City Council Swiftly Approves Year’s Final Measures

OCEAN CITY — The final Mayor and City Council session of 2009 had a slew of new ordinances that had to be decided upon and as quickly as City Solicitor Guy Ayres could read them into the record, the council voted them through to the second and final reading.

Here’s a brief overview:

Budget Amendment OK’d

The council voted unanimously to pass through the first of two annual budget amendments as this was the proverbial result to Ocean City’s summer from a fiscal standpoint. Budget Manager Jennie Knapp told council that there were $3.1 million in revenue increases in comparison to her projected numbers despite $700,000 less in property assessments and more than $800,000 trimmed from state funding (highway user and state police aid). All in all, town officials seem pleased with this particular amendment, perhaps giving some concrete numbers to their claims that the town fared extremely well despite the struggling economy.

Also notable in this budget amendment is the fact that $400,000 will be allocated to refund the $500,000 that was taken from the town’s retiree health benefits fund. That decision to essentially borrow the money from the retiree fund, played a large role in the town being able to lower the tax rate for the citizens and property owners of Ocean City.

Mechanical Code Change

 After Chief Building Official Kevin Brown’s presentation to the Mayor and City Council last week, describing a proposed and recommended adoption of new mechanical codes by the town of Ocean City, the council continued to move forward with rules that they admittedly don’t understand wholeheartedly, even prompting the always blunt councilman Jim Hall to say, “this ordinance is as clear as mud.”

In a nutshell, what the council passed through to second and final reading via a 6-1 vote (Councilman Joe Hall in opposition) was new regulations that would require any single-family home, townhouse, commercial or dwelling unit, that would have to have a certified gas fitter handle the installation and the maintenance of any gas burning devices. Councilman Joe Hall, owner of Hall’s Restaurant, said in the past he has had his in-house handyman disconnect and reconnect his restaurant’s gas burning equipment for cleaning or other various reasons. He took the code change with umbrage and consequently voted “nay.” Brown told The Dispatch last week that although the state had wanted the town of Ocean City to adopt this regulations for some time, this summer’s carbon monoxide leaks at two downtown businesses could have been a big reason that the state ramped up its interest in the town’s concurrence.

OCPD General Orders

 The council unanimously voted through all but one of the proposed changes to the police department’s general orders, as police officials seemingly pulled the item concerning and redefining what is allowable under the heading “off duty action” prior to Monday night’s ordinance reading. At last week’s Police Commission meeting, the slight alterations were described and thoroughly reviewed at that level, before receiving unanimous concurrence at both the commission level and then on Monday at the council level.

Essentially, the new elements of the general orders will explain newly amended ways to deal with interdepartmental matters such as discipline, promotions and officer counseling, while redefining the rules and regulations for general conduct from full-time and seasonal officers and explaining the expected law enforcement ethics standards.

Outdoor Display Rules

With the hope of creating a true level playing field for all merchants on the Boardwalk and the neighboring sidestreets, the council unanimously passed the ordinance that would specifically outline what is allowed to be displayed outside of a store both south of 3rd Street and off the Boardwalk as well. When the town had passed through the new guidelines for outdoor display of merchandise on the Boardwalk last spring, officials created a set of rules and regulations for the Boardwalk shops north of 3rd Street and a set for south of 3rd Street. This ordinance will make all the outdoor display rules essentially the same and will allow merchants to pay on an annual basis for their display permits for a much lesser cost than they’ve had to shell out in year’s past. If this ordinance passes second reading, which all signs point to that being the case, merchants would get an easement on what they have to shell out of pocket.

“Currently it costs about $775 for a three-year approval for outdoor display,” said Ocean City Development Corporation Executive Director Glenn Irwin. “This is quite a bit of money for a small business to lay out at one time, especially a new start up business. The revised one-year Boardwalk review now only charges applicants $225 for this activity. 

Although the City Council will need to set a new rate for these one-year, off-the-Boardwalk approvals, I would not assume it would be any greater than the Boardwalk annual rate.”