Between The Lines

Special sessions in Annapolis usually do not bode well for consumers because they are typically convened to address severe financial problems. That appears to be the case with a proposed fall special session of the General Assembly that will consider among other things a hike in the gasoline tax.

Supporters say the increase in the 23.5-cent-per-gallon tax is needed to restore the state’s depleted transportation fund and will help get needed infrastructure projects back on track across the state. Additionally, they say it has not been raised in 19 years.

Opponents point to the poor timing of the consideration, as per gallon prices are now hovering at or above the $4 mark and show no signs of waning. They also are disgusted by supporters who say the tax increase will be temporary and can later by dropped after the transportation fund is returned to a healthy state. They say consumer taxes are never lowered after being increased.

I am on board with the opponents here. The state has been dipping into the transportation fund for the last few years to balance the budget, and it’s unfair for the legislature to simply seek the “quick fix” when there have to be other options considered.

The April housing reports for the lower shore counties of Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset reveal the resort market is improving at a much better clip than its counterparts to the west.

In Worcester County, the trend of decreasing volume and increasing contracts and settlements seems firmly entrenched for 2011.

In Wicomico and Somerset counties, while listings have declined considerably, contracts and settlements are also down from 2010 to date.

Here’s a summary of the reports, compiled by the Coastal Association of Realtors.

Ocean City: Through the first four months of the year, total active condominiums listings have decreased 13 percent, from 1,484 in 2010 to 1,299 in 2011. Contracts have increased 8 percent, from 299 in 2010 to 324 in 2011. Settlements also increased marginally by 2 percent, from 241 in 2010 to 245 this year.

In the resort, the single-family home situation is looking slightly better than it had been, as active listings declined 13 percent, from 187 to 163 this year; contracts surged 29 percent, from 24 to 31; and settlements recorded a 50-percent spike, from 14 to 21.

In Worcester, there have been 144 settlements through April, a 26 percent jump over the 114 through April 2010. Contracts increased 15 percent, from 173 to 199, and active listings declined 7 percent, from 781 to 726.

In Wicomico, the recovery appears to not be on same pace as in Worcester. Single-family home active listings dropped 15 percent, from 780 to 662, while contracts written dropped 9 percent, from 273 to 248, and settlements declined 5 percent, from 193 to 184.

Over in Somerset, it’s even worse, as settlements declined (25 percent from 40 to 30), contracts plummeted 34 percent (53 to 35) and active listings decreased 16 percent (292 to 245)

It seems to me more people are in Ocean City on the weekends this year of late than they were last year. I set out this week to find out from a general perspective whether that was true or if I was just delusional.

The general consensus from people I speak with seems to be the winter months were particularly dreadful this year, but over the last couple months there has been a gradual improvement in crowds and sales.

Demoflush population estimates seem to confirm that sentiment for the most part. Last weekend, there were a reported 136,099 people in town, a 6-percent jump over the same weekend last year.

Here’s a look at how this year stacks up to last year, according to demoflush.

January 2011 (2010)
1st Weekend: 97.767 (89,095)
2nd Weekend: 76,165 (68,133)
3rd Weekend: 76,373 (86,959)
4th Weekend: 76,595 (80,161)
5th Weekend: 76,554 (69,007)
Total: 402,454 (393,355)

February 2011 (2010)
1st Weekend: 75,277 (123,099-heavy rain/snow)
2nd Weekend: 75,569 (96,102)
3rd Weekend: 82,089 (83,241)
4th Weekend: 91,981 (90,746)
Total: 324,916 (393,188)

March 2011
1st Weekend: 90,844 (95,602)
2nd Weekend: 104,925 (160,672-heavy rain)
3rd Weekend: 100,610 (109,573)
4th Weekend: 93,632 (103,011)
Total: 390,011 (468,758)

1st Weekend: 109,143 (123,849)
2nd Weekend: 105,300 (120,228)
3rd Weekend: 128,011 (116,523)
4th Weekend: 126,262 (111,446)
Total: 468,716 (472,046)

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.