Commissioners Unanimously Back Room Tax Hike

By Cara Dahl

Staff Writer

SNOW HILL – Hotel and motel customers will see a slight increase in their bills beginning in 2008 after the County Commissioners passed an increase in the room tax this week from 4 percent 4.5 percent.

Only three people stood up to speak at the public hearing on the increase that preceded the vote and only one had anything negative to say. Given the support from the smaller towns in the county as well as Ocean City’s big push for the increase, the commissioners’ unanimous approval of the increase was expected.

Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association (OCHMRA), which created the increase package, said the Ocean City Mayor and Council has worked with the hospitality industry to create an ordinance to direct additional room tax revenues to tourism advertising.

Ocean City resident Ellie Diegelmann questioned if there would be an impact from the anticipated increase in advertising funds.

“I don’t think they have any idea how proportionally it would increase tourism,” she said.

If web traffic on Ocean City tourism websites has doubled, why does the town need more advertising, Diegelmann asked. Statistics showing an upswing in public relations activity for the town does not gibe with the professed need for more tourism, she said.

She also wondered what the target market and population of the additional advertising would be, saying she hopes the town does not target the kind of tourist with little respect for property. She cited littering and noise problems as a result and proposed targeting white collar and blue-collar professionals to bring in the right kind of tourist. She said the Ocean City Council denies there is a problem with trash in the town and do not support town police department’s enforcement of the noise laws.

“We’re hosting them. We’re hosts to vacationers and it doesn’t mean we have to be abused to accept their tourism dollars,” Diegelmann said.

County Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who represents Ocean City, said, “Your point is well taken but as far as what happens in the municipalities that’s their problem. We can’t micromanage the municipalities.”

Although a few people may litter, the town still has to be a good host, she said.

“But not at the expense of being abused and exploited,” Diegelmann said.

“I don’t think we’re abused or exploited,” Gulyas.

Diegelmann concluded her testimony by remarking, “Your egos will never allow you to act on your errors.”

Commissioner Bud Church said he sees that Diegelmann is sincere, but he wanted to make a suggestion to her.

“Part of the problem I have with some of your comments is you take them unwittingly out of context and you do that because you don’t take the time to call the HMRA and say, ‘explain this to me,’” Church said. “Do your homework before you get here and I think a lot of your frustrations and concerns will be answered before you walk in the door.”

Diegelmann then ventured into her unsuccessful 2006 bid for Gulyas’ county commission slot, which Purnell tried to stop.

“Even though I lost the election last year, there were 1,113 people who voted not for me, but for change,” Diegelmann said, over several sharp bangs of the gavel and directions to cease speaking from Purnell.

At the hearing, Ocean City Councilwoman Nancy Howard reassured the commissioners that the additional advertising money would be spent wisely,

“Ocean City is a tourist town. It’s been a tourist town for 130 years. We invite people to come to Ocean City. Unfortunately, some of them may not behave exactly the way we want them to behave,” Howard said.