OCEAN CITY – Perhaps he was still flush with a dose of good news received a day earlier about the town’s budget or was trying to lighten what had been a decidedly gloomy meeting, but Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan was practically giddy when he addressed the resort’s Economic Development Committee on Wednesday.
After around two hours of gloom and doom expounded by local legislators about the state’s economy, current and future budget cuts and the ongoing recession, Meehan gave town business leaders a quick, but uplifting account of much that had happened in Ocean City since the EDC last met in June.
Meehan explained at the town council’s work session on Tuesday, the review of a budget amendment revealed a roughly $722,000 shortfall in expected revenue thus far, but told EDC members a series of budget cuts and streamlining policies put in place this spring allowed the town to overcome the deficit. During budget time this spring, the Mayor and Council implemented sweeping budget cuts, eliminated some non-essential programs and picked other “low-hanging fruit” to balance the town’s budget.
“The bad news is, we came up about $722,000 short on the revenue side,” said Meehan. “The good news is, we were not only able to overcome the revenue shortfall, but we were able to put about $2.7 million into our fund balance. That’s a direct result of what we did last year when we worked to right-size our government. We’re looking at about $850,000 in state cuts and that $2.7 million will help us overcome that.”
Meehan also updated EDC members on the ongoing carbon monoxide issue. In August, an Ocean City hotel was evacuated after it was discovered it contained dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Town officials in 2007 adopted stringent regulations requiring CO detectors in the wake of a tragedy at a different Boardwalk hotel, and although the new laws have not been strictly enforced, the fact the town has something on the books at all is reason for optimism, according to the mayor.
“When we tried to write an ordinance on carbon monoxide detectors, we couldn’t find a model anywhere in the state,” he said on Wednesday. “I think this is the safest place to stay because we do have an ordinance in place. We’re setting the pace for the rest of the state.”
Meehan pointed out other initiatives adopted by Ocean City to illustrate how progressive the town has been including the recent passage of an ordinance banning salvia and another requiring helmets for motor scooter renters. He also pointed to the effort to develop a performing arts center in an expanded convention center and another movement to attract all or part of the annual Rehoboth Jazz Festival to Ocean City.
Meehan said perhaps the biggest coup for the resort this year was the proactive approach it took to its promotional spending.
“We spent more this year than ever,” he said. “Contrary to what everybody else was doing, we spent more and it paid off for us. Our room tax revenue was even this year in July compared to last year and I don’t think you could find any other destinations that can say that. We’ve been very progressive in Ocean City.”
Ocean City has not only been progressive, but also proactive this year and in the past, according to the mayor.
“We’ve always been proactive,” he said. “This has always been a community to do that and it has paid off. We can’t sit back and let things just happen to us. We have to keep moving forward. We’re going to be optimistic and we’re going to continue to sell Ocean City.”