Late Changes Help Balance OC Budget

OCEAN CITY — En route to
finding approximately $1 million in additional savings to trim the proposed tax
rate from 40.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation to 39.5 cents, the Ocean City
Mayor and Council made a handful of proverbial 11th hour changes
this week in the annual budget wrap-up hearings.

Among the changes was
the raise in the bus fare from $2 to $3 as well as the increase in the fare for
the West Ocean City Park-n-Ride from $1 to $2, but there were a number of other
notable changes to line items in the Ocean City budget.

Here is a brief summary
of some of the more notable changes the council passed and some that were
rendered dead in the water for the next fiscal year:

Slight Change For Trams

Although one of the
options for the future of the Boardwalk Tram included cutting the service from
11 a.m. until 4 p.m., the council took the vehement recommendation of the
Boardwalk businesses to keep the daytime service for the elderly residents who
don’t necessarily use the beach.

The council voted to
instill a $6 ride-all-day (up to 4 p.m.) pass and would continue to acknowledge
the senior pass discounts, which enable them to ride for free until 4 p.m., but
will now charge senior riders $2 post 4 p.m. each way.

“The tram is an
important part of the Ocean City vacation experience, and since not everyone
goes to the beach, a lot of people ride that tram,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
“The Boardwalk businesses sell that tram to their customers and guests as a
valuable amenity and I think that it needs to stay.”

The estimated revenue
increase as a result of this change is $52,000.

Business License Fees Go Up 2%

Citing annual fees that
hadn’t been raised since 2007, the council elected to hike business license
fees 2 percent this year, thus raising an additional $36,000 in added revenue.

Interestingly enough, it
was pointed out during the discussion that the beach stand franchisees don’t
pay business license fees, although Finance Administrator Martha Lucey noted
that as per the town’s agreement, it was presumed that the beach stand
operators franchise agreement served as their business license.

Inlet Lot Exits To Be Reconfigured

Although the cost
savings isn’t known as of yet, City Manager Dennis Dare expects it to be at the
very least “substantial” when the town eliminates two toll booth operator
positions by installing electronic machines that will have credit card
capabilities at the Inlet Lot toll booths.

“We propose to convert
two of the booths to be automated, one on the extreme right lane closest to the
Lifesaving Museum for express exits and one for credit card payments in the
extreme left lane,” said Dare. “We think that this will get people in and out
of the lot much quicker and will save us a lot of man hours down there.”

Since the town will now
have a one-in-one-out policy for the Inlet lot when the lot reaches full
capacity, a quicker way to get cars out of the lot, seemingly means that more
cars can get into the lot, thus easing traffic congestion inbound and outbound.

The council agreed
unanimously with Dare’s proposal.

Employee Health Care

Premium Increases Reduced

Heading into the budget,
one of the biggest concerns from City Manager Dennis Dare was the potential
30-percent hike in health insurance premiums proposed by the town’s company
CareFirst. Dare believed that he could negotiate the hike down to 20 percent
and that was what was what Budget Manager Jennie Knapp put into the proposed
budget for FY2011.  However, it was
announced on Wednesday, that some sort of an agreement had been worked out to
lessen the hike from 20 percent to 14.3 percent, which will reportedly save the
town $236,000.

The council will have to
approve the changes to the employee health insurance for the agreement between
the town and its provider to become official, but Knapp said that the changes
were “very reasonable” and did include an optional HMO as just an example.

Lighting Cut Back In Winter

The town saved almost
$9,000 with their decision to essentially turn off every other streetlight on
the Boardwalk, Bayshore Drive and Baltimore Avenue in the winter months in
Ocean City.

City Engineer Terry
McGean assured the council that there would be no “black spaces” anywhere, and
there would still be suitable lighting for police officials to secure and
monitor the areas.

Council Votes Against

Winterfest Admission Spike

A proposal that was
thought to be shelved for at least a year, popped back onto the chopping block
as a $1 price hike for admission to Winterfest of Lights came before the
council on Tuesday, which would have reportedly resulted in $65,000 in
additional revenue.

Despite the idea to go
back to what was previously done and charge people 12 and older the admission
fee and allow those 11 and under to ride for free, the council felt that it
should hold the line and absorb the six figure loss that the annual event is
currently operating on, for the sake of the businesses who stay open at that
time of year, and for the residents and visitors who flock to the resort for
the festival.

“We got to get this
thing running to a break even type of event, and we have an opportunity to do
that here and I think it’s irresponsible to not raise the ticket price to $5,”
said Councilman Joe Hall. “We are basically running an amusement up there, and
I don’t know any other amusement you can use for $5 or less and still the
cheapest way to take your kids out.”

The council voted in a
split decision against Hall’s motion to raise the price of admission.

Council Adds $2,500

For Voting Machines

The council opted
against a cost cutting measure that would have seen the town’s elections moved
to the county and would have taken place on the national election day.

At the time, Councilman
Jim Hall said that he wanted to keep “the special day for (politicians) and the
voters in Ocean City, our special day”, despite the meager cost savings that
would have been seen and the potential to get a better turnout at the polls. In
each of the last two elections, voter turnout has been at an all-time low.

Ironically, the town
earmarked $11,497 for the purchase of five electronic pollbooks that will be
used in this fall’s Ocean City election.

The allotment was a bit
more than expected, thus adding $2,500 to the budget.