Council Looking To Further Cut Property Tax Rate

OCEAN CITY – The ongoing budget hearings have produced the unusual sound of cost cutting at City Hall, and some members of the City Council are sharpening their pencils trying to find more things to cut.

Two notable hearings this past week included the Recreation and Parks and Tourism departments as both presented hundreds of thousands of dollars in departmental cuts for the fiscal year 2010 budget.

The Recreation and Parks Department proposed more than $647,000 in cuts to its budget including $273,000 from special events alone, and the 10-percent overall cut was tentatively approved by the council in a 4-1 vote (with Jim Hall and Lloyd Martin absent and Margaret Pillas abstaining).

“This budget is unlike any other that we’ve ever seen in the past,” said Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster. “We think this is a much leaner budget that still keeps the essential services that residents and visitors of Ocean City have come to expect.”

All speakers from recreation and parks spoke of the “extremely tight” conditions that they must work in, while trying to continue to offer up proven town-sponsored events like Springfest, Sunfest and Winterfest.

“We feel that the special events not only lengthen the tourism season but they also provide a substantial economic impact to the town of Ocean City,” said Special Events Director John Sullivan.

Less revenue is projected to be brought in from both Sunfest and Springfest, the decorations at Winterfest have been scaled back, as well as a downsizing of the 4th of July fireworks displays.

All seed money for special events, including the $50,000 for the OC Air Show will be cut as well, in addition to reduced entertainment events and small incremental (an annual) fee raises for the summer camps and activities.

“We think this is a fair balance between what people are willing to pay versus what government should provide,” said Shuster.

In addition, the tourism budget outlined $1.5 million in total cuts from $7.7 million (FY 2009) to $6.2 million proposed for the FY 2010 budget.

A notable deletion to the tourism budget, which pretty much saw cuts in almost every division including public relations, travel and training and administrative costs, was the Sea For Yourself Guide, which was recently merged into one unified guide with the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. Merging the guide with the chamber saved the town $135,000.

Throughout the budget hearings, Pillas has been admittedly “nitpicking” almost every line item of each department trying to find an additional $2 million that she feels will be enough to lower the tax rate from 41 cents to 39 cents.

“I’m abstaining from voting on the tentative budgets until I get all the information,” said Pillas.

Mayor Rick Meehan, who said that he feels that all the council members would like to see the tax rate lowered, said that budget hearings have been going well so far.

“I think the budget is at a great starting point and I think that we will be able to make more cuts, because we all would like to reduce the tax rate,” said Meehan. “It’s a great educational process that the budget hearings bring each year, as you get to find out exactly how each department is running and so far all the dialogue has been very positive, and will continue to be, as long as everyone keeps an open mind.”

The one raise in the tourism budget was the advertising spending on tourism, which no one contested to be an important expenditure. Next year, the town will spend almost $4 million on tourism advertising.