OC Holds Line On Budget Requests

SNOW HILL – There were no buckets of popcorn, no saltwater taffy and no T-shirts this year when Ocean City officials met with the County Commissioners to discuss the town’s budget requests for fiscal year 2009, just a somber realization simply holding the line on what was allocated last year was probably a prudent approach in what will be a tough budget year for both entities.

Earlier this year, Ocean City officials resurrected the old tax differential issue seeking roughly $13 million from the county to cover the cost of services duplicated by the town. This year, Ocean City is asking for an additional $3.25 million on various line items in lieu of paying the requested tax differential. 

When Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and a contingent of town officials met with the commissioners for the annual budget request session, they must have known the commissioners had already resigned themselves to formally deny the tax differential request.

“We were here in December for a discussion of tax differential and we found out there were some things we agreed on and some we don’t agree on,” Meehan told the commissioners. “The tax differential report came in at around $13 million, and we realize that’s certainly not doable, but we think we’re coming back with something reasonable we can agree on.”

Meehan and Ocean City officials outlined their budget requests for fiscal year 2009, and practically across the board, the town is asking for exactly what it asked for last year with a few major exceptions. Ocean City on Tuesday requested what the county allocated to the town last year for certain line items practically to the penny. However, resort officials asked for an additional $3.25 million this year representing increases in various line items.

For example, the town is seeking an additional $1 million in grant money for police aid, another $500,000 for emergency services, half a million for county street grants and $350,000 in tourism marketing money. Last year, the county granted $350,000 to the town for tourism marketing and is asking county officials this year to double that figure.

“We’re asking for a total of $700,000 for tourism marketing this year,” said Meehan. “There is $700,000 in the Ocean City budget this year for tourism marketing and we hope the county would consider a similar figure. Nobody who visits the resort area differentiates between Ocean City and West Ocean City.”

The other major departures from last year’s grant allocation were requests for a county share on bond payments for two significant capital projects in the resort. Meehan asked county officials to consider contributing $500,000 per year for 20 years for the ongoing downtown parking garage project. The town is in the planning and development stage for a multi-story parking garage in the downtown area and is asking the county to help pay for its future construction.

“We would like you to consider helping us finance the parking garage downtown,” said Meehan. “We’re asking for a commitment of $500,000 a year for 20 years to help retire that debt.”

Similarly, Ocean City asked the commissioners to consider a similar commitment to the purchase of land for a new public boat ramp in the resort to the tune of $500,000 for 20 years. For years, the town has desired to find a new location for a public boat ramp to replace the existing ramp in the residential neighborhood of Little Salisbury.

“The town of Ocean City understands the climate we’re in today,” he said. “For that reason, we’ve tempered our requests somewhat. While the total of our funding requests are substantially less than the amounts identified in the tax differential report, it moves in the direction needed to adequately address this issue for Ocean City taxpayers.”