County Mum On Amusement Tax District Proposal

BERLIN – Worcester County’s elected officials kept their thoughts to themselves after Jolly Roger’s Buddy Jenkins presented the case for an Ocean City amusement tax overlay district, which would give two major amusement enterprises tax relief.

The measure would freeze property assessments of the Trimper rides properties, Jolly Roger Amusement Park, and Jolly Roger rides at the Pier at the 2004 level, or the current assessment, whichever is lower. If the use of the property changes, however, those taxes must be paid in full.

“We’re not talking about eliminating taxes. We’re talking about holding the line on taxes,” Jenkins told the commissioners at this week’s general meeting.

Representatives of Trimper’s Amusements and Ocean City did not join him in the presentation of the request for conceptual approval of the amusement tax overlay district.

The Maryland General Assembly would have to approve the legislation, and in order for the law to go forward, lawmakers have said, both Ocean City and Worcester County must endorse it.

The Ocean City Council voted last month to give the tax freeze its full support.

Jenkins, chair of the Board of Directors of Bay Shore Development Corporation, owner of Jolly Roger amusement park and other properties, emphasized to the County Commissioners that amusements are part of county tourism, just like kayak and bike trails.

The costs of running an amusement park are high, he said, citing a $3.3 million payroll. Jolly Roger employs 400 people.

“The payroll is spent in the county, the employees live and work in the county,” he said.

The amusement park industry faces unique challenges, he said. Mechanically complex rides, go-karts and the water park must be maintained and enhanced every year.

“Energy costs have gone up 40 to 50 percent,” said Jenkins. “Our insurance costs have gone up and continue to go up.”

The item that has increased the most is property taxes, which are based on what the property could be, not what it is.

“We’ve had a 40-percent increase in the assessed value of the pier, a 40-percent increase at Jolly Roger,” Jenkins said. “We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on taxes. Our industry is the most taxed industry in the county.”

Trimper’s Rides, which has been attempting to find some tax relief for months, has projected that property taxes on its amusement park site will double in the next three years. Between 2004 and 2007, when the properties were reassessed, property values went up 163 percent, from roughly $30 million to $78 million.

The commissioners have said in the past they support the concept, but would like to see the bill before endorsing it. In a Dec. 4, 2007 letter to local legislators, the commissioners wrote, “The Worcester County Commissioners believe that the continued use of these properties for amusement rides is important to preserve the family-friendly character of Ocean City and conceptually support the continued use of the property strictly for amusement rides. However, until we are able to review the final draft bill on this matter, the Worcester County Commissioners are unable to endorse this legislation.”

Jenkins assured the commissioners on Tuesday he wants no “part of any bad bill either.”

Commissioner Louise Gulyas asked Jenkins to confirm that the taxes would be paid back if the use of the property changes in the future.

“That’s the only fair thing to do,” Jenkins said.

With little comment from the commissioners, Commission President Jim Purnell told Jenkins, “you’ll be hearing from us very soon.”