Fiscal Woes Stall OC Capital Projects

OCEAN CITY – Vital capital projects regarding the town infrastructure got the green light to proceed by the City Council Wednesday, while the rest were essentially shelved indefinitely.

City Manager Dennis Dare, along with City Engineer Terry McGean and Public Works Director Hal Adkins, brought the proposed capital projects for the next 18 months for the town before the council for a complete review.

Making the cut for approval by the council were projects dealing with city infrastructure such as water- and sewer-related projects, many of which had already been approved and funded by wastewater funds and grants.

Some projects, like the new concession stand or “press box” at Northside Park may have been cut, if it had not been demolished just two days prior. Regardless, Councilwoman Margaret Pillas inquired about the ramifications that could come with leaving the project at ground level. McGean told Pillas, “it’s fairly likely that you would face legal troubles if you were to pull the plug on a contracted project and currently that project is $100,000 under budget.”

With the press box construction slated to start on Monday, some capital projects are going to be shelved until further notice, including the Caroline Street Comfort Station and all but phase one of the St. Louis Avenue project, which will see just the underground piping be installed and none of the street-scaping and underground electrical hookups that would take place in phase two and three. The Artic Avenue project that will see a $543,000 renovation to the 40-year-old pumping station was given the go-ahead after Adkins conveyed its importance to the council. Adkins said that the project should begin in a few weeks and finished by June.

Renovations to the 3rd Street bayside park and skate bowl also got shelved, while the South Ocean Drive revetment was allowed, mainly because the current bulkhead is, according to Adkins, “failing and in danger of caving in, which could cause the road to fall in blocking access to people’s homes.”

The council also advised Dare to shelve plans to update the current “cobrahead” lighting system from 9 to 26th streets.

“We’ve done without those special lights for 3 years, so I say we leave it on the shelf, cause economic times are changing everyday,” Councilman Jim Hall said. “We need to tighten our belts and see where we are in the spring.”

Although Dare said that for many of the projects, “the scene on Wall Street doesn’t favor us moving forward at this time,” Adkins and McGean stressed the quality of prices that they are receiving for projects.

“We haven’t seen prices this good in 18 years,” said McGean. “If we can have designs finished and things on the shelf ready to go when this economy does pick up a bit, we might get to capitalize on these prices.”

One item that the council cut almost reluctantly was the proposed expansion of Station #4, which is also called the Montego Bay Firehouse.

Few of the volunteers at the firehouse live in close proximity, so part of the proposed expansion was to build rooms for a “live-in” firemen program. The council had to delay the work since there was no funding for the project by way of grants, meaning it would have had to be funded solely by local government.

It appears that more cuts could be on the way, as the council now must balance the idea of keeping Ocean City ahead of the game in terms of city infrastructure and aesthetics while facing the tough task of balancing a budget.

Pillas hoped that though projects were shelved, that the council would give them priority when they were reevaluated.

“Some of these are very important projects and I think we should look at them first when that time comes,” she said

The one capital project that was not discussed was the plans to upgrade or expand the Convention Center, but Dare said that would be brought before council on Dec. 9.