Friday, April 10–Governments Realistic In Fund Requests

SNOW HILL – Towns in Worcester County asked this week for a total of $11.5 million in grants from the county budget, an increase of $800,000 over last year.

The municipalities in Worcester County and the community of Ocean Pines made their budget requests formally at Tuesday’s County Commissioner meeting.

Town representatives acknowledged the tight economic times while still making a case for their own requests.

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan reiterated the resort’s request including a 3-percent cut from last year, in line with cuts the County Commissioners have asked county agencies to make.

“We certainly want to be a team player,” Meehan said.

The town’s request letter, sent in mid-March, sends a slightly different message, beginning with the town’s interest in once again discussing a tax differential for the resort. County grant levels, the letter says, should be increased in the future to “bridge the gap between grant revenues received and our tax differential calculations.”

The letter goes on to say that the town understands the current economic climate and asked for the three-percent cuts to the undesignated grant and grants for tourism, recreation, the convention bureau, and downtown redevelopment, decreasing last year’s allocation from $2.9 million to $2,813,000.

Ocean City asked for the same level, $131,200, for police and street aid, and funding via the current formula for emergency services.

“While the total of the above funding requests is substantially less than the amounts identified in the tax differential report, it maintains the direction established last year to address this issue for the Ocean City taxpayers,” Meehan’s letter reads.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Meehan specifically requested that the county continue to fund the Ocean City Development Corporation, a non-profit entity concentrating on revitalizing the resort’s downtown. OCDC is asking for $100,000 for next year.

Meehan said that OCDC’s efforts have already born fruit.

“Everything they’ve done has taken Ocean City to a new level,” he said.

The commissioners have said in recent months that they will not be funding grant requests from county non-profits, but they have not ruled out the annual municipal grants.

“We’re experiencing budget difficulties just as you are,” Meehan said. “We’re continuing to evaluate everything we do in Ocean City to right size our government.”

The town has already cut $2.2 million from its own budget, Meehan said. He also reminded the commissioners that Ocean City is home to 30,000 tax accounts.

Berlin asked for level funding of $450,000, the same as allocated for the current fiscal year, to be used for three initiatives.

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams described those initiatives as the Main Street program, an enhancement of the town’s Arts and Entertainment District and the town’s environmental partnership with Grow Berlin Green.

“In each case, we have a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of support from the community,” Williams said. “These are what I consider investments in quality of life and the future of Worcester County.”

Snow Hill asked for the same $450,000 as allocated last year, which the town’s request letter said would offset lost revenue.

“Although we would appreciate receiving the same funding this year, we understand that this may be unmanageable. Should you need to decrease this amount by a percentage or a fixed amount we would understand your position,” the letter reads.

Snow Hill Mayor Steve Mathews told the commissioners during the meeting that the town’s main priority is to support efforts to build a new wastewater treatment plant.

Pocomoke City asked for a laundry list of funding, from $400,000 to buy land to add to the town’s industrial park, to $200,000 for street improvements, to $20,000 for a new event tent.

“We are at your mercy,” said Pocomoke City Mayor Mike McDermott. “We cannot afford to go with less. I will not come in here and ask you for more.”

McDermott also supported funding to non-profits.

“That’s an area where the county just cannot suffer any further losses,” he said.

Ocean Pines Association President Dave Stevens asked the commissioners to provide $450,000, the same as last year, to supplement funding for the Ocean Pines Police Department and its fire company.

“It goes a long way toward maintaining the police presence in our community,” said Stevens.

County Commission President Louise Gulyas said in a perfect world all of the requests pitched at Tuesday’s meeting would be funded.

“It’s a really challenging time,” said Gulyas. “We will look at all the requests equally. Believe me, if we had the money we’d answer all your requests.”