Resort’s Taxi Industry Oversight Could Shift

OCEAN CITY – A few suggestions on cleaning up the city’s code regarding rental and business licenses this week resulted in further investigations of re-organizing the oversight of the taxi cab industry and the code regarding scooters.

License Inspector Michael Sherman explained to the Mayor and City Council that while reviewing rental housing inspections and the issuance of the rental license after inspections a few issues came up within the code.

“This is to make it more proactive and … we are working on ideas so that people know our department is there, and also it is about public safety, everyone is going to be winning from our rental housing inspection and licensing,” Chief Building Official Kevin Brown said.

Sherman’s first request was to correct the category for Rental, which included apartments, cottages, hotels and motels, and asked to separate the housing into two categories where apartments and cottages would be separate from hotels and motels.

“Basically when you have an apartment building or cottage, that is more of a long-term stay, and when there is a hotel or motel someone is staying overnight or for a week or weekend,” he said.

In addition, Sherman asked to strike the language of “owner occupied” from the statement, “owner occupied rooming houses, boarding houses, or private houses offering rooms for rent” as well as add the word “dormitory”.

“We found that there are no dormitories covered in any of our categories and there could be a few dormitories in town and we want to make sure that is covered,” Sherman said. “Most of the boarding houses are not owner occupied, and we just want to eliminate that.”

The council checked the first couple items off the list by voting unanimously to approve the changes in the language of the code.

The next issue had to do with issuing business licenses to temporary vendors, for instance during Bike Week. In the past, temporary vendors were issued a business license as a Store/Stand under 5,000 square feet for $233. Sherman requested to provide vendors their own category within to eliminate confusion and will still be provided at the same price.

“We issue temporary vendor licenses to people in various private areas, such as Seacrets and Hoopers parking lot … we are issuing them a license in the retail store category, so at years end it inflates how many retail stores we have in town,” he said.

The last request made was to eliminate a list of business license categories not in use any longer, such as Bathhouse, Circus or Carnival, Mobile Home Trailer Dealer, Parking Garage and Telephone Answering Service.

The council granted Sherman’s request by approving two more “house cleaning” measures.

As Sherman and Brown completed their proposal, Councilman Joe Hall brought up the concept of transferring the oversight of the taxi cab industry from the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) to the licensing department. The OCPD currently oversees aspects of the taxi cab business, such as hack inspections and background checks of drivers.

“I think that it is a business that we’re regulating and has evolved the town’s oversight at a higher level because it involves our public roads, but I think it would be more economical to find a way to move the oversight of the taxi cabs into licensing,” he said.

Finance Administrator Martha Bennett pointed out that the police department conducts background checks on taxi cab drivers and city staff lacks the capacity to do so.

“We have got a lot of energy in our police officers in managing taxi cabs and a business in town when they should be out protecting the streets, and I think it would be more affordable and more efficiently managed through licensing,” Joe Hall said.

OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein said that the police department currently does not conduct the background checks but captures the fingerprints and sends them to the FBI, which conducts the background checks.

The City Council voted unanimously to have the licensing department research the “pros and cons” of having the oversight of the taxi cab industry transferred from the police department to the licensing department.

Sherman and Brown were almost out the door when Councilwoman Margaret Pillas raised a concern over issuing business licenses to scooter rentals. Currently, the town code allows for businesses to pay $200 for a business license up to 25 scooters, and $9 per additional scooter.

“Maybe that is something we need to take a look at and be separated out [business license category] because the scooters and bicycles have a different impact,” Pillas said.

Council President Jim Hall mentioned that when the city was working on regulations regarding Segways it included many different items, such as parking area, practice area and the collection of money area.

“I don’t know if the proliferation of scooters captures all that when every corner now has scooters on it,” he said.

The council also voted unanimously to have the licensing department look into scooter rental business licenses and to return with suggestions on how to enhance it.