Questions Surround Ocean City Demoflush Estimates

OCEAN CITY – Undoubtedly, there are few in the town of Ocean City that would claim that Demoflush statistics are 100 percent spot on, but there are some people who say that its finally time to flush the entire system down the proverbial drain.

Discussion about the credibility of Demoflush statistics, or to perhaps what those numbers actually gauge, got a bit heated in recent months after the town of Ocean City went on a public relations blitz, citing record Demoflush numbers in the month of April, May and June.

From the business community’s perspective, the record numbers that the town was citing was not an accurate picture about how business was operating in the town of Ocean City and some in the business community essentially called the town’s bluff so to speak.

“I just don’t buy into the rosy picture that they are painting right now,” said Doug Buxbaum, owner of Buxy’s Salty Dog Saloon, back in June.

Public Works Director Hal Adkins said this week that if anything, demoflush is “consistently inconsistent” and in his opinion has never been an accurate way to gauge the numbers of people who are visiting the resort on a given weekend.

“I’ve always said to anyone who will listen that it is an inexact science at best, and there are so many factors that skew the numbers,” said Adkins. “Unfortunately, I wish we had a better crystal ball to gauge population in town, but no one has come up with a better one, so essentially that’s the one that is used.”

Dating back as far as the early 1970’s, Ocean City has used Demoflush to determine the crowds of people that have flocked to the resort on a given weekend. By implementing a complicated algebraic formula, which tabulates the total gallons of wastewater that flows through the town’s treatment plants and is essentially divided by the average amount of wastewater that a normal human consumes on a given day (estimated to be 36.04 gallons), a rough crowd number is estimated, removing the local population from the figure.

Adkins said that Demoflush was originally created to help medical facilities measure the transient population coming into the area as a way to better staff their practices to meet the added demands for treatment to visiting patients.

Demoflush statistics have been kept since the early 1990’s in Ocean City and measure the weekend crowds essentially by how many times the toilet is flushed. Many people in the community say that room tax revenues are a much better way to gauge the amount of people who are in town, but like Demoflush, those clinging to the numbers explained by room or food and beverage tax figures have a bit of room for error as well.

Adkins, however, said that the margin of error for Demoflush is vast.

First off, it has never been noted that the numbers that are recorded that are projected as the ‘Ocean City population’ for a given weekend include the wastewater flushes compiled from West Ocean City as well.

“Since somewhere around 1982, there has been a pipeline underneath the bay that feeds all the wastewater from West Ocean City to the town of Ocean City to process at our treatment facility,” said Adkins. “So, yes, the numbers have always had West Ocean City figuring in on the total.”

In addition, in a Nov. 1, 2000 memorandum from then Public Relations/Marketing Director Martha Clemens, it is apparent that condominiums also provide a huge margin of error for the Demoflush statistics.

“There is no way to determine the number of people staying in a condo at one time,” said Clemens. “It could be two, it could be 15. Of course, the number of condos has greatly increased.”

Clemens’ memo went on to determine that the margin of error based on the condominiums alone was “plus or minus 10%” a number she deemed to be “therefore fairly accurate.”

Opponents also say that the numbers don’t gauge day-trippers or residents into the equation, which according to Adkins, makes determining the margin of error for Demoflush, just as tricky as determining the credibility of Demoflush.

“I can’t say if it’s 20 percent, because how would you determine 20 percent,” he said. “There’s so many factors, but once again, there’s just no other way to do it, and in any other town, they really don’t need to gauge how many people are coming through because they don’t have a transient population for part of the year.”

Councilman Joe Hall predicted earlier this summer that this would be the last season Demoflush was used as a primary factor to gauge crowds coming to Ocean City, but Clements said in an interview in the early 80’s with The Washington Post that “people contest demoflush every couple of years and they suggest finding a new way, but we’ve asked business professors at Salisbury, Wilmington College, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania and no one could come up with a better way.”

It should be noted, that July’s Demoflush numbers were down each of the four weekends compared to last year, even though many in the business community cited a much stronger month and one where the comparison to last season was much closer than the record Demoflush months of April, May and June.

For what it’s worth, the first two weeks of August are up, according to Demoflush, but how long people in Ocean City will pay attention to that number is the real question for Adkins.

“I would be surprised if you’d find another place in the country that uses Demoflush, and there are folks in town that would probably like to see it go away today,” said Adkins.