Joe Hall, Pillas Question Special Events

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster thought he was coming in front of the City Council on Tuesday for a routine report outlining the town’s free events for the summer season, but, in reality, a few officials thought that a couple of those events needed to be placed under the budgetary microscope for further review.

At the root of it, the council voted 4-1-1, with Joe Hall in opposition and Margaret Pillas abstaining, to approve the existing and new events on the beach that are offered at no cost to the general public including Sunfest and Springfest, the 4th of July fireworks, free movies on the beach, family Olympics events and various others.

Both Pillas and Hall were quick to pledge their allegiance to the events, but were cautious about rubberstamping them through based on the cost to the town.

“My whole livelihood is based on tourism and in no way am I against these events,” said Pillas. “All I’m asking is whether or not there is additional cost savings on these events by maybe us looking at the wheel again, because I feel if I make that decision now, I won’t have the chance to see it at budget time.”

Joe Hall seemed to think of the list as a bit more than free activities on the beach for the public to enjoy.

“The public has the expectation for us to let them know what’s coming and a clear understanding of how we are spending money,” said Hall. “To me, this isn’t just an events list, it’s a list of budgetary concerns.”

Shuster told the council that events like Sunfest and Springfest are virtually “break even” events for the town, but said their worth should be measured by the impact on the entire business community.

“You must take into account the ability of these events to deliver tourists and tourist dollars to our community,” said Shuster. “Studies show that the return of the town of Ocean City based on the investment for these events is much greater than the amount of money that was put out by the town.”

According to Shuster, for every dollar spent at Sunfest by the town, $10.56 is returned into the local economy, and Springfest brings a similar $6 return as an example.  Shuster also noted the value in the calendar of events offering something free for people to do in Ocean City every night of the week with the exception of Saturday.

“I think the public has come to expect this time tested events that bring a lot of dollars back into this economy and I feel like we are almost obligated to move forward with these,” said Councilman Doug Cymek.

Councilman Jim Hall, who also serves as chairperson for the recreation and parks committee, said that many of the cost cutting measures that Pillas and Joe Hall were asking for were being done at the committee level.

“We are cutting these down to the bone as best we can, and we are trying to do them a whole lot smarter,” said Hall, “but these are economic engines for the town, and most people really enjoy them.”

Notable cuts from the list this year include the Seaside 10 race, which is now run by a private sponsor, the 4th of July fireworks were scaled back, and the Jamboree in the Park concerts were eliminated.

Twenty-one new nights of movies on the beach and family Olympics will essentially replace what’s gone, according to Shuster.

The cost to the town for the new events, particularly the movies, will be a $250 license fee to show each movie and the usage of a projector that was purchased last year by the town.

“By getting to this level of free activities on the beach, we are giving people added value during their trip to Ocean City,” said Shuster.

“Added value” seems to be the mantra heard all over town this winter from local hotel owners trying to draw in visitors to restaurateurs trying to give people more bang for their buck in their dining experience.  In the end, the council agreed that free events are the “added value” the Ocean City tourist is seeking.

“When I see that for every dollar spent it brought back $10 to the town, that’s what’s important to me and what’s important to those who rely on tourism in this town,” said Councilwoman Mary Knight.