then fines should start stacking up.

“If we can have the rental agreement on site, that would be the best thing to do because people should have some sort of contract to be there. It should be in some type of legal form whether it’s the names of who is supposed to be there, the dates and a signature,” she said. “One of our biggest things is making sure everyone is getting a rental license and that is going to be part of the education process of the neighbors and the people that live in the community. If they don’t have a license and they are renting, there is a fine for that.”

The commission recognized the recently re-established Property Review and Enforcement Strategies for Safe-housing (PRESS) Committee is currently addressing rental issues as well.

PRESS Committee is a group of town officials authorized to address communitywide quality of life issues. The group consists of members from the police, building, zoning, fire marshal and finance departments, functions as a task force designed to meet regularly and discuss civil and criminal code violations within the community.

Miller concluded the main points of focus were having a 24/7 contact on file and existing rules and regulations be made more public, heightened education,  imposing stiffer fines, funded enforcement, consider a seven-day minimum for rentals in the R-1 district and PRESS to become more active.

Buckley was tasked to create a template of a recommendation to the Mayor and Council and asked for the commission to get on the council’s work session agenda as soon as possible to have an open discussion on how to move forward.

 

Woman Cracks Own Case After Spotting Stranger Riding Her Stolen Bike In Downtown OC

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OCEAN CITY – One Ocean City local’s good fortune of recovering her stolen bikes serves as reminder to seasonal and year-round residents to take precaution to keep their own bicycles safe this summer.

For many Ocean City residents, their bicycles are a sentimental object, whether it is a means of transportation or the enjoyment of peddling around the resort during the summer months. Unfortunately, many bicycles fall victim to theft and never seen again.

This was not the case for Heather Lowe, 26, who decided to take the case of her stolen bicycles into her own hands.

“At first I was really upset that my bike was stolen. I felt that I couldn’t trust the town anymore because I felt that we lived in a safer community,” Lowe said. “Taking it into my own hands I feel successful that I was able to get my bikes back and it wasn’t a total lost. With the police telling me it happens all the time, it is sad. I was ecstatic to recover my bikes because it more of a sentimental recovery then financial.”

Lowe noticed two of her bicycles had been stolen on the morning of Sunday, May 18. When she arrived home from work the night, her bikes were still in place under her condominium building in the area of 128th Street but the next morning the cable to the bike lock had been cut.

According to Lowe, when she filed a report with the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) that day, the seasonal officer who reported to the scene explained bicycle thefts are common in Ocean City this time of the year, and it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if the bicycles were never recovered.

“He didn’t reassure me my bikes would be returned, and had said this type of thing happens frequently,” she said. “I had texted him pictures of the bicycles I owned that he included in the report, and said he would do a roll call entry, so that every shift would see the pictures of the bicycles.”

On Wednesday, June 4, around 5 p.m. Lowe was entering Ocean City from Route 50. While stopped at the traffic light on Baltimore Ave. and 2nd Street, she observed a female riding one of her stolen bicycles. It was immediately identifiable as it is a pink cruiser decked out with local surf shop stickers.

“I called the police while I followed her onto the Boardwalk, and I told her she was riding my stolen bicycle. She was a foreign exchange student. I held her there until the police came, and while we were waiting she had told me she bought the bicycle from a gentleman that lives in her building,” Lowe said. “Whoever stole them had to have a pickup truck, and means to go around uptown, cutting cables and locks, stealing many bikes.”

Lowe was able to find out the female lived in the apartment building, Summer Semester, on 2nd Street and St. Louis Ave.

“They tried to sell my bike to her for $50 but bargained down to $30. From what she was saying, it sounded like he was selling numerous bikes. Her friends had walked up on the Boardwalk and acknowledged they were aware they had bought stolen bikes,” Lowe said.

Once the officer arrived and had confirmed it was Lowe’s stolen bicycle, she retrieved her bicycle and returned home.

“Once I found out that this guy living in her building was selling stolen bicycles I was curious,” she said.

Around 6:30 a.m. on Friday, June 6, Lowe was on the way to drop her boyfriend, Craig Hetrick, off at work when they drove past Summer Semester and spotted her other stolen bicycle parked under the building. At that moment, Lowe saw two seasonal officers and waved them over to explain the situation. The action attracted the attention of Summer Semester building manager George Harkins.

“He said he didn’t tolerate stolen property under his building, and a week previous a husband and wife had come and recovered one of their stolen bikes,” Lowe said. “Just from my observation from under the building it looked like there were several other stolen bikes from uptown because there were beach cruisers with Fenwick Island Surf Shop stickers on them.”

By watching surveillance footage, Harkins was able to identify a male tenant, a J-1 student, selling the stolen bicycles to other J-1 students. Harkins also confirmed there was more than one case where stolen bicycles were recovered from Summer Semester that was sold by the same student. Once identifying the suspect, Harkins turned him over to the OCPD, as well as his sponsor with the United Work and Travel program, and he was evicted from the building.

“He told the police he was selling used bikes for someone from West Ocean City for a commission,” Harkins said.

OCPD Public Affairs Specialist Lindsay O’Neal confirmed this week OCPD is currently investigating the case. According to O’Neal, there have been a number of bicycle thefts reported so far this summer.

In the meantime, O’Neal advised anyone who has a bicycle stolen to contact the police department at 410-723-6600. An officer will respond to file a description of the bicycle, so that if any officer comes across a bike that is believed to be stolen or abandoned, the department can determine who the bike belongs to and return it to the owner.

O’Neal furthered the first thing a citizen who owns a bicycle should do is to register it with OCPD by filling out a form and sending it to OCPD or stopping by the Public Safety Building. A bicycle registration form can be downloaded from http://oceancitymd.gov/Police/registration.html.

No Decision On Operator’s Request To Rent Trikkes On Boards

Photo by www.electric-scooters-galore.com

OCEAN CITY – Before sending a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and City Council on the rental of electric Trikkes on the Boardwalk and at Northside Park, the legal jargon of the proposal will be examined by the city solicitor for further discussion.

In January, Bryant Hungerford was scheduled to come before the Police Commission to review his request to rent the electric version of a Trikke on the Boardwalk. Hungerford was unable to attend the meeting at that time but the commission’s initial discussion resulted in denying the request due to high speed and the potential of adding further chaos to the Boardwalk.

A Trikke is a brand of a three-wheel, or three-point, standing, carving vehicle that resembles a scooter, and can be body powered by a swerving action or electronically powered.

At that time, Ocean Police Department (OCPD) Lt. Scott Harner explained the vehicle is defined by the Maryland Transportation Article as a “Motorized minibike”, which means a motor vehicle that has two or three wheels, and is not subject to registration under Title 13 of the article. A motorized minibike does not include a motor scooter, a moped or a farm tractor.

Ocean City’s Code states, “the operation of bicycles, pushcarts and Electronic personal assistive mobility device (EPAMD) on the boardwalk is only permitted from Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. of the same day, from Tuesday after Labor Day through Friday before Memorial Day at any time, except for the times of Springfest and Sunfest.”

An EPAMD, also known as a Segway, is defined as a device that has two non-tandem wheels, is self-balancing, is powered by an electric propulsion system, has a maximum speed capability of 15 mph and is designed to transport one person.

The code furthers, “it shall be unlawful for any nongovernmental motor vehicle, motor-assisted vehicle, bicycle, pushcart, or EPAMDs to be operated on the boardwalk at any time without permission of the Mayor and City Council or its designated agent except during the time set forth in the code.”

Harner expanded that part of the code, saying, “The motorized version of the Trikke is prohibited … on the Boardwalk at any time, so I don’t think it is possible for Mr. Hungerford to proceed renting them on the Boardwalk as it is currently prohibited.”

On Monday, Hungerford came before the commission presenting the low-powered electrically driven Trikke with a 250-watt motor. The Trikke can travel up to 16 mph but Hungerford proposed installing a speed limiter that would reduce the maximum speed for rentals to 9 mph.

“My request is to rent and operate electric Trikkes on the Boardwalk during regular bicycle usage hours and on the bike path at Northside Park. Both locations currently allow electrically driven Segways,” Hungerford said. “The Trikke is substantially more visible than a banana bike and it takes up less room then a surrey. The Trikke is safe, stable and slow.”

According to Hungerford, both the Consumer Product Safety Act and Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act set forth low-powered electric bikes and three-wheeled electric Trikkes are defined as bicycles and are to be regulated as bicycles. The act states the federal code pertaining to a two- or three-wheeled, low-powered electric Trikkes shall supersede any state law that is more stringent than federal law.

“If it supersedes state law, it should supersede local law,” he said. “I have received a written opinion from the Assistant Attorney General in the State of Maryland that the state would use the federal definition of a electric bicycle and it is not subject to registration to the Motor Vehicle Administration.”

Hungerford concluded there are no limits to the number of bicycles, surreys and banana bikes on the Boardwalk or at Northside Park.

“I’m sure there are at least 1,000 bicycles, surreys and banana bikes available for rent right now on the Boardwalk. It would be unfair to exclude the Trikke vehicle because it would be the only vehicle eliminated because of congestion or because of the quantity of vehicles. The Trikke is safer than the existing bicycles on the Boardwalk,” he said.

Commission Chair and Councilman Doug Cymek felt the commission was at a disadvantage given City Solicitor Guy Ayres was absent from the meeting.

“There is an ‘X’ amount of vehicles you can put in a given space on the Boardwalk, and we are getting to the point that we are saturated,” he said. “In my personal opinion, I feel it has become a public safety issue, and I would like to have the opportunity to find out how many pedestrian bicycles and rental incidents we have had on the Boardwalk before we make this decision.”

Mayor Rick Meehan felt that times have changed and allowing the rental of electric Trikkes on the Boardwalk would keep Ocean City up to date.

“To be able to ride it, to look around and being 2014 seeing what is happening in other areas, I think we always have to be open-minded,” he said.

Police Chief Ross Buzzuro pointed out a Trikke traveling at 9 mph would travel the entire length of the Boardwalk in 15 minutes.

“Nine mph doesn’t seem real fast but it is not slow,” he said. “Adding that piece of equipment moving at that speed could cause a problem.”

Harner added the scooter rentals in town are limited to a certain speed but the police department has encountered issues with scooter rental operators increasing the speed limit unbeknown to the OCPD.

“I appreciate your legal references … but I am having trouble within the information you provided with the interpretation that it is a bicycle. The challenge with the information that you provided I would think an attorney would find is … a bicycle is very clearly defined as having two or three wheels and it has fully operable pedals, and your Trikke does not have pedals,” he said.

Cymek concluded the commission will pass Hungerford’s proposal onto Ayres for comment and the discussion can be furthered at the June 9 commission meeting.

 

Ocean City Decides Against Hiring Firm To Endorse Flood Insurance Appeals; Major Changes Ahead For Coastal Property Owners

The beach is pictured after a significant fall story in 2009. File Photo

 

OCEAN CITY – The City Council decided this week against contracting with an engineering consultant firm to represent the city when, or if, property owners appeal to the federal government over proposed changes to flood insurance rates.

The decision means Ocean City will remain the middle man between property owners and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when it comes to individuals appealing proposed changes to the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

The Town of Ocean City received a letter in February from Flood Insurance and Mitigation Administration Chief of Engineering Managment Branch Luis Rodriguez explaining the 90-day appeal process for the proposed changes in the FIRM and Flood Insurance Study (FIS).

According to the letter, the proposed flood hazard determinations, if finalized, will become the basis for the floodplain management measures that Ocean City must adopt or show evidence of having in effect to remain qualified for participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). However, FEMA will provide community officials and citizens an opportunity to appeal the proposed flood hazard information presented on the preliminary FIRM and FIS report.

During the 90-day appeal period, any owner or leasee of property in Ocean City who believes their rights will be adversly affected by the proposed flood hazard determinations may appeal to the Town of Ocean City, or to an agency the town publicly designates. The appeal data must then be submitted to FEMA. Only appeals of the proposed flood hazard determinations supported by scientific or technical data can be considered before FEMA makes its final flood hazard determination.

The letter furthers, if FEMA does not receive an appeal or other formal comment from the Town of Ocean City in its own name, they will consolidate and review appeal data and comments from individuals the town will forward, and FEMA will make such modifications to the proposed flood hazard information presented on the FIRM and in the FIS report as may be appropriate.

If the Town of Ocean City decides to appeal in its own name, all individuals’ appeal data must be consolidated into one appeal by the town, because in this event FEMA is required to deal only with the local government as representative of all local interests.

Director of Planning & Community Development Matt Margotta explained to the Mayor and City Council during Monday evening’s regular session, FEMA has created an update to the FIRM affecting Ocean City, as well as completed a public review process for the proposed updated maps. The advertised 90-day appeal period is open until June 12.

The current process being followed is the Town of Ocean City receives appeal applications from Ocean City property owners and sends them to FEMA Region III for review. However, the town can choose to endorse pre-FIRM appeal applications from Ocean City property owners by hiring an engineering consultant firm to evaluate and endorse applications.

Margotta did not recommend the town endorse pre-FIRM appeal applications due to city staff not being certified to evaluate any applications.

According to Margotta, the town has not received any pre-FIRM appeal applications to date but acknowledged several property owners from north Ocean City, more specifically 143rd to 146th streets, areas proposed to be rezoned as A0, will most likely have a significant increase in flood insurance costs and therefore are likely planning on submitting an appeal.

“We do not believe there is anything wrong with the data that FEMA used to make its determination,” City Manager David Recor said of staff’s recommendation to pass on hiring an engineering consultant. “We believe that $100 million in beach nourishment and protection measures for the beach have been successful and the information that FEMA relied on to make its determination is in large part due to that investment. Their determinations have to be scientifically or technically incorrect and if a property owner believes that data is flawed it is their responsibility to fill out an application consistent with the criteria that is outlined in the statute. We will facilitate that process but not are recommending that we be responsible for challenging that data.”

Councilman Joe Mitrecic pointed out the number of applications to be received is unknown, and if the town chose to hire an engineering consultant, it will leave an open check, most likely to reach at least $15,000 per application.

“It will open the town up to a huge liability and the costs could get out of control, as well as think about spending more time with one property over another property. It will be hard for the staff to regulate how well the consultant is doing his or her job,” Acting City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said.

Council Secretary Mary Knight made a motion to accept the recommendation to not endorse pre-FIRM appeal applications, and the council voted 5-0, with Councilman Dennis Dare absent and Pillas abstained to approve.

There were no public comments taken prior to deliberation but during the citizen comment portion of the meeting a few north Ocean City property owners took the opportunity to speak to the matter.

“According to the letter that was written to Mayor Meehan, it has to be done by presenting scientific evidence, which would be an engineer to determine if FEMA is correct or incorrect, and we have a ballpark estimate of about $12,000 for that fee,” property owner Robert Chertkof said. “Basically what I heard earlier was this council saying they don’t want to spend any money on an engineer, which is concerning because we are taxpayers, and it seems to be you should be our sword and our shield to help us or defend us, whatever the case may be, instead of say we are on our own.”

Chertkof’s neighbor, Gwyn Tober, stated she is has been paying $312 a year for 23 years for flood insurance but the new map with raise her insurance to at least $7,000 a year.

“That is huge,” she said. “That is a lot of money and if I go to sell that property I have to disclose that to a buyer. That is affecting all of those people. It is not a simple issue.”

Mac Balcom of Ocean Place Condominiums on 146th Street, said his association has begun its own appeal process by hiring an engineering consultant. He reported not many, if any, Ocean City property owners know of the changes being proposed.

“I was here in November talking about this, and I was kind of shooed away I felt, and the discussion that you had tonight should have been held in November in my opinion,” he said. “When does the public find out about this? I think that is where the City Council could have played a better role in getting the word out and possibly present a unified face, even if it wasn’t hiring an engineer.”

Insurance Management Group, Inc., President Reese Cropper requested the council challenge FEMA on risk factors used to develop the proposed map and report.

“I don’t think the federal government does everything right … we all seem reluctant to go to the federal powers and challenge what they do, and that is what I have seen happening in this city,” he said. “This FEMA report does not take into consideration some risks that I think you should think about.”

According to Cropper, the report does not take into account storms such as the the winter storm of 1992 that happened overnight. The storm breached Assateague Island wiping out Snug Harbor, and Ocean City’s dunes were decimated. As well as, does not take into consideration Superstorm Sandy in 2012 because the study began prior to. The study did use the storms of Isabel, Ida and Ernesto that were not a direct hit on Ocean City.

“To me that says we need to pull back and re-evaluate this,” he said. “I think this map is flawed not taking Sandy in consideration of anything. FEMA should withdraw the map for now and look at what Superstorm Sandy’s effects would have been on this city.”

Cropper furthered the study focused on the dunes in Ocean City but doesn’t take into consideration the bay or the ocean rising.

“Most of Ocean City is being rezoned into a X zone, which means that there are going to be buildings out there that are not going to be required to buy flood insurance … it is the most ludicrous thing that we live on a barrier island and we are not going to be required to buy flood insurance. It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “I think it is the city’s duty to challenge FEMA … what are you going to do when there is a storm and you have most people uninsured? You’re going to have blight, you’re going to have people that walk away from their properties, you going to have a tax base that is going to go down, you are going to have real estate go down in value, and you’re going to have property taxes that go way down in revenue… This is the only city that I know of on the coast line that has been relaxed in flood zones. Something is not right.”

Recor responded Cropper doesn’t need to look any further than to the coastal towns to the south.

“There is an active FBI investigation on these changes in coastal communities and the amount of money that is going to the National Flood Insurance Program, so there are plenty of examples out there, such that it is suspicious,” Recor said.

 

Ocean City Not Likely To Reduce Skate Park Hours After Usage Impresses

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OCEAN CITY – Following a year of studying the usage of the Ocean Bowl Skate Park, the Recreation and Parks Commission plans to recommend to the full Mayor and Council its funding stay as is.

This week the Skate Park Committee reconvened to look over additional data collected at the Ocean Bowl Skate Park of usage and, expenses and revenue.

This time last year, the Mayor and City Council voted to have Ocean Bowl Skate Park operate through the summer during its normal hours, which is open seven days a week during daylight. However, cost-cutting changes were proposed to shut it down during the months of January and February during the week. The reduction in hours would have saved the town approximately $21,000.

Due to the public’s backlash, the council reconsidered the decision and voted to appropriate $21,000 in the FY14 budget to have the Ocean Bowl operate its normal hours during the off-season and continue with the formation of a skate park committee to conduct a study.

The committee first met a couple of months ago when 2013 data was reviewed. In summary, Recreation and Parks Assistant Director Susan Petito presented the skate park was open a total of 323 days during 2013.

According to the report, up to January there were 10,329 visits to the Ocean Bowl in 2013, showing daily attendance averaging nearly 31 skaters per day.

The skate operation brought in a total of $55,194 in revenue, which was derived from pass visits, pad rentals, product sales and numerous camps and programs. Additionally, the park received a donation of $1,000 from the Elks Lodge to help show support for its continued operation.

Total staff hours equaled 5,361 for a wage expense of $64,576. Petito noted that staff members are not only responsible for the supervision of the skate park, but they also teach lessons, support scheduled programs and competitions, and support and protect the entire two-block area that encompasses the Downtown Recreation Complex.

The report furthered, per Councilman Dennis Dare’s request, the staff members at the Ocean Bowl have begun to track the departure time of each participating skater so that an estimate of skater hours spent in the park may be determined on a daily basis.

From Thursday, Jan. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 9, the park was open 17 days, 16 for which skater time in the park was collected. During those 16 dates, 227 skaters were in the park for a total of 639.5 hours, showing that skaters stay in the park an average of a little over two and half hours per day during the cold weather months.

In 2012, the Ocean Bowl cost $95,000 while in 2013 it cost $75,000 to operate.

Since last year, Ocean Bowl Manager Dave Messick reported the park has saved about $20,000 by tightening all expenses.

This week the committee reviewed progress at the Ocean Bowl in the first three months of 2014. Between January, February and March of this year, the Ocean Bowl was open 57 days with an attendance of 1,249. The total time spent in the park was 3,522 hours with an individual averaging 2.82 hours. There were 884 employee hours spent in the park with payroll expenses reaching $11,100. There were 62 daily passes sold, 106 annual passes sold and two pad rentals reaching revenue of $8,186 in the three months of this year.

“The recommendation is that we leave the skate park alone. It cut expenses and people are using it,” Commission Chair Councilman Joe Mitrecic said on Thursday.

According to Mitrecic, the Ocean Bowl is set to be funded the same as in previous years in the proposed FY15 Budget that is scheduled to receive its final vote on May 19.

OC Council Gets First Look At Proposed $151M Budget

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OCEAN CITY – City Manager David Recor presented his version of a balanced budget on Tuesday, kicking off what will be a week of budget meetings between staff and the Mayor and City Council.

“I am pleased to present the City Manager’s Fiscal Year 2015 Proposed Operating Budget for the Town of Ocean City, which totals $151,361,282,” Recor’s budget message states. “The Proposed Operating Budget includes the Town’s General Fund, all of the Enterprise Funds and Internal Service Funds in addition to the Pension & OPEB Trust. These spending plans reflect the priorities identified by the Mayor and Council’s Strategic Planning Action Items and a commitment to continue to provide a high level of service to our residents and enhance our visitor experience while preserving our organizations long-term financial viability. The Fiscal Year 2015 Proposed Operating Budget is balanced and confirms that our distinguished community is clean, safe, healthy and strong place where the quality of life is unsurpassed.”

Recor’s proposed budget highlights many key components starting with expenditures for all funds totaling $151,361,282, which is an increase of 2.5 percent from FY14. General Fund revenues and expenditures equal $79,351,270, which is an increase of 3 percent from FY14.

Assessed value of real property equals $8,517,160,880, which is an increase of $28,029,607 or .33 percent. The town is currently in the third-year of a three-year assessment cycle. Jan. 1, 2015 is the first year of a new cycle and all Ocean City residential and commercial property, with the exception of a section of commercial property from 25th Street north to the Delaware line, will be reassessed. That section of commercial property will be reassessed in year two. In year three, Ocean City properties will be reassessed to reflect altercations, additions, deletions and/or adjustments.

Property tax revenue projections are based on the constant yield ad valorem tax rate of 47.01 cents per $100 of assessed valuation plus one cent, or 48.01 cents, which generated $42,711,465, including personal property and corporation taxes. One cent on the real property tax rate is equivalent to $851,795. The constant yield rate would bring in the same amount of revenue as the year prior.

The proposed budget includes use of $775,000 in General Fund Balance for Capital Improvement Project funding — $500,000 for canal dredging $175,000 for bulkhead replacement, and $100,000 of special appropriation for healthcare as previously approved by the Mayor and City Council.

The budget also includes $1,871,277 in the Street Paving Fund, and Capital Improvement Project expenditures for General Fund supported projects that total $2,371,361, which represents 3 percent of General Fund expenditures.

Next Recor highlighted the budget provides an FY11 step increase on July 1, 2014 and FY15 step increase on Jan. 1, 2015, equivalent to a 2.33-percent average salary adjustment for eligible Fraternal Order of Police bargaining unit employees totaling $164,676.

The budget provides an FY15 step increase on July 1, 2014, equivalent to a 1.53-percent average salary adjustment for eligible fire/EMS bargaining unit employees totaling $79,631.

Additionally, it provides an FY15 step increase in July 1, 2014, equivalent to a 2.89-percent average salary adjustment for eligible general non-bargaining unit employees totaling $524,242.

Recor furthered the proposed budget eliminates, adds and converts several positions as well as provides $4,500 to resume production of a Fall Newsletter, which will be combined with the Annual Report to Citizens; water usage rates will not be increased; increases the weekend Spring/Summer golf package rate by $4 at Eagle’s Landing Golf Course; and reduces the General Fund transfer to the Transportation Fund by $1,327,606, or 77 percent, by eliminating the $1 bus fare.

The proposed budget does maintain the General Fund Balance consistent with the Mayor and City Council’s policy of 15 percent of previous year General Fund expenditures equivalent to $11.9 million.

“The FY15 Proposed Budget balances a variety of needs and wants, focuses both short and long term, and reflects Strategic Plan priorities and tactical results. I am pleased with the proposal. A lot of hard work, energy and effort have gone into getting it ready for your review. The departments are ready to work with you, and we look forward to it,” Recor said.

Council President Lloyd Martin gathered so far the Mayor and City Council is in support of the proposed budget.

“It looks like a forward looking budget. As we move forward we are always thinking about what may happen, what could happen, and I think that is all because of our staff and what they do. I believe the council is very supportive,” he said.

Budget meetings started on Thursday and are scheduled through the week with a budget wrap-up session beginning next Thursday to conclude on Friday.

The entire budget and calendar are available at www.oceancitymd.gov.

 

 

 

 

Dew Tour’s Summer Dates Approved For June 26-29

Although the event features many sports events, there is also the Dew Tour Village that offers a variety of activities and vendors. File Photo

OCEAN CITY – It is official, the Dew Tour will be returning to Ocean City in its fourth year to be held June 26-29.

This week Chris Prybylo of Alli Sports, a division of NBC Sports Group, requested the Mayor and City Council approve the 2014 Dew Tour, June 26-29.

The event is part of a professional action sports tour involving BMX, skateboarding and surfing. There is also an interactive festival village open to the public, featuring sponsor displays and product sampling, and concerts, which will take place on the beach north of the pier to about North Division St. The expected number of spectators is estimated at 18,000 per day.

Private Events Coordinator Lisa Mitchell recognized city staff’s concern over the event’s timeframe ending just prior to 4th of July festivities downtown and the time it will take for the Dew Tour to break down. However, a planning meeting was scheduled the following day with Dew Tour officials and city staff.

Set-up of the Dew Tour will begin June 12. The event will take place June 26-29, and break down will begin immediately to be concluded by the early morning of July 3.

The Department of Public Works commented, “The entire event will need to be removed from both the beach and Inlet Parking Lot by July 3, which only leaves the event four days for total removal. This is a real concern due to the fact the 2013 event had almost two weeks to tear down.”

Prybylo disagreed break down took 14 days last year but rather seven at the most. He assured the council a plan will be put in place between the Dew Tour and city staff during their meeting on Wednesday regarding the break down schedule. He said organizers are planning to begin competitions earlier in order to finish earlier and begin break down as soon as possible.

“I want to thank the Mayor and City Council for their support over the past three years. We couldn’t be happier with the support from the staff and community who have really embraced the tour, so we really appreciate everything that has been done and it has been a great event for Ocean City as a whole,” Prybylo said. “We are looking forward to coming back here having another great event, and showing Ocean City to the world again.”

Pillas stated despite concerns the Boardwalk businesses do not mind the Dew Tour’s giveaways at the festival village in exchange for the amount of business the event brings to the Boardwalk. However, concerns continue to be expressed over the family-value of the concerts and the language used on stage.

“We certainly understand your concern around the concert. We had an issue with some inappropriate language a couple of years ago, and I personally pulled them off the stage. It is in their contracts. We cannot completely control them but they are warned, and they know they can get shut down if it happens, and it is certainly something we take very seriously,” Prybylo said.

The council voted unanimously to approve the Dew Tour in Ocean City this summer June 26-29.

“We are proud to host the Dew Tour. It is a great honor for Ocean City. We have developed a tremendous partnership and working relationship, which has helped us develop other events in town. The exposure we get on national television Ocean City shows absolutely beautifully, and it just works so well with the Dew Tour. It is what we are all about being an outdoor family activity … and I hope we can continue this partnership for many years to come,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.

Prybylo agreed the Dew Tour in Ocean City has been a good experience for all.

“We certainly love Ocean City as well, and I speak for NBC and all of our partners. It has been a great experience for the past three years and I am sure it will be a great experience in year four. We have built something pretty great here,” he said.

 

 

 

Ocean City To Discuss Smoke-Free Beach; Referendum To Gauge Voters’ Stance Suggested

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OCEAN CITY – Whether to ban smoking on the beach as well as the Boardwalk will be formally discussed by Ocean City lawmakers next month.

According to Councilman Brent Ashley during strategic planning sessions last week, the Mayor and City Council discussed having Ocean City follow some of its competitor resorts and officially institute a smoke-free beach.

“With the council members that were there, I think the support is there to move forward with some type of plan to be proactive in this [smoke-free beach],” Ashley said at the conclusion of Monday evening’s Mayor and City Council legislative meeting. “All of our neighbors have done this. The State of New Jersey is looking at making all of their beaches and parks smoke-free.”

Ashley recognized there are newspaper articles dating back to 1994 when local businessman Joe Kroart first introduced the opportunity for Ocean City to become the nation’s first smoke-free beach.

“Since then, hundreds of other beaches have done it ahead of us, so I would hope the council would take a pro-active approach this time,” Ashley said.

City Manager David Recor confirmed the matter is scheduled for a meeting in April when the Mayor and City Council will discuss “best practices for both the Boardwalk and the beach”, including a smoke-free beach.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas asked for the council to consider posing the question of whether the taxpayers want smoke-free beaches by referendum in November’s election. Recor responded a referendum will also be part of the upcoming discussion.

A couple of weeks ago, the City of Rehoboth Beach passed a smoking ban in certain public places, such as the beach, Boardwalk and bandstand that will take effect on May 15.

Rehoboth Beach follows in the footsteps of Ocean City’s more immediate neighbors to the north in Delaware of Fenwick Island, Bethany Beach and Dewey Beach, who all have smoking bans in effect.

Last week The Baltimore Sun editorialized, “The question is no longer whether tourist attractions are in danger of losing business if they ban smoking but whether they are in danger of losing attendance if they don’t.”

More specifically, The Baltimore Sun opinion piece focused on Ocean City stating, “Yet Ocean City remains badly behind the times. The town council has repeatedly considered similar far-reaching outdoor smoking bans in recent years but failed to adopt them. Ocean City does ban smoking in parks but asks visitors only to be courteous about smoking on the beach … That’s unfortunate because it’s contributed to an impression that Ocean City is not the family-friendly resort it claims to be but one that caters to smokers.”

A smoke-free beach in Ocean City was last formally discussed among city officials in July of 2012 when the Mayor and City Council was in consensus to implement smoke-free areas on the beach by the following summer but the topic never returned for further public discussion.

A public hearing was held in December of 2010 regarding a smoking ban on Ocean City’s beaches, Boardwalk and at public parks.

A handful of speakers spoke for and against the question, but the council at that time decided to place cigarette butt cans and signage along the beach and the Boardwalk, providing smokers with smoking stations.

A law was not passed mandating smoking at designated smoking stations but served as a request for smokers to use the stations. However, the council did vote to ban smoking in Ocean City’s public parks.

“Several weeks ago, I brought up enforcing the litter law with people flicking their cigarette butts out of the car window,” Ashley added on Monday evening. “Apparently, I hit a nerve with a lot of people in town and have had many comments on that. I understand the newly formed Ocean City Surf Club is going to be backing that initiative to encourage the police department to start issuing warnings and fines to people who are flicking butts out the car windows.”

In January, Ashley asked the Police Commission to discuss having the penalty for flicking cigarettes out of car windows become heftier in Ocean City after coming across news out of Illinois.

A new law in Illinois that went into effect on Jan. 1 requires a first-time offender who flicks a cigarette out of a window receive a class B misdemeanor with fines up to $1,500. If caught three times, an offender would face a class 4 felony, with a $2,500 fine and up to three years in prison.

During a Police Commission report in February, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro stated the department is looking into two areas of Ocean City’s code where flicking cigarettes can be incorporated, littering and discarding objects from a motor vehicle.

“Whether it is someone walking down the street disposing of trash, or from a car, it is something we can certainly take a look at and start to enforce,” Buzzuro said at that time. “We want to reinforce the cleanliness and respect of our town. As we approach the beginning of the season, it is something that we can certainly address.”

‘No Profanity Please’ Signs Unveiled; Council Approves Placement Along Boardwalk

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OCEAN CITY – “No Profanity Please” signs will be posted on each block of the Boardwalk this summer in an effort to serve as a reminder that Ocean City strives to be a family-friendly resort.

Earlier this month, after several months of deliberation, the Police Commission voted unanimously to recommend the Mayor and City Council approve the installation of “No Profanity Please” signs along the Boardwalk at street ends.

On Monday evening, the recommendation came before the council.

“You all recall earlier this year Council Secretary [Mary] Knight received a suggestion by her constituents after visiting Virginia Beach that Ocean City move forward with “No Profanity” signs on the Boardwalk. The Mayor and City Council referred that matter for further discussion to the Police Commission. The police department and Lt. Scott Harner drafted several iterations of the graphic to make the signs family-friendly for Ocean City,” City Manager David Recor said.

Recor presented to the council on Monday the graphic, which will also be made available to the public on the town’s website to allow businesses an opportunity to use as well. The signs have been produced by Ocean City’s own Public Works Department, which recently invested in a sign machine. The signs are available in 12-by-18-inch and 24-by-18-inch dimensions

Councilman Brent Ashley pointed out the Virginia Beach Hotel-Motel Association also posts a “Rules of Common Decency” on its website, Dewey Beach, Del. just recently more than doubled their fines for public urination, and Wildwood, NJ. last year enacted an ordinance against “saggy pants” being worn on its Boardwalk.

“I think it’s fair to say that our competitors are dealing with similar decency behavior situations and are taking steps to protect their family-friendly images, and so are we. Although this is not an ordinance but rather a suggestion, it’s the right thing to do and sends the right message. We respect each visitor that comes to our town and we are just asking that they do the same Now, if we could just add ‘no saggy pants’ to the sign we might have something but that is not going to happen tonight,” said Ashley, who has been an advocate for allowing police to fine individuals for “saggy pants” on the Boardwalk.

The council voted 6-0 with Council President Lloyd Martin absent to approve the motion.

“This is showing how commissions work. This idea was brought to me by two hoteliers, and I brought it to the Police Commission. The research was done, and it was determined it was not going to be anything finable. It is just a general reminder. The whole idea is it shows Ocean City cares … families will see it, and people will remember when they see it that maybe they shouldn’t use the kind of colorful language that some folks use,” Knight said.

The concept was first brought before the Police Commission in January. At that time, Police Commission Chair and Councilman Doug Cymek recognized the public is entitled to the First Amendment and the signage should not enforce a fine or an arrest. He recommended adding “Please” to the sign to help differentiate between asking for no profanity versus implementing a law. Both Police Chief Ross Buzzuro and City Solicitor Guy Ayres agreed.

In February, Harner returned to the commission with a preliminary design of a “No Profanity Please” sign, which differentiates between a friendly suggestion versus a crime.

Unlike Ocean City, Virginia Beach has a law in place that states, “If any person shall, in the presence or hearing of another, curse or abuse such other person, or use any violent abusive language to such other person concerning himself or any of his relations, or otherwise use such language under circumstances reasonably calculated to provoke a breach of the peace, he shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor”, which is a fine up to $500.