BERLIN – Worcester’s delegation in the House in Annapolis is seeking to carve out a slice of the potential slots revenue from Ocean Downs for the Ocean Pines community from the county’s share.
In the version of the bill approved by voters across the state in the November referendum, the local allocation formula for Worcester included 70 percent for county at-large, with 20 percent going to Ocean City and 10 percent going to Berlin. The proposed formula has been the source of much consternation in the months since the election with Ocean Pines officials clamoring for a share, citing the close proximity to Ocean Downs. In December, the County Commissioners fired off a letter to their representatives in Annapolis requesting the county receive management authority over the entire local allocation from slots proceeds to dole out to the local jurisdictions as they see fit.
This week, Delegates James Mathias, Norm Conway and Page Elmore introduced legislation that would, among other things, alter the slots allocation formula to include a 10-percent share for Ocean Pines. Under the language of the bill, the county would receive 60 percent, while 20 percent would go to Ocean City along with 10 percent each to Berlin and Ocean Pines.
“By recognizing Ocean Pines with this legislation, we can empower more people and bring more people to the table,” said Mathias yesterday. “We protected some communities and included some communities and brought some good minds into the mix along the way. This is a bill of inclusion, not exclusion.”
Mathias said the intent of the bill was to include Ocean Pines in the allocation formula because it will likely be the community impacted the most. He said the new language represents a compromise of sorts.
“We did what we thought was best,” he said. “I think it’s a smart, intelligent response to a difficult situation. Ocean Pines is a very successful community and they have their concerns just like everybody else. This will allow them to have a seat at the table.”
Commissioner Judy Boggs has the unique perspective of being on both sides of the issue. As the commissioner who represents the Pines, she could see her community get a cut at the expense of the county’s share, but she endorsed the proposed legislation yesterday.
“I’ve always said Ocean Pines will be the community most impacted by slots at Ocean Downs,” she said. “Ocean Pines certainly would have benefited under the original language in the legislation, but Ocean Pines will definitely benefit from being mentioned specifically in the bill. It’s a win-win situation for our community.”
Boggs said all of the impacts on the Pines would likely be negative, justifying why the community should have a voice in how the money is allocated.
“I think Ocean Pines might have gotten more if the commissioners were granted the authority for allocating the community impact money,” she said. “The intent of the legislation is to use the funding for negative impacts and I believe Ocean Pines will be impacted negatively the most. Ocean City gets a nice share, as they should, but I’m not certain all of their impacts will be negative. You might see the hotels running shuttles to the slots venue and that could be a positive impact.”
Meanwhile, former OPA president and leader of Citizens for Ocean Pines Equity (COPE) Dan Stachurksi said yesterday the bill should help ensure the community is taken care of in the allocation process.
“We’re absolutely satisfied,” he said. “The whole issue is about equity for Ocean Pines. The language in this bill recognizes there will be an impact on Ocean Pines and that there is a cost associated with that impact.”
Stachurski said he is convinced the bill will pass as written as long as the delegates push hard enough for it.
“As long as the three people who introduced this bill stay with it, I don’t think you’ll see too many changes to it and I think it will get passed,” he said. “I’d be very surprised to see this piece of legislation not make it through.”