OCEAN CITY – Joe Hall may have had to shake off first meeting jitters after a two-year absence, but he stayed true to his promise to attempt to cut costs in his first official work session back in City Hall.
Hall, who was elected last week after losing a bid for re-election in 2006, ran on two major points during his campaign for City Council. On Tuesday, he tried to uphold at least one of those campaign promises in the first few minutes of his first meeting, proposing an all-out stoppage capital improvement projects for six months.
Though he found little support in his first motion, the council did decide, after a few tweaks to the motion itself, to temporarily suspend projects involving capital improvements pending further review.
A list will be compiled by City Manager Dennis Dare and other town officials, brought before the council, and prioritized to determine the “essential projects”.
Hall stuck to his guns on his other big campaign promise to continue to fund essential services like law enforcement, for instance, voting in favor of granting the Ocean City Fire Department with two new trucks.
Sitting in the far left side of the bench, in the seat formerly held by Jay Hancock, Hall, at times appeared to be “independent” from the rest of the council especially in the moments following his cut capital projects motion, as several members “respectfully advised” Hall to either throw out or drastically change the motion. In the end, Hall said the final decision to merely suspend spending until further review was “the best I could have hoped for”, and noted that the tense moments between he and some of the council mostly could be attributed to do with the “newness of the group itself.”
“I have very different opinions on how things should be done than many of my colleagues on the council, but I realize that I was elected to be a part of a team, and not as an independent, and we all have to find a way to work together,” he said.
Tightening the lid on spending appears to be Hall’s main objective in the first few weeks of his time on the council, raising questions to almost every section of the council’s agenda about how to cut costs.
The most awkward moment in the meeting happened during Martha Lucey’s proposal to council concerning the financing for a possible multi-million dollar expansion/upgrade to the Roland E. Powell Convention Center between Hall and Councilwoman Mary Knight. Knight asked Lucey to re-iterate a point concerning $1.8 million potentially added to the budget if the town were to lose its food tax, as part of its partnership with the state that could be lost, according to Lucey, if the council didn’t act by Nov. 12 and qualify itself for a good rate on borrowing up to $10 million for the convention center project. Knight said to Lucey, “I want you to repeat this for those that don’t know that it could mean two cents on the dollar higher on taxpayers.”
Hall took the quip personally, saying, “I know about the tax, and maybe its time has run its course. I just don’t want to approve $10 million in spending on something I don’t know what we are spending on yet.”
Knight claimed that it was in no way directed at Hall saying that it was for the members of the audience.
Councilman Doug Cymek later replied, “No one is trying to spend $10 million right now, Joe, this just reserves us the right to borrow it if we choose to do these upgrades later on.”
Hall alleges he is not against capital improvements for the town, but wants to move “as slowly as possible so we can express merit vs. the faults of each project.”
“I understand Dennis’ (Dare) position. He wants to keep money coming in to keep the departments going and the town workers working, but we need to rethink all of what we are doing in Ocean City with a new element in the equation and that is the economy,” he said.