OC Officials Shoot From Hip During Unemployment Debate

OCEAN CITY — Creating a
simple list of things that the Ocean City Council wants the Maryland Municipal
League (MML) to address in Annapolis during the next session quickly turned
into a rather spirited debate about the controversial topic of unemployment
insurance on Tuesday.

It’s no secret that
unemployment costs have gone up tremendously for businesses all over the
country but as quickly as one city councilman let out his own little secret in
the matter, the debate just as quickly turned from governmental to almost

Newly appointed City
Clerk Kathy Mathias queried the council on items that it would like to submit
to the MML as topics that they would like to be addressed in Annapolis this
year.  Last year, the town wanted tax
differential addressed (which resulted in virtually no changes), a ban on
salvia pursued (which was banned state wide) and to pursue a mandatory helmet
law for scooters in the state (which did not pass either).

The conversation took a
bit of a turn, however, when the topic of unemployment insurance came up and
how the rising costs for local businesses and government are too significant to
ignore in the mind of Mayor Rick Meehan.

“We’ve heard concerns
from the business community and the Chamber of Commerce on this issue of
unemployment and perhaps this is something that we should ask the MML to
address,” said Meehan. “Our own costs are going up and I’ve heard that some
people’s costs have tripled in the last year.”

As unemployment rates
reached record levels this winter, there were a number of states, including
Maryland, which had severely depleted their unemployment insurance trust funds.

Some states, such as
Delaware for instance, have made it much harder for claimants to extend their
unemployment coverage, but some on the council hoped that the MML would take
the conversation a bit further, even though it could potentially hit a bit
close to home.

“I think abuse does
happen with unemployment insurance and it happens here in Ocean City, too,”
said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, “I think that people figure in their
unemployment compensation when they take these part-time or seasonal positions,
and you need to assume the responsibility to find another job if you have a

seasonal or part time job rather than rely on unemployment.  Unemployment was created to help people who

didn’t know they were going to lose their jobs.”

Taking umbrage with the
entire conversation was Councilman Joe Hall, whose family owns Hall’s
Restaurant. He argued that the seasonal nature of Ocean City’s workforce makes
unemployment insurance claims “the nature of the beast” in the resort.

“I’m not sure if making
it harder to get unemployment is a good or a bad thing for the business
community in Ocean City,” said Hall. “I run a seasonal business and I’ve
utilized unemployment insurance myself over the years when I had to. So, before
we start asking the MML to go fight for this in Annapolis, I think we need to
have a serious conversation about what we want here.”

Some businesses are open
only a few months of the year, and retain their staff by essentially allowing
them to take unemployment, knowing that there would be a return date to work on
the claim.  Hall contests that it’s a business
strategy that has been used for decades in the resort, and is concerned that if
changed, local seasonal businesses could have a hard time retaining good

Councilman Lloyd Martin,
on the other hand, argued that due to the rising costs that business owners
have had to endure in respects to what they are paying into unemployment
insurance each year, the conversation should start here and make its way to

“Our job is to make sure
that we enable businesses to operate as economically as they can or they want
to” said Martin. “Unemployment costs have tripled for a lot of people and
that’s hard when you look in the newspaper and you see that there are jobs out
there. They may not be in your field or it may not be ideal, but they are there,
and it would get people off unemployment.”

Council President Joe
Mitrecic said he isn’t sure whether the issue would help or harm the seasonal
nature of the town’s businesses, but he says that if it is a potential to lower
costs, then it should be looked at.

“The only way I can look
at this is from the town’s point of view, and whether or not this could be
something that curbs costs for our departments,” said Mitrecic. “If that’s what
needs to be done, then I think we should do it. I just don’t see how if you cut
costs for local businesses, how that is a bad thing. Maybe we need to look at
how it’s structured and figured and consider making people who are guaranteed
their seasonal spot back to work be exempt from these guidelines.”

Mitrecic said he agreed
with Meehan’s belief seasonal workers are the ones creating concern about
unemployment insurance in the state.

“As long as you have a
system, there is always going to be someone who is trying to work it,” he said.
“Our job is to try and figure out a way to do what’s best for the town of Ocean
City and the people who live and visit here.”