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Council Seeks Tweaks To New OC Beach Patrol Headquarters Design

Rendering by Becker Morgan

OCEAN CITY – The new Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) headquarters’ preliminary design was presented on Tuesday afternoon with Mayor and Council requesting a few minor tweaks before approval.

The new OCBP home was presented as a three-story building with the entrance facing the corner of Talbot Street and Philadelphia Avenue. The building represents a traditional Ocean City aesthetic as laid out by Ocean City Development Corporation’s (OCDC) Downtown Design Standards.

In August, the Mayor and City Council voted to add the construction of a new OCBP facility to a bond issuance that will go to the market by the end of the year. The facility has a maximum price tag of $2 million. Prior to the council’s approval this year, the project had been left on the drawing board for some time.

The OCBP currently occupies three buildings on Dorchester Street that were formerly used to serve as the old Ocean City Police Department and District Court facilities. In 1993, the buildings were deemed unsuitable for the OCPD and District Court and they vacated the property moving into the new Public Safety Building on 65th Street.

The dilapidating facility was never meant to be a permanent home for the beach patrol. Examination of the existing buildings revealed significant issues, such as numerous ADA violations, nonfunctioning sprinkler systems, asbestos siding, cracks in exterior masonry walls and all buildings’ first floors are below the FEMA Base Flood Elevation.

OCDC and city staff had recommended the new headquarters be located across the street from its existing location on three parcels purchased by the OCDC between Talbot and Dorchester streets that currently stands as a gravel parking lot next to OCDC’s office.

The council accepted OCDC’s proposal of a land swamp of OCDC parking lots in the Dorchester/Talbot streets block for the city-owned lots where the existing headquarters stands in the Dorchester/Somerset streets block. Once the existing facility is demolished, those lots will then become temporary parking lots instead.

In addition, the OCDC will pay 35-percent of the cost of the new OCBP building and site improvements over the 20-year bond life, not to exceed $2 million. These assisted funds would come from the Inlet Parking Lot fund, which is a dedicated funding source established a decade ago to fund downtown revitalization projects by OCDC.

City Engineer Terry McGean this week presented the facility’s conceptual design, which was created by Becker Morgan Group.

“Quite a bit of effort has gone into this on a staff level in meeting with the architect. The first design go around we had 3,000 square feet larger then what we’re showing now, so there was quite a bit of an effort to get it down to where it needed to be,” McGean said.

The first floor will enter into a lobby that will serve as a directory towards the second and third floor with access to a stair tower and elevator. There is an outdoor entrance to a second stair tower on the opposite side of the building.

The majority of the first floor serves as OCPD bicycle storage, which the current facility is also used for, as well as a restroom and office space for OCPD’s bike patrol division. Also a garage for OCBP vehicles, such as ATVs and Jet Skis, and a work shop is included.

A separate room is included in the first floor to store and dispense radios. A section is included for OCPB dry storage, such as buoys and umbrellas, uniform storage, a laundry room and an office for the employee responsible for dispensing uniforms and equipment, which can be quite the undertaking with over 200 Surf Rescue Technicians (SRT) in the OCBP.

The second floor includes a work room, office space, storage and male and female locker rooms, which is an improvement from the current facility that holds a restroom with one sink, one toilet and one shower for the entire OCBP.

The largest space on the second floor is a combined 1,100-square-foot classroom and multipurpose space to be used for training and/or physical activities. A partition wall was added to be able to divide the space if needed.

The third floor will serve as the administrative area and will enter into a receptionist area that is joined by the dispatch area.

The rendering of the exterior of the headquarters reflects red roofs, white siding with columns and a covered wrap around roof on the second floor. The lines of the building are similar to the Ocean City Life Saving Station Museum.

McGean concluded all the user space is a total of 10,000 square feet that is less then what was originally proposed. However, the building cost is estimated to be higher than what was originally proposed, with the total coming in near $2 million not leaving much leeway.

‘We have reduced the amount of contingency we are carrying,” McGean said.

Ocean City follows a 5-percent building contingency and a 15-percent planning contingency that has been reduced to 10 percent because the advancements already made in the design process, which will leave some wiggle room for additional costs.

“For me we have to remember the beach patrol is our number one good will ambassadors. I think they touch more of our tourists than anyone else in town does. They have operated in terrible conditions for years, so I want to see them have a first-class facility and if we have to go a little above that’s ok,” Councilman Brent Ashley said.

While he said the building is beautiful, Councilman Joe Mitrecic said the covered porches are driving up the price tag.

“Also this building is going to be 98 percent empty nine months a year, so although staff has made great strides in bringing it in where they think it should be space wise I am still concerned it is too big then what it should be,” Mitrecic said.

Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster interjected the department is already in discussions in how the multi-purpose room can be used throughout the off-season.

McGean added between OCPD and OCBP there is about 3,000 square feet of storage the building will also be used for throughout the off-season.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas pointed out that while the OCBP could go with a building without covered porches, the design follows OCDC guidelines.

“I look at it in a different way. I saw it as another anchored building for downtown … it enhances the downtown for people entering into town,” Pillas said.

McGean agreed OCDC Downtown Design Standards calls for covered porches.

“We do want to follow what we make everyone else do,” he said.

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed the town supports OCDCs guidelines that are used for residential and commercial properties in the downtown and the same should be used on public buildings.

Councilman Dennis Dare listed several concerns over an abundance of entrance and exit points throughout the building regarding security, the lobby being too large to be used only as a directory and the elevation of the first floor should be further elevated above base flood elevation to avoid flooding during a storm surge in the downtown.

“I think the first floor needs some more work,” Dare said.

McGean explained the number of exterior doors was included to have the building be as efficient as possible. McGean furthered a city-wide controlled access will be added to the building where access is granted in certain doors with an employee ID card.

“Height wise we will get what we can,” McGean said. “If you raise the entire building an additional two feet you wind up with losing area around the building because you have to put in ramps to access the elevator lobby but we will raise it up as much as we can from ground level.”

McGean concluded the 245-square-foot lobby along with other concerns will be “taken to heart”.

“The lobby is quite intimidating, especially to walk in and not have anybody there” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.

McGean reassured the council the conceptual design can be tweaked.

“I hear you loud and clear,” he said.

There was no action taken. The design will be revised to address council concerns and return for approval.

Ocean City Performing Arts Center Petition ‘Discontinued’

Ocean

OCEAN CITY – A petition opposing the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) addition to the convention center was discontinued this week by a local citizens group amid claims the town has not disclosed relevant information about future bookings at the facility.
Tony Christ, spokesperson for the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ), last month received approval for a petition singling out an $8.5 million bond to fund the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. The PAC is part of a $12.7 bond ordinance. The remaining $4.23 million of the ordinance is dedicated to a roof for the Public Safety Building, a roof for the Service Center Building, a new beach patrol headquarters and an effluent disinfection system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. All the projects will amortize over a period of 10 years.
The PAC project is under contract between the Town of Ocean City and the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which is paying $5.7 million of the auditorium’s costs. The two-story, 1,200-seat auditorium is currently under construction under the auspices of contractor Whiting Turner.
The town is going to the bond market by the end of the year. In the meantime, Ocean City’s portion of the PAC is being paid for out of fund balance that will be reimbursed by the bond, which will ultimately be paid off by the food and beverage tax.
The local sales tax of .5 percent on food and beverage purchases in Ocean City is imposed for the purpose of paying the principal and interest on bonds issued to finance the construction, reconstruction, repair, renovation and equipment of the convention center.
By charter, a petition for referendum has 40 days to circulate and must obtain at least 40 percent of the number of voters, who voted in the last election or 1,226 signatures in this case. If the required signatures are verified, the bond ordinance pertaining to the PAC can be placed on the next ballot.
According to City Solicitor Guy Ayres the petition was approved Oct. 11 and the deadline was Wednesday, Nov. 20. Christ is asserting the deadline is Dec. 1 due to Ayres’ delay in contemplating the approval of the petition, and if it comes down to it he will take the town to court over the misconception of the deadline.
Christ sent Ayres a letter on Tuesday stating, “OCTSJ believes the City has failed to disclose to the citizens of Ocean City the known losses of existing Conventioneer business due to reduction in exhibition space resulting from the construction of the PAC. This loss could result in a significant unannounced revenue decline in fiscal year 2015.”
The letter furthers, “We respectfully request that the city promptly disclose to the people of Ocean City the extent of losses of Convention business owing to the loss of exhibit Hall C reducing Exhibiters space from 63,410 sq. ft. to 45,770 sq. ft. We respectfully request disclosure that Epic Cheerleaders … has canceled their three year contract and have only signed up for one year [February, March and April of 2014] … We respectfully request full disclosure of others that are believed to have informed the City that they will not return. Those losses may not be as large as Epic Cheerleaders; however that could represent significant additional revenue loss.”
The letter concludes, “OCTSJ has discontinued its petition solicitation until the people of Ocean City receive full disclosure. In accord with Section C-411 of the Ocean City Charter, which only allows for reductions of the 40 day solicitation period when the petitioners fail to submit a timely petition, we will resume our remaining days after the City has fully disclosed the status of all Conventioneers so the people in Ocean City can know the truth.”
Ayres responded to Christ on Wednesday morning, writing, “Your statement that you are suspending the petition drive is your decision to make for whatever reason you want to ascribe, however it does not suspend or extend the deadline for submission. If attempted to be filed after the deadline it will not be accepted.”
On Wednesday afternoon, City Clerk Kelly Allmond responded to Christ’s requests and said the facts do not support his claims.
“In fact, the City has never possessed a three-year contract with Epic. Furthermore, the City does not possess any documentation from Epic, or any other user, that states their intent not to return to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center as a result of the changes.”
A hard copy of the email submitted by Epic Cheerleaders disclosing the cancelation of a three-year contract could not been obtained by The Dispatch this week. Christ claims he has lost the document. However, he said City Manager David Recor submitted the email to OCTSJ member Herb Pawlukewicz, who in turn sent it to Christ.
“I have never sent an email to Herb Pawlukewicz,” Recor said on Wednesday afternoon.
Recor furthered it would be impossible to send such an email since a three-year contract with Epic Cheerleaders does not exist.
At the conclusion of the Mayor and City Council legislative session on Monday evening, Christ voiced most of the assertions stated in the letter submitted on Tuesday addressed to Ayres.
Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino was in attendance to address Christ’s concerns. Noccolino started by stating he has no knowledge of a three-year contract being canceled with Epic Cheerleaders.
“I do know we have just received a one-year contract [with Epic Cheerleaders] with intention of signing 2015 and 2016 as soon as we can get that out to them,” Noccolino said. “They are very excited about moving into the PAC and I can tell you why. We met with them just this past spring, in May, with the mayor, city manager, architects and construction manager. We made some revisions to the PAC, not only to appease Epic Cheerleaders but also to appease Star Power [talent competition], Trinity Motivation [BWW Management Operating Committee conference], and another group.”
Noccolino added he has already spoken to no less than 20 other groups that have expressed interesting in coming Ocean City. The Town of Ocean City has also committed to hosting a number of shows in the new PAC, such as the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra to play a series of concerts.

OC Views Route 90 Dualization As Higher Priority Than 50 Bridge; State Says City Needs To Address Issue With County First

1 90

OCEAN CITY – During an update with the State Highway Administration this week, resort officials asked for consideration in prioritizing the dualization of Route 90 ahead of the reconstruction of the Route 50 Bridge.

Tuesday afternoon marked the bi-annual meeting between the Town of Ocean City and the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) where SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer and Assistant District Engineer Ken Cimino discussed the Route 90 and Route 50 bridges along with other maintenance and repairs on Coastal Highway.

Drewer began with the Route 90 bridge and the town’s request to dualize the secondary entrance into Ocean City to help alleviate traffic.

“I know you had sent a letter to the administrator referencing dualizing the Route 90 Bridge. Where that is in the hierarchy I really am not sure, but I do know that in order for it to get more attention it needs to be included in the Worcester County priority letter,” he said. “Right now Route 113 is their [Worcester County Commissioners’] first priority, Route 589 is their second priority and Route 50 Bridge is their third priority. So what you need to do is get Route 90 in that pecking order.”

Mayor Rick Meehan asserted he had submitted a letter to the Worcester County prioritizing the dualization of the Route 90 bridge prior to reconstruction of the Route 50 bridge on behalf of Ocean City, and the letter was included in the County Commissioners’ Nov. 5 agenda packet when the commissioners had a discussion with SHA over the Annual Consolidated Transportation Program.

The letter dated June 18, 2013 states, “This letter, and supporting documentation, is offered in an effort to highlight a concern of Ocean City relative to long range planning and the effects the replacement of the US50 bridge will have on overall accessibility to Ocean City. Based on recent Studies and Alternative Analysis, the eventual replacement of the US50 bridge has the potential (and reality) of causing severe traffic congestion issues, for multiple summer seasons, for those who chose to visit Ocean City as their vacation destination.”

The letter furthers, “It is with this stated that we truly feel it far more prudent to compete the dualization of the entire MD90 corridor, from US50 to MD528 (Coastal Highway), prior to replacement of the US50 bridge. With the right of way already in place, a major time consuming hurdle on such a project is a non-issue and should position the state to expedite the project.”

Drewer responded he would look into the matter and get back to the mayor, and continued to report inspections were conducted on the Route 90 Bridge this past spring, and as a result there were no constructional deficiencies discovered.

Drewer acknowledged the town’s concerns over Route 90 bridge parapet walls becoming unsightly and needing to be either power washed or repainted.

“It is against policy to tear the walls down, and as far as power washing is concerned with that bridge being as long as it is we really couldn’t power wash it and survive environmentally because we would have to catch all the water after we power wash,” Drewer said. “So it is kind of a no-win situation because I don’t think we would ever be able to get a permit to do that, so hopefully we can come up with some other ways we can attack the problem.”

The Route 50 Bridge is on a two-year inspection schedule, Drewer said, and the last inspection revealed no major problems. The study for a new Route 50 Bridge has been completed and a parallel drawbridge with a 30-foot clearance has been selected and the design has been approved.

“A couple years ago, we completed a decking replacement and it was estimated the existing bridge has 20 years of service left, so the question is when will the new bridge be in place … we are going to keep the existing bridge in as good of a condition as long as we can, and then we will have to have a plan in place to replace the Route 50 bridge,” Drewer said.

Additionally, during this week’s meeting, a list of maintenance and repairs to Coastal Highway that will be completed before next summer was submitted, including the majority of the remaining depressed center median sections with wooden bollards for pedestrian crossing will be removed from the Delaware line to 9th Street this winter and spring. The town has been asking for the median crossings to be removed for years to encourage pedestrians to cross the highway at marked crosswalks.

Cimino acknowledged complaints were received last summer regarding the signal timing at the 94th Street intersection causing traffic congestion between 94th and 120th streets. As a result, the signal timing for north and southbound traffic was adjusted to give a longer length of timing for the main line, which seemed to relieve some of the congestion.

“We are going to go with that this year and make adjustments as needed along that corridor,” Cimino said.

Both Councilman Dennis Dare and Councilman Joe Mitrecic voiced ongoing concerns over the signal timing at 94th Street.

“The 94th Street light is horrendous. We have cuing on all sides at 120th Street and it doesn’t do what happens at 94th Street, so something needs to happen more stringently there because you can sit at that light at 94th Street for five to six minutes at a time,” Mitrecic said. “The other problem is the turning lane signal is so short only four or five cars can go, so then we have cars piling up into the main lane waiting to move into the turning lane.”

Cimino reassured the 94th Street signal timing is a work in progress and will continue to be studied with adjustments to be made as warranted.

‘I agree with you there is a happy medium but that happy medium is not going to happen overnight,” Cimino said. “We need to identify exactly what the problem is and recognize alternatives. We want traffic to move. We don’t want frustrated drivers.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight asked about SHA’s plans to eliminate the intersection in front of Wal-Mart and Home Depot on Route 50.

After the new signal was put in at the Samuel Bowen Blvd., a service road that is expected to ultimately run parallel to Route 50 from Holly Grover Road to Seahawk Road, SHA studied both intersections of Samuel Bowen Blvd. and the existing intersection in front of the shopping complex for a year.

“We determined that the majority of the traffic was now using the new Samuel Bowen Blvd. and the connector road to the Ocean Landing property. So, we are in the process right now of making a request to the Office of Traffic and Safety to have the existing signal in front of the Home Depot and Wal-Mart removed,” Cimino said.

Knight also questioned the larger circumference of the new Delmarva Power poles being replaced on Coastal Hwy., and if SHA foresees any kind of problems, such as the poles being closer to edge of the sidewalk and interfering with the buses.

Drewer responded he would look into the issue and follow up.

Mitrecic also questioned how the poles’ larger circumference will interfere with ADA sidewalk requirements.

“We just spent all this money making the sidewalks ADA accessible through town, and now Delmarva has come and put these huge poles in the middle of our sidewalks again,” he said.

Drewer responded there are 94 poles being replaced and all but six meet SHA’s ADA requirements and Delmarva Power has requested a waiver to address the issue.

Petitioners, Council Continue Arts Center Debate; Supporters Request Current Petition Be Dropped

OCEAN CITY – An intense battle, rooted in allegations of misconceptions, continues to play out in Ocean City over a petition opposing the bond to fund the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) addition at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.
Tony Christ, spokesperson for the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ), last month received approval for a petition singling out an $8.5 million bond to fund the new PAC. 
The PAC is part of a $12.7 bond ordinance. The remaining $4.23 million of the ordinance is dedicated to a roof for the Public Safety Building, a roof for the Service Center Building, a new beach patrol headquarters and an effluent disinfection system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. All the projects will amortize over a period of 10 years.
The PAC project is under contract between the Town of Ocean City and the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which is paying $5.7 million of the auditorium’s costs. The two-story, 1,200-seat auditorium is currently under construction under the auspices of contractor Whiting Turner.
The town is going to the bond market by the end of the year. In the meantime, Ocean City’s portion of the PAC is being paid for out of fund balance that will be reimbursed by the bond, which will ultimately be paid off by the food and beverage tax.
The local sales tax of .5 percent on food and beverage purchases in Ocean City is imposed for the purpose of paying the principal and interest on bonds issued to finance the construction, reconstruction, repair, renovation and equipment of the convention center.
By charter, a petition for referendum has 40 days to circulate and must obtain at least 40 percent of the number of voters, who voted in the last election or 1,226 signatures in this case. The petition’s deadline is Nov. 20. If the required signatures are verified, the bond ordinance pertaining to the PAC can be placed on the next ballot.
For the past couple of weeks, Christ has been up against city officials and PAC supporters as they have been out to clarify what they believe is misinformation being spread by Christ and petitioners.
Last Thursday Christ had submitted an email to City Solicitor Guy Ayres that he was considering announcing the retraction of the petition this week. However, Christ was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting.
Despite Christ’s absence, OCTSJ supporters Herb Pawlukewicz and Ellie Diegelmann were present to further interrogate the Mayor and City Council over the PAC and its funding.
Pawlukewicz questioned the Mayor and City Council over who authorized the PAC construction to begin prior to the bond sale.
City Engineer Terry McGean explained the floor-to-ceiling demising wall that separates the relatively new bay-front ballroom on the second floor from the construction work in the performing arts center was the first step in the project because it will prevent upcoming events at the convention center from being disrupted.
On April 2, following several meetings with MSA, Whiting Turner and convention center staff decided on the window from Oct. 20 to Nov. 12 to begin construction.
“It is always our number one goal when we work on the convention center not to disrupt or cancel any existing events, so very early on we had to establish a three-week window within the building where there were no events in the ballroom so that we could construct that wall,” McGean said. “We had to develop this schedule ahead of time for the contactor so that they could have their staff and subcontractors ready to go and for the sale staff knows not to put any new events into that room.”
Diegelmann said it is not the PAC petitioners are against. They are against the portion of the bond ordinance that states, “The City shall levy and collect ad valorem taxes upon all taxable property within the City … to pay the principle of and interest on the Convention Center portion of the Bonds in any fiscal year.”
She said, “So, if it is not costing the taxpayers one red dime let’s just eliminate clauses like that and there will not be any controversy or divisiveness. You can build the center all you want just don’t make us pay for it.”
Mayor Rick Meehan explained in order for Ocean City to go to the bond market seeking a low-interest rate the language to pledge the full faith and credit of the Town of Ocean City should be included.
“If, in fact, it was worded differently and became a revenue bond, and approved as a revenue bond the interest rate would be higher,” he said. “Since the money [food and beverage tax] is there and the money has proven it will be there, why would we pay a higher interest rate?”
Next Diegelmann brought up Christ’s alternative reasoning behind the petition that the PAC is causing the convention center to lose space and will no longer be able to hold its historically large events, such as the State of Maryland Fireman’s Association memorial service and the cheerleading convention.
Meehan clarified the first phase of the convention center that was completed last year included an expansion of a bay-front ballroom, and replaced all exhibit space that will be taken up by the PAC. The PAC is an addition to the square footage the convention center consisted of before the expansion project began.
According to the mayor, Christ’s statement that the firemen’s memorial service will no longer be able to be held at the convention center due to loss in space is false based on the fact the new ballroom can hold up to 1,896 people and the largest group the convention center has held is 1,720.
“I think it is all subject to interpretation. I am not going to sit here and dispute it with you,” Diegelmann said. “After reading all of the controversy around this…the divisiveness over this has just sickened me … no matter what happens we will lose.”
Meehan furthered the food and beverage tax was established in the 1990’s during the first expansion of the convention center by the State of Maryland. The state established the restrictiveness of the food and beverage tax to only be spent on bond indebtedness related to construction at the convention center to avoid any ambiguity. Currently Ocean City’s food and beverage account stands at over $7 million.
“Since you assume nobody is telling you the correct information, it becomes more difficult,” the mayor said to Diegelmann. “What I am saying is it is a fact the food tax money is there and it will continue to be there but it can only be used to offset and pay the bond indebtedness. You cannot just take it and pay the contractor. It can only be used by state statute to pay the bond indebtedness.”
Diegelmann accused the Mayor and City Council of steamrolling by beginning construction before going to the bond market.
“That is a cliché, and if you want to run things with misinformation that is okay,” the mayor said. “This has been voted on and approved unanimously five different times by two different councils … it wasn’t done with smoke and mirrors. It was done right here in this council chamber, and it was done with everybody’s complete knowledge of what it is going on.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight, who spent the weekend researching to clarify misconceptions advertised by Christ, stated the convention center will be gaining 9.5 percent more space to exhibit area.
Knight added Christ’s assertion the PAC will be just as large as Stephen Decatur High School’s auditorium is false. Stephen Decatur’s auditorium seats 600 and the PAC will seat 1,200 which is the same amount of seating at Virginia Beach’s PAC.
“When the State of Maryland conducted the economic study, they didn’t use just pretend numbers. They looked at other resort areas like ourselves and took actual numbers of their economic impact,” Knight said. “In Ocean City they are expecting $3 million in economic impact. In the State of Maryland they are expecting $300,000 in additional taxes and Worcester County is expecting an additional $70,000. So, all of this negative that is out there, nobody is looking at the actual study and the actual numbers.”
Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra Vice President Marlene Ott was the first to approach the Mayor and City Council on Monday and thank them for growing Worcester County’s cultural atmosphere.
“A lot of times we think of Ocean City as a tourist attraction for those who come here but the improvements that you are doing at the convention center, especially the 1,200-seat professional theatre, will benefit the entire county,” Ott said.
Area resident Nicole Hills, who homeschools her 6-year old son, thanked the Mayor and City Council for bringing a cultural experience to Ocean City that she would otherwise have to drive to Salisbury, Washington D.C. or Philadelphia for.
“I have to say if two different councils agreed on this five times then it should probably just be the law of the land,” Hills said. “There will always be those people who don’t like change … but where would we be if Ocean City was still a dirt road … People need to read the economic report, and if you don’t have time to read the report then you certainly shouldn’t have the time to come before the council and complain. You need to read everything before you question the people who are doing this to benefit the entire town.”
Ocean City Cultural Arts Advisory Board Co-Chair Patti Miller has worked over 10 years to bring a PAC to Ocean City.
“It is a really wonderful and important entity to Ocean City for all of the future children, families, and for our own growth,” Miller said. “What saddens me is with all of the correct information … compiled over the last 10 years, with that many facts and information, just to prove a point that the people are the boss and government is not, is sad. This is going to be the best thing that happened to Ocean City in many years. I hope that common sense prevails, and I hope that Mr. Christ will retract his petition because it doesn’t make sense when you do know the facts. There are facts to be read, and misinformation is not right to be disseminated out by petitioners who do not understand the facts.”

Petitioners, Council Continue Performing Arts Center Debate; Supporters Request Petition Be Dropped

Construction on the new performing arts center addition at the convention center is pictured last month. Photo by Shawn Soper

OCEAN CITY – An intense battle, rooted in allegations of misconceptions, continues to play out in Ocean City over a petition opposing the bond to fund the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) addition at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.

Tony Christ, spokesperson for the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ), last month received approval for a petition singling out an $8.5 million bond to fund the new PAC.
The PAC is part of a $12.7 bond ordinance. The remaining $4.23 million of the ordinance is dedicated to a roof for the Public Safety Building, a roof for the Service Center Building, a new beach patrol headquarters and an effluent disinfection system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. All the projects will amortize over a period of 10 years.
The PAC project is under contract between the Town of Ocean City and the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which is paying $5.7 million of the auditorium’s costs. The two-story, 1,200-seat auditorium is currently under construction under the auspices of contractor Whiting Turner.

The town is going to the bond market by the end of the year. In the meantime, Ocean City’s portion of the PAC is being paid for out of fund balance that will be reimbursed by the bond, which will ultimately be paid off by the food and beverage tax.
The local sales tax of .5 percent on food and beverage purchases in Ocean City is imposed for the purpose of paying the principal and interest on bonds issued to finance the construction, reconstruction, repair, renovation and equipment of the convention center.
By charter, a petition for referendum has 40 days to circulate and must obtain at least 40 percent of the number of voters, who voted in the last election or 1,226 signatures in this case. The petition’s deadline is Nov. 20. If the required signatures are verified, the bond ordinance pertaining to the PAC can be placed on the next ballot.

For the past couple of weeks, Christ has been up against city officials and PAC supporters as they have been out to clarify what they believe is misinformation being spread by Christ and petitioners.

Last Thursday Christ had submitted an email to City Solicitor Guy Ayres that he was considering announcing the retraction of the petition this week. However, Christ was not in attendance at Monday’s meeting and did not return an email yesterday as of Wednesday morning.

Despite Christ’s absence, OCTSJ supporters Herb Pawlukewicz and Ellie Diegelmann were present to further interrogate the Mayor and City Council over the PAC and its funding.

Pawlukewicz questioned the Mayor and City Council over who authorized the PAC construction to begin prior to the bond sale.

City Engineer Terry McGean explained the floor-to-ceiling demising wall that separates the relatively new bay-front ballroom on the second floor from the construction work in the performing arts center was the first step in the project because it will prevent upcoming events at the convention center from being disrupted.

On April 2, following several meetings with MSA, Whiting Turner and convention center staff decided on the window from Oct. 20 to Nov. 12 to begin construction.

“It is always our number one goal when we work on the convention center not to disrupt or cancel any existing events, so very early on we had to establish a three-week window within the building where there were no events in the ballroom so that we could construct that wall,” McGean said. “We had to develop this schedule ahead of time for the contactor so that they could have their staff and subcontractors ready to go and for the sale staff knows not to put any new events into that room.”

Diegelmann said it is not the PAC petitioners are against. They are against the portion of the bond ordinance that states, “The City shall levy and collect ad valorem taxes upon all taxable property within the City … to pay the principle of and interest on the Convention Center portion of the Bonds in any fiscal year.”

She said, “So, if it is not costing the taxpayers one red dime let’s just eliminate clauses like that and there will not be any controversy or divisiveness. You can build the center all you want just don’t make us pay for it.”

Mayor Rick Meehan explained in order for Ocean City to go to the bond market seeking a low-interest rate the language to pledge the full faith and credit of the Town of Ocean City should be included.

“If, in fact, it was worded differently and became a revenue bond, and approved as a revenue bond the interest rate would be higher,” he said. “Since the money [food and beverage tax] is there and the money has proven it will be there, why would we pay a higher interest rate?”

Next Diegelmann brought up Christ’s alternative reasoning behind the petition that the PAC is causing the convention center to lose space and will no longer be able to hold its historically large events, such as the State of Maryland Fireman’s Association memorial service and the cheerleading convention.

Meehan clarified the first phase of the convention center that was completed last year included an expansion of a bay-front ballroom, and replaced all exhibit space that will be taken up by the PAC. The PAC is an addition to the square footage the convention center consisted of before the expansion project began.

According to the mayor, Christ’s statement that the firemen’s memorial service will no longer be able to be held at the convention center due to loss in space is false based on the fact the new ballroom can hold up to 1,896 people and the largest group the convention center has held is 1,720.

“I think it is all subject to interpretation. I am not going to sit here and dispute it with you,” Diegelmann said. “After reading all of the controversy around this…the divisiveness over this has just sickened me … no matter what happens we will lose.”

Meehan furthered the food and beverage tax was established in the 1990’s during the first expansion of the convention center by the State of Maryland. The state established the restrictiveness of the food and beverage tax to only be spent on bond indebtedness related to construction at the convention center to avoid any ambiguity. Currently Ocean City’s food and beverage account stands at over $7 million.

“Since you assume nobody is telling you the correct information, it becomes more difficult,” the mayor said to Diegelmann. “What I am saying is it is a fact the food tax money is there and it will continue to be there but it can only be used to offset and pay the bond indebtedness. You cannot just take it and pay the contractor. It can only be used by state statute to pay the bond indebtedness.”

Diegelmann accused the Mayor and City Council of steamrolling by beginning construction before going to the bond market.

“That is a cliché, and if you want to run things with misinformation that is okay,” the mayor said. “This has been voted on and approved unanimously five different times by two different councils … it wasn’t done with smoke and mirrors. It was done right here in this council chamber, and it was done with everybody’s complete knowledge of what it is going on.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight, who spent the weekend researching to clarify misconceptions advertised by Christ, stated the convention center will be gaining 9.5 percent more space to exhibit area.

Knight added Christ’s assertion the PAC will be just as large as Stephen Decatur High School’s auditorium is false. Stephen Decatur’s auditorium seats 600 and the PAC will seat 1,200 which is the same amount of seating at Virginia Beach’s PAC.

“When the State of Maryland conducted the economic study, they didn’t use just pretend numbers. They looked at other resort areas like ourselves and took actual numbers of their economic impact,” Knight said. “In Ocean City they are expecting $3 million in economic impact. In the State of Maryland they are expecting $300,000 in additional taxes and Worcester County is expecting an additional $70,000. So, all of this negative that is out there, nobody is looking at the actual study and the actual numbers.”

Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra Vice President Marlene Ott was the first to approach the Mayor and City Council on Monday and thank them for growing Worcester County’s cultural atmosphere.

“A lot of times we think of Ocean City as a tourist attraction for those who come here but the improvements that you are doing at the convention center, especially the 1,200-seat professional theatre, will benefit the entire county,” Ott said.

Area resident Nicole Hills, who homeschools her 6-year old son, thanked the Mayor and City Council for bringing a cultural experience to Ocean City that she would otherwise have to drive to Salisbury, Washington D.C. or Philadelphia for.

“I have to say if two different councils agreed on this five times then it should probably just be the law of the land,” Hills said. “There will always be those people who don’t like change … but where would we be if Ocean City was still a dirt road … People need to read the economic report, and if you don’t have time to read the report then you certainly shouldn’t have the time to come before the council and complain. You need to read everything before you question the people who are doing this to benefit the entire town.”

Ocean City Cultural Arts Advisory Board Co-Chair Patti Miller has worked over 10 years to bring a PAC to Ocean City.

“It is a really wonderful and important entity to Ocean City for all of the future children, families, and for our own growth,” Miller said. “What saddens me is with all of the correct information … compiled over the last 10 years, with that many facts and information, just to prove a point that the people are the boss and government is not, is sad. This is going to be the best thing that happened to Ocean City in many years. I hope that common sense prevails, and I hope that Mr. Christ will retract his petition because it doesn’t make sense when you do know the facts. There are facts to be read, and misinformation is not right to be disseminated out by petitioners who do not understand the facts.”

 

 

 

 

Sides Continue Performing Arts Center Debate; Supporters Maintain Petitioners Using Scare Tactics

Sides

OCEAN CITY – Amid allegations petitioners are using scare tactics and untruths to gain signatures, city officials are warning the public to do their homework and ask questions of those opposing the new Performing Arts Center.
Tony Christ, spokesperson for the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ), received approval last week for a petition singling out opposition against an $8.5 million bond to fund the new Performing Arts Center (PAC) at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.
The PAC is part of a $12.7 bond ordinance. The remaining $4.23 million of the ordinance is dedicated to a roof for the Public Safety Building, a roof for the Service Center Building, a new beach patrol headquarters and an effluent disinfection system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. All the projects will amortize over a period of 10 years.
The PAC project is under contract between the Town of Ocean City and the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), who is paying $5.7 million of the auditorium’s costs.
The two-story, 1,200-seat auditorium is currently under construction under the auspices on Whiting Turner. Construction began prior to the bond sale because there was a window of opportunity to divide the second-floor ballroom from the project without interfering with convention center tenants and their scheduled events.
The town is going to the bond market by the end of the year. In the meantime, Ocean City’s portion of the PAC is being paid for out of fund balance that will be reimbursed by the bond, which will ultimately be paid off by the food and beverage tax.
The local sales tax of .5 percent on food and beverages is imposed for the purpose of paying the principal and interest on bonds issued to finance the construction, reconstruction, repair, renovation and equipment of the convention center.
By charter, a petition for referendum has 40 days to circulate and must obtain at least 40 percent of the number of voters, who voted in the last election, or 1,226 signatures in this case. The petition’s deadline is Nov. 20. If the required signatures are verified, the bond ordinance pertaining to the PAC can be placed on the next ballot.
On Tuesday, Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged the petition is already making a mark as the town postponed going to the bond market from Nov. 21 to Dec. 5, due to the petition’s deadline.
“If the petition is successful in gaining the appropriate amount of signatures, that will basically put a halt to the section [of the bond] pertaining to the PAC, and we will have to change the terms of the bond and it takes us 24 hours to do that,” the mayor said.
After crunching some numbers, City Engineer Terry McGean came to the conclusion if the PAC project were cancelled at this time expenditures to date plus the cost to restore current construction work back to original condition would be $2.8 million.
According to McGean, if the project were to be suspended for a limited time, the cost would be $3,600 per day of delay plus a minimum of $30,000 to remobilize sub-contractors. A delay beyond three months means there is no guarantee that subcontractors would honor their bid prices and delay costs would be considerably higher.
Petitioner Herb Pawlukewicz has hit the streets in the residential neighborhood of Caine Woods in north Ocean City. As of Tuesday, he said he has been to over 60 homes and has collected about 35 signatures. Those not signing are reasoning they need more information.
“I say [to taxpayers] I am circulating a petition on the PAC at the convention center, and our concern is that if … the food and beverage tax defaults, it falls on the Ocean City taxpayer’s backs,” he said.
Last week Meehan pointed out the local food and beverage tax has been on the rise annually. He added the only way the tax would default is if Ocean City’s economy came to a halt and no food and beverages were consumed in the resort.
When the unrealistic chance of the food and beverage tax defaulting was brought to Pawlukewicz’s attention, he responded, “I just let them [taxpayers] sign the petition off what they know. I don’t say anything.”
For the residents who request more information before signing, Christ has prepared literature titled, “The Loss of Freedom”, to share.
According to this document, the PAC would disturb some of Ocean City’s biggest present users of the convention center, including the State of Maryland Fireman’s Association and the cheerleaders conventions, and risk losing their business.
Last week, Meehan stated the Fireman’s Association is not against the PAC project, and the association has submitted a letter of support of the project. Attempts to reach association officials for confirmation were unsuccessful this week.
However, in March, The Dispatch reported Tina Galdieri, managing partner of Epic Brands, which organizes the annual cheerleading events in Ocean City, confirmed the cheerleading convention intends to return to Ocean City in 2014, despite the facility’s construction.
Christ furthered, over the last week the town government has misused its position of service to scare the public by stating signing the petition would cost the city millions and taxes will increase.
“Don’t worry if it happens before the election, we can petition that too, and at the election you can remind the politicians whom they work for by voting them out,” he said.
Christ concluded, “Although we have elections and we grant the right to govern to our elected officials, we Americans have always reserved the right, through referendum, to remind our elected officials who the boss is … We Americans can choose when, at any time, we wish to exercise our right to collect signatures to put any lawful item on the ballot.  It is up to elected officials to respect this hallowed right, not to obstruct it or bulldoze it … When government brazenly ignores this right and recklessly spends the public’s money before the loan is approved by the people, it should be of great concern to all.”
Meehan has titled Christ an, “obstructionist”, who claims he is out to protect the taxpayers when in reality if the petition is successful it will cost the taxpayers.
“They are working against the taxpayers,” he said. “If they sign this petition, which could stop the construction, they would then be liable for the construction because the food and beverage tax can only be used for bond indebtedness that relates to construction.”
Christ made a point in mentioning in one of his emails to the media that he is financing this campaign on his own, including nearly $1,000 paid to an attorney to draft the petition language.
“Please understand that neither I or OCTSJ is related to either group in that we believe both groups [former and past council majorities] are culpable for current conditions,” Christ said. “We will join in with ideas we consider in the best interest of the residents of Ocean City. We are issue driven not personality drive.
Meehan looked back to all the construction that has taken place at the convention center, especially the expansion in the 1990s, and how all costs have been covered by the food and beverage tax, not the taxpayers.
The mayor also recalled the expansion of Northside Park in the 1980’s that was also funded by a bond that was petitioned. The petition was successful and the project came to a stop, however the referendum was soundly defeated. But due to the delay the taxpayers ended up having to pay an extra $400,000 for additional costs.
The town along with an appointed community committee, comprised of local citizens and business people, did its homework before voting to move forward with the project, including a Crossroads economic study resulting in justification of the expense. According to the mayor, not only will there be no expense to the taxpayers but additional revenue will derive from the auditorium that benefits the taxpayer.
The PAC project has been voted unanimously on five times by two different councils. On Nov. 7, 2011, the Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to request state funding between 25 percent and 50 percent of the cost for construction of the auditorium. On July 16, 2012, there was an unanimous vote to enter into an agreement with the MSA for construction of the convention center auditorium with the city funding $8.3 million and the state funding $5.7 million. On Sept. 17, 2012, another unanimous vote was recorded to expend an amount not to exceed $8.3 million for the auditorium to be reimbursed through a future bond sale. All three votes were of the former council led by former Council President Jim Hall, who Christ mentioned in an email to the media is “supposed to help” in the cause.
Under the current Mayor and City Council, on Dec, 17, 2012 a final design of the auditorium was presented. There was no vote taken but no objections to proceed. On Oct. 7, an unanimous vote was made to include $8.3 million for the convention center auditorium in the bond sale.

Petition Effort Seeks To Stop Arts Center; Proponents Launch Campaign To Educate Public

Bond

OCEAN CITY – Proponents of the performing arts center in Ocean City are taking a stand against Tony Christ and the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice group that has organized a petition opposing the convention center’s new auditorium.
A few weeks ago, the Mayor and City Council approved the sale of bonds to finance the Roland E. Powell Convention Center Performing Arts Center (PAC) and other capital projects in its final reading.
The convention center’s new auditorium portion of the bond is in the amount of $8.47 million. The remaining $4.23 million is dedicated to a roof for the Public Safety Building, a roof for the Service Center Building, a new Beach Patrol headquarters, and an effluent disinfection system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. All the projects will amortize over a period of 10 years.

On Wednesday evening, Christ received permission from Solicitor Guy Ayres to petition the performing arts facility alone, rather than the entire bond ordinance as originally sought. Christ wrote in an email to Ayres that he feared people would not sign the petition if the beach patrol headquarters was included in the petition effort.
The PAC project is being completed through a partnership with the Town of Ocean City and the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which is paying $5.7 million of the auditorium’s costs.
The town is going to the bond market by the end of the year. In the meantime, Ocean City’s portion of the PAC is being paid for out of fund balance that will be reimbursed by the bond, which will be ultimately be paid off by the food and beverage tax.
This local sales tax of .5 percent on food and beverages is imposed for the purpose of paying the principal and interest on bonds issued to finance the construction, reconstruction, repair, renovation and equipment of the convention center.
A couple of weeks ago, Christ, spokesperson for the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice, submitted a petition for referendum to City Solicitor Guy Ayres against the convention center auditorium’s $8.5 million portion of the bond ordinance to have the language approved.
At that time, Christ reasoned the newspaper disclosure of the indebtedness did not disclose the voters will be assessed additional real estate taxes annually should the food and beverage tax come short of the debt.
Christ furthered, however the ordinance states, “The City shall levy and collect ad valorem taxes upon all taxable property within the City … to pay the principle of and interest on the Convention Center portion of the Bonds in any fiscal year.”
The petition was denied five times by Ayres due to confusing language, according to emails shared by Christ with the media. At this point, Christ hired former Salisbury Solicitor Paul Wilber whose opinion was to petition the entire bond ordinance instead of singling out the PAC that was causing the confusing language.
“Each circulator would have a full copy of the Bond Ordinance for a voter to review.  A circulator can explain that the referendum petition is caused by the portion of the Bond Ordinance which relates to the $8.5 million expenditure for the convention center auditorium,” Wilbur submitted.
On Tuesday morning, Christ announced the petition for referendum that includes all capital projects listed in the bond ordinance had received approval.
By Charter a petition for referendum has 40 days to circulate, and at least 40 percent of the number of voters, who voted in the last election, or 1,226 signatures in this case, is required to be collected in order for the petition to be successful to have the bond ordinance placed on the next ballot.
According to Ayres, there is no provision in the charter to extend the time period for rejected petitions, therefore petition circulators lost 11 days of soliciting time while the petition was going through the approval process. The bond ordinance petition is due on Nov. 20.
Christ’s most recent reasoning behind opposing the bond ordinance is the town’s failure to disclose information of the PAC to current convention center clients, such as one of the facility’s largest tenants the State of Maryland Fireman’s Association, that conducts a memorial service that attracts over 3,000 visitors but the PAC will only seat 1,200.
“Stephen Decatur has a bigger auditorium with more seating. A 1,200-seat center will not attract name entertainers that in turn will attract sufficient people to pay. If it were 2,500 seats, things might be different,” Christ submitted.
By Wednesday, the news of Christ’s bond ordinance petition had spread and a few city officials began warning the public against signing the petition through social media.
Councilman Doug Cymek posted on Facebook, “In the very near future, you may be asked to sign a referendum petition by a group known as Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice led by Tony Christ. Please be extremely cautious and become familiar with all the facts of the issue prior to placing your signature on the petition … the truth of the matter is Christ and his local advisor which happens to be a large hotelier apparently are not against what he refers to as the ‘Fine Arts Center.’ As late as yesterday, Christ published a statement stating if the new auditorium were 2,500 seats that would be a different matter. If that is the case than what is really behind his petition?”
Mayor Rick Meehan said signing the bond ordinance petition could cost the taxpayers of Ocean City millions of dollars. The PAC project has been approved and has received five unanimous votes by two different councils to move forward.
The town along with an appointed community committee, comprised of local citizens and business people, did its homework before voting to move forward with the project as economic studies have been conducted resulting in justification of the expense. According to the mayor, not only will there be no expense to the taxpayers but additional revenue will derive from the auditorium that benefits the taxpayer.
“The funding of this project has already been approved,” the mayor said. “The purpose of the bond issue is to reimburse the City for the funding that has been approved, and the convention center project is being completed at no cost to the Ocean City taxpayer. Our portion of the bond indebtedness is paid off entirely by the food and beverage tax. The food and beverage tax will not run out, and it has been increasing yearly. If there is no food and beverage tax collected that mean there is no business done in Ocean City at all. That is a scare tactic.”
Expenses will occur for Ocean City’s taxpayers if the auditorium is delayed or stopped, Meehan said, as the project’s design is completed, construction started this week and there is a contract to uphold with the State of Maryland.
“We are obligated to complete the project,” the mayor said.
Meehan furthered, Ocean City has full support of the State of Maryland Fireman’s Association to proceed with the PAC project, contrary to what Christ maintains.
“We have a letter from them supporting the project. Their main assembly does not take place in the auditorium. It will still take place in the main ballroom,” he said. “Anytime you have a construction project there will be concerns and complaints to be mitigated. The director of the convention center, Mr. Noccolino, has done a very good job with working with all of our tenants to make sure through the construction process any concerns they have are mitigated.”
The mayor pointed out this may be history repeating itself. In the 1990’s an expansion of Northside Park was approved and was also funded by a bond issue. The bond issue was taken to referendum to stop the expenditure. The referendum was soundly defeated and the town was able to move forward with construction but it cost the Town an additional hundreds of thousands of dollars because of delays.
“That is the same situation we are facing now, and I don’t think there is anybody that looks back now that would be able to imagine what Northside Park would be like if we hadn’t done that expansion,” the mayor said.
The Citizens For Ocean City group, which was organized in September 2011 following then-City Manager Dennis Dare’s dismissal by a former council, has publically advertised its opposition to Christ and the bond ordinance petition. The group stated, “The performing arts facility will add another amenity to Ocean City; another reason for people to move here and to visit. It will fill hotels and restaurants and benefit shops and residents, especially in the off season. It will expand the Convention Center’s marketability beyond conventions, offering a place to showcase local community talent in addition to national Arts and Entertainment, and it costs the taxpayers nothing.”
Additionally, an online petition at change.org to encourage people to not sign the bond ordinance petition and express their backing of the ordinance was created yesterday and had 50 supporters as of 6 this morning.

Man Completes 3,000-Mile Bike Journey In OC; Trek Aimed To Spread SWS Awareness

Al DeCesaris Jr. was joined at the finish line at the Original Greene Turtle on 116th Street by his sister, Ida, her daughter, Jenna, who has SWS, and the Hastings family of Millsboro, Del. whose daughter, Stella, also has SWS. Photo by Joanne Shriner

OCEAN CITY – Al DeCesaris Jr. finished a 3,000-mile journey across the United States in Ocean City on Tuesday all in the name of his niece and others who suffer from Sturge-Weber Syndrome (SWS).
Crossing America For A Cure is a fundraiser hosted by the Celebrate Hope Foundation, Inc., which is a non-profit charitable organization. DeCesaris and his sister, Ida Heck, from Annapolis, created the fundraiser in honor of Ida’s daughter, Jenna, 9, who was born with SWS, a devastating neurological disorder.
SWS is a congenital, neurological disorder most readily identifiable by a port wine birthmark that presents on the face of those affected, and causes blood vessel abnormalities in the brain, skin and eyes. These abnormalities cause countless health complications that include seizures and glaucoma. Seizures are unpredictable and vary in length and severity and can lead to strokes, mental retardation, developmental delays, learning disabilities, migraines, vision impairment, paralysis and even death.
Jenna and others affected by SWS receive care and treatment at the Hunter Nelson Sturge-Weber Center at Kennedy Krieger Institute, an internationally recognized institution dedicated to the diagnosis, research, and treatment of SWS.
Eight years ago, the DeCesaris and Heck families started a concert and auction fundraiser called Bands on the Bay that has raised over $1 million for the Hunter Nelson Sturge-Weber Center. These funds directly support the development of new strategies to reduce brain injury and other adverse effects of the disorder, provided treatment for patients without medical insurance and most recently funded the research that led to the discovery of the cause of SWS.
“Last year my sister and I got to talking how we needed to create awareness in different parts of the country, branch out and spread the word in different areas. So, we started brainstorming and the next thing we know the idea was for me to be on a bike spreading the word all across America, and that’s what we did,” DeCesaris said.
With no experience in cycling, DeCesaris began training for his journey only three weeks before he left on Sept. 8 for a 45-day trip traveling 3,000 miles across 13 states starting in Santa Monica, Calif. ending in Ocean City.
In partnership with his sister, Heck would map out his route every night looking for the easiest routes with the least amount of elevation and best biking conditions. DeCesaris biked an average of 80 miles a day solo. He became part of the Warm Showers Community that is a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists with people who are willing to host touring cyclists and have them stay with them.
DeCesaris biked 41 days out of the 45-day trip as he took a few days off to visit other children suffering from SWS. Along the way, he stopped at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital where he met Page McGrady and Lynn Ray, two children suffering from SWS. In Pittsburgh, DeCesaris met former NFL Steelers pro-bowler Alan Faneca, whose daughter, Anabelle, suffers from SWS. Once hearing DeCesaris’ story, Faneca committed to matching all the funds raised along the way. Also, a couple of days ago on his way to Ocean City he stopped in Sussex County, Del. where he met the Hastings family and their daughter, Stella, who has been diagnosed with SWS.
“The highlight was just a few days ago when I stopped at Jenna’s elementary school and got to see the look on her face when I rode up on my bike with all of her friends and classmates standing at her side,” he said.
There were a few downsides to the journey, DeCesaris admitted, such as riding through the Mojave Desert, or a 70-mile stretch along Interstate 40 with no rest stops, climbing 7,000 feet above sea level into Flagstaff, Ariz., and even getting caught in a major storm.
“I don’t know if it has sunk in … it is really incredible today to see not only my niece Jenna is here and see her excitement, but meeting the Hastings and Stella. To have them see what I have done and how it has touched their lives, it is an incredible feeling that I am still trying to process,” DeCesaris said on Tuesday after he crossed the finish line at the Original Greene Turtle on 116th Street. “As far as biking, it doesn’t feel like I am done. I feel like I need to get back out there.”
Crossing America For A Cure has raised almost $30,000 and with Faneca’s matching funds plus a few more scheduled fundraisers in the next several days the campaign should raise over $60,000.
“The wheels are already turning,” DeCesaris said of the next fundraising endeavor. “I am not sure what it is but I know when I told my family I was biking across America they thought I was crazy, so I am going to keep my next endeavor under wraps until I make sure I can do it. I will be doing something. I have the bug now for it.”
At the finish line, friends and family and Ocean City representatives from the Mayor and City Council and the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce were there to greet him.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas presented DeCesaris a proclamation on behalf of Ocean City.
“Al, it has been a very long selfless journey to raise funds for the disease Jenna suffers … the Town of Ocean City is turning out at the Greene Turtle to give Al and Jenna and their entire family a big Ocean City welcome, and commend Al for his tremendous accomplishments,” Pillas said.
Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Events Director Lisa Dennis presented DeCesaris a certificate in recognition of his dedication in raising awareness of SWS and fundraising for the Hunter Nelson Sturge-Weber Center at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
“Your 3,000-mile, 45-day bike ride from Santa Monica, Calif., to Ocean City, Md., truly shows the commitment and love that you have for a very worthy cause. We wish you all the best in your future efforts and are very proud of your journey,” Dennis said.
It was important to have her brother cross the finish line in Ocean City as Heck has spent many summers in the resort throughout her life, and for the past nine years she has cherished her family’s time in Ocean City as it was a break from doctor appointments, soccer practices and all other routines that keep them busy.
“It was amazing that he finished,” Heck said. “When he sets his mind to something, he does it.”
For more information on Crossing America For A Cure and how to help visit www.crossingamericaforacure.com.

Bond Ordinance Petition Seeks To Derail Resort’s Performing Arts Center

Demolition and other site work began this week for the addition of a 1,200-seat performing arts auditorium at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. Photo by Shawn Soper

OCEAN CITY – Proponents of the performing arts center in Ocean City are taking a stand against Tony Christ and the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice group that has organized a petition opposing the convention center’s new auditorium.

A few weeks ago, the Mayor and City Council approved the sale of bonds to finance the Roland E. Powell Convention Center Performing Arts Center (PAC) and other capital projects in its final reading.

The convention center’s new auditorium portion of the bond is in the amount of $8.47. The remaining $4.23 million is dedicated to a roof for the Public Safety Building, a roof for the Service Center Building, a new Beach Patrol headquarters, and an effluent disinfection system at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. All the projects will amortize over a period of 10 years.

The PAC project is being completed through a partnership with the Town of Ocean City and the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA), which is paying $5.7 million of the auditorium’s costs.

The town is going to the bond market by the end of the year. In the meantime, Ocean City’s portion of the PAC is being paid for out of fund balance that will be reimbursed by the bond, which will be ultimately be paid off by the food and beverage tax.

This local sales tax of .5 percent on food and beverages is imposed for the purpose of paying the principal and interest on bonds issued to finance the construction, reconstruction, repair, renovation and equipment of the convention center.

A couple of weeks ago, Christ, spokesperson for the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice, submitted a petition for referendum to City Solicitor Guy Ayres against the convention center auditorium’s $8.5 million portion of the bond ordinance to have the language approved.

At that time, Christ reasoned the newspaper disclosure of the indebtedness did not disclose the voters will be assessed additional real estate taxes annually should the food and beverage tax come short of the debt.

Christ furthered, however the ordinance states, “The City shall levy and collect ad valorem taxes upon all taxable property within the City … to pay the principle of and interest on the Convention Center portion of the Bonds in any fiscal year.”

The petition was denied five times by Ayres due to confusing language, according to emails shared by Christ with the media. At this point, Christ hired former Salisbury Solicitor Paul Wilber whose opinion was to petition the entire bond ordinance instead of singling out the PAC that was causing the confusing language.

“Each circulator would have a full copy of the Bond Ordinance for a voter to review.  A circulator can explain that the referendum petition is caused by the portion of the Bond Ordinance which relates to the $8.5 million expenditure for the convention center auditorium,” Wilbur submitted.

On Tuesday morning, Christ announced the petition for referendum that includes all capital projects listed in the bond ordinance had received approval.

By Charter a petition for referendum has 40 days to circulate, and at least 40 percent of the number of voters, who voted in the last election, or 1,226 signatures in this case, is required to be collected in order for the petition to be successful to have the bond ordinance placed on the next ballot.

According to Ayres, there is no provision in the charter to extend the time period for rejected petitions, therefore petition circulators lost 11 days of soliciting time while the petition was going through the approval process. The bond ordinance petition is due on Nov. 20.

Christ’s most recent reasoning behind opposing the bond ordinance is the town’s failure to disclose information of the PAC to current convention center clients, such as one of the facility’s largest tenants the State of Maryland Fireman’s Association, that conducts a memorial service that attracts over 3,000 visitors but the PAC will only seat 1,200.

“Stephen Decatur has a bigger auditorium with more seating. A 1,200-seat center will not attract name entertainers that in turn will attract sufficient people to pay. If it were 2,500 seats, things might be different,” Christ submitted.

By Wednesday, the news of Christ’s bond ordinance petition had spread and a few city officials began warning the public against signing the petition through social media.

Councilman Doug Cymek posted on Facebook, “In the very near future, you may be asked to sign a referendum petition by a group known as Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice led by Tony Christ. Please be extremely cautious and become familiar with all the facts of the issue prior to placing your signature on the petition … the truth of the matter is Christ and his local advisor which happens to be a large hotelier apparently are not against what he refers to as the ‘Fine Arts Center.’ As late as yesterday, Christ published a statement stating if the new auditorium were 2,500 seats that would be a different matter. If that is the case than what is really behind his petition?”

Mayor Rick Meehan said signing the bond ordinance petition could cost the taxpayers of Ocean City millions of dollars. The PAC project has been approved and has received five unanimous votes by two different councils to move forward.

The town along with an appointed community committee, comprised of local citizens and business people, did its homework before voting to move forward with the project as economic studies have been conducted resulting in justification of the expense. According to the mayor, not only will there be no expense to the taxpayers but additional revenue will derive from the auditorium that benefits the taxpayer.

“The funding of this project has already been approved,” the mayor said. “The purpose of the bond issue is to reimburse the City for the funding that has been approved, and the convention center project is being completed at no cost to the Ocean City taxpayer. Our portion of the bond indebtedness is paid off entirely by the food and beverage tax. The food and beverage tax will not run out, and it has been increasing yearly. If there is no food and beverage tax collected that mean there is no business done in Ocean City at all. That is a scare tactic.”

Expenses will occur for Ocean City’s taxpayers if the auditorium is delayed or stopped, Meehan said, as the project’s design is completed, construction started this week and there is a contract to uphold with the State of Maryland.

“We are obligated to complete the project,” the mayor said.

Meehan furthered, Ocean City has full support of the State of Maryland Fireman’s Association to proceed with the PAC project, contrary to what Christ maintains.

“We have a letter from them supporting the project. Their main assembly does not take place in the auditorium. It will still take place in the main ballroom,” he said. “Anytime you have a construction project there will be concerns and complaints to be mitigated. The director of the convention center, Mr. Noccolino, has done a very good job with working with all of our tenants to make sure through the construction process any concerns they have are mitigated.”

The mayor pointed out this may be history repeating itself. In the 1990’s an expansion of Northside Park was approved and was also funded by a bond issue. The bond issue was taken to referendum to stop the expenditure. The referendum was soundly defeated and the town was able to move forward with construction but it cost the Town an additional hundreds of thousands of dollars because of delays.

“That is the same situation we are facing now, and I don’t think there is anybody that looks back now that would be able to imagine what Northside Park would be like if we hadn’t done that expansion,” the mayor said.

The Citizens For Ocean City group, which was organized in September 2011 following then-City Manager Dennis Dare’s dismissal by a former council, has publically advertised its opposition to Christ and the bond ordinance petition. The group stated, “The performing arts facility will add another amenity to Ocean City; another reason for people to move here and to visit. It will fill hotels and restaurants and benefit shops and residents, especially in the off season. It will expand the Convention Center’s marketability beyond conventions, offering a place to showcase local community talent in addition to national Arts and Entertainment, and it costs the taxpayers nothing.”

Additionally, an online petition at change.org to encourage people to not sign the bond ordinance petition and express their backing of the ordinance was created yesterday and had 50 supporters as of 6 this morning.

Ocean City Eyes Pickup Truck Law Change

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OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City is considering outlawing passengers from riding in the back of pickup trucks.

According to Ocean City Police Lt. Scott Harner, on Oct. 1 the state enacted several laws to increase seatbelt usage by expanding the requirements under the law, and Harner proposed an ordinance to enact in Ocean City where passengers would be prohibited to ride in the unenclosed portion of a vehicle, such as the bed of a pickup truck.

“In my tenure here, I have witnessed an increase of people in unenclosed areas of vehicles. I have a great concern for people in the unenclosed portions of vehicles as they travel down Coastal Hwy,” Harner said. “I have seen people standing up in unenclosed portions of vehicles, people sitting on the side rails of vehicles, people sitting in lawn chairs in unenclosed portions of vehicles. I don’t think it takes a collision reconstructionist to imagine the likelihood of not only what would happen to them in a crash but at 40 miles per hour if that vehicle comes to a sudden stop, certainly everything in that vehicle is going to continue forward at 40 mph … the likelihood for injury is assured.”

Ocean City Police Captain Kevin Kirstein added it is not only about those who are ejected from a vehicle’s unenclosed area at the time of a collision but also the safety of those who become the crash zone of the passengers ejected.

The seat belt law for Maryland states, “Seat belts required for driver and all passengers age 16 and older. Violation of the seat belt law in the backseat is a secondary offense. Other violations of the seat belt law are standard offenses. Riding in the cargo area of a pickup truck is not permitted for persons under age 16 if the vehicle is traveling more than 25 mph; proper child restraints are still required; some other exceptions apply.”

According to the State Highway Administration (SHA), some jurisdictions, such as Anne Arundel County, have local ordinances that prohibit anyone from riding in the bed of an unenclosed pickup truck. Anne Arundel County’s law came into effect following an accident in 1979 when 10 teens riding in the back of a pickup truck were killed in Gambrills.

Under Section 90 of Anne Arundel County Code titled, Passengers in unenclosed areas of motor vehicles, states, “It shall be unlawful for a person to ride in or allow another person to ride in an unenclosed area of a motor vehicle except in a seat with a seat belt in use. The penalty upon violation is punishable by a fine of $50.

“It is straight forward and simple,” Harner said.

According to Ocean City Police Captain Michael Colbert, the state has not outlawed passengers from riding in unenclosed portions of vehicles due to the agricultural aspect.

“They wouldn’t be able to have workers in the back of a pickup truck to ride down a country road to the next farm area,” he said.

Harner reminded the commission the next step would have the proposed ordinance reviewed by City Solicitor Guy Ayres, who could insert the appropriate language, such as excluding town approved special events, such as holiday parades.

“I think it is a great idea,” OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said. “I think it would help us out tremendously.”

Mayor Rick Meehan added, “I would rather be proactive rather than be reactionary if something did happen.”

The Police Commission was in consensus to have Ayres review the proposed ordinance to have a final draft return to the commission before moving the action item forward to the full Mayor and City Council for a final decision.