SNOW HILL — A cooperative effort to promote tourism between Worcester County and its municipalities was the common thread when Berlin, Pocomoke and Ocean Pines presented their grant requests this week to the County Commissioners.
In terms of grant money, all three requested similar packages to what they received last year with Ocean Pines showing the only significant deviation by asking for $1,607,733, a roughly $570,000 increase from last year’s $1,034,880. Pocomoke requested $1,421,864, in Fiscal Year 2014, up from FY13’s $1,395,529. Berlin asked for $1,688,581, down from $1,729,239 last year.
While things like public safety and road improvements were also discussed, a shared focus was on tourism.
“We’re trying to market ourselves and our downtown as more of a tourist destination, and with your help we’ve started to bring more and more people to our town,” Russell Blake, city manager for Pocomoke, told the commission.
Ocean Pines Association (OPA) President Tom Terry made similar remarks to the commissioners while Berlin Mayor Gee Williams spoke about his town’s ongoing efforts to add new festivities and businesses while enhancing popular events already in place.
Ocean Pines, which has stood somewhat on the sidelines with county advertising, is ready to join the pack, according to Terry.
“We would like to officially join in the effort of trying to promote the county and work with you in an organized effort to promote the county and be a part of that tourism effort,” Terry said.
With Pocomoke, which bills itself as the “Friendliest Town on the Eastern Shore,” much of the tourism comes from a fluid downtown and several cultural attractions including the MarVa Theater, the Delmarva Discovery Center, the Sturgis One-Room African-American School House, and the Costen House.
“Without the county’s previous assistance, some of our most important tourist and culture attractions would not be open to the public, and benefiting the economy of southern Worcester County today,” wrote Blake in a letter to the commission.
Blake asked that the commission continue to support those cultural centers and also requested a new billboard be constructed on US 13 promoting Pocomoke. The $14,000 billboard would replace one destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.
As for Ocean Pines, Terry spoke about how the community swells on weekends in the summer.
“The folks love to come visit us,” he said.
OPA Board Member Ray Unger put a spotlight on Ocean Pines amenities, such as the soon-to-be constructed new yacht club.
“The new yacht club that’s going to be there next year is going to be magnificent, it’s going to be beautiful,” he said.
The community also provides things like boat ramps, marinas, parks and a golf course, which Unger pointed are open even to non-residents.
“All of these facilities and everything we have there is open for everybody in Worcester County,” he said. “And you would be surprised at the number of people who don’t live in the Pines that use all of these amenities and we’re absolutely delighted to do that. And we want to keep it that way.”
With Berlin’s tourism, Williams didn’t go into as much detail as the other town representatives, though Berlin has developed a strong reputation for attracting visitors over the last few years. The mayor only asked that funding continue more or less on pace with last year. He did share some worries over the likely closing of the Berlin Department of Liquor Control (DLC) outlet.
Last month the DLC received approval for a new “flagship” liquor mart location on Route 50 east of Berlin. With the new store in the works, the current West Ocean City site will be closed and the county expects to close the Berlin branch as well. Williams told the commission he admires wanting to consolidate resources, but noted that the DLC locations were designed to share their proceeds with the towns that hosted them.
If the Berlin store shuts down, the town won’t be eligible for any DLC funding.
“We totally agree with efficiency and whatever is the best service for the public and all that,” he said. “But we have to say for many, many years we received over $100,000 … for that to go from $100,000 to nothing is a bit of a cut to swallow.”
Williams also mentioned a Berlin police officer regularly patrols Stephen Decatur Middle School and has for 13 years. While he said Berlin will never begrudge the county the cost of that officer, with Worcester considering adding an officer to every school, Williams just asked that the expense be done fairly with either each community providing an officer for their schools or the county handling all personnel.
“We promise you we’ll treat you fair,” said Commission President Bud Church in response to all of Berlin’s concerns. “You may not think it’s fair, but it’ll be fair.”
The meeting Tuesday with the three towns is part of the county’s ongoing annual municipal grant process. The commissioners met with Ocean City later the same day and Snow Hill last month.