OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and Council gave full support to the Trimper family this week, agreeing to back the concept of the proposed historic amusement tax district, a legislative proposal that many are hoping will keep the downtown Ocean City landmark in business for decades.
The news earlier this year that the downtown amusement park might be closing for good left many reeling, sparking a mass of letters to the editor, to the Mayor and Council and to pretty much anyone who would listen. A website was created in an effort to show support for the amusement park, which has been entertaining locals and visitors for over 100 years, and to provide an outlet for supporters to express their thoughts and memories. The response has been fairly consistent across the board – Ocean City would not be the same without the beloved downtown attraction.
The soaring property taxes in the downtown area have been cited as the chief reason for the possibility of no more Trimper’s Rides. The Trimper family has estimated that the property tax assessments will double within the next three years, a safe prediction considering the assessments increased 163 percent in three years from $29.6 million to $77.9 million.
This week, in an effort to prevent closing down, Granville Trimper, along with attorney Joseph Harrison, made a request for the Mayor and Council’s support of a proposed bill to be submitted to the Maryland legislature.
“The purpose of the legislation will be to permit the establishment of a special taxing district for a limited number of properties situated in the Downtown Amusement Overlay District of Ocean City, and which are utilized for purposes consistent with that district,” wrote Granville Trimper in a letter to the Mayor and Council.
Trimper explained that the proposal would, “help in continuing a 117-year-old amusement park that has fallen on hard times,” adding that he hopes the park will thrive for another 100 years.
Harrison explained to the Mayor and Council that Delegate Jim Mathias, former Ocean City mayor, has shown preliminary indications of support, agreeing to have the proposed legislation drafted and submitted to Maryland legislation, provided that both the town and the county are in favor of the concept.
The legislation calls for a variety of items in an effort to alleviate the tax burden on Trimper’s. The legislation, if passed, would call for the creation of a special tax district for certain tax parcels downtown. The parcels included in the special tax district would be, the lot containing rides on the south side of South 1st Street, the building containing the Merry-Go-Round and the lot behind it, and the three small lots on the north side of South Division Street on the easterly side of Baltimore Ave.
The legislation would also provide that the owners of the lots, whether it be Trimper’s or someone else, pay real property taxes on each parcel based upon the lower of either of the following; the 2004 assessment amount or the then current assessed value as determined by the Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation. The favorable tax treatment would continue as long as the affected properties continue as currently utilized, which basically calls for favored tax treatment only if the parcels continue to be used as they are now.
If passed, the effective date of the favorable tax treatment would be the tax year 2007-2008.
Harrison explained that at this point the company is only seeking the Mayor and Council’s support of the “concept” of the proposal, in the form of a letter. The county has also been approached on the subject and, according to Harrison, gave a letter of support with the condition that final legislation come back before the County Commissioners for approval.
“I personally think it would be a loss to the economy of Ocean City,” said Trimper, pointing out the impact the loss of Trimper’s Rides would have on the town.
Harrison explained the idea behind seeking an historic amusement tax district is to avoid becoming a “historic district.” Becoming a nationally-recognized historic district could have positive ramifications for the amusement park, but would bring baggage and restrictions along with it.
Councilwoman Mary Knight questioned who would pay the saved back taxes in the event that someone else buys the land and turns into another use, such as condos. She pointed out that requiring back taxes to be paid in such an instance would be a good incentive to keep the land as an amusement park.
Councilman Jay Hancock questioned whether there was any sort of guarantee on the longevity of the land being used as an amusement park.
“I’d like to see a commitment that the rides would be here for a given amount of time,” said Hancock.
Trimper explained that it is his, and his family’s, intention to continue with the family business, but if help is not received, he may have no other choice.
“If it reaches a point where we’re going in a hole, then we’re going to have to come to you and say we can’t do it anymore,” he said, adding that his hope is that a tax break will prevent that from happening.
According to Trimper, with the hike in property taxes, the company is currently making no profit off of the rides. He reported that there are repairs, such as the roof of the merry-go-round, that need to be fixed that they simply cannot afford at this point.
“If we can’t get something like this accomplished, we’re not going to be able to stay in business…and not because we don’t want to,” Trimper said.
The Mayor and Council agreed that the amusement park is a vital part of the town, one that could not be so easily replaced.
“It would be insurmountable the amount of money we would have to spend to create something [like Trimper’s],” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
The council voted unanimously to support the concept of the proposed historic amusement tax district, but requested final approval of legislation once it is drafted.