Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan addressed something that has been around for decades — a friction between Ocean City and Worcester County officials.
Dozens of elected officials have come and gone over the years, but there has always been some sort of odd, yet palpable, disconnect between the county and the resort. Rarely are their differences vocalized, as they were this week, but there’s no question the relationship has been strained over the years and dates back years before any of the present officials were elected.
In Ocean City, elected officials generally seem to feel Worcester should be more thankful for all that the resort brings to the county as far as tax dollars. In Worcester, past and current officials have privately stewed over a perceived arrogance among city officials.
Summits have been held in the past between city and county officials to discuss ongoing specific issues, such as the tax differential that surfaces every year around budget times and a traditional team opposition to gambling in this area. However, it has never been a warm and cozy relationship, and it’s almost as if there are competing interests at play at times from my perspective.
Meehan specifically mentioned the ongoing strain this week, referring to current communication as a “wall” this week. County officials seemed surprised to hear of his concerns over communication with Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who represents Ocean City at the county level, saying, “there is no wall.” County Commission President Bud Church, whose district includes Ocean City but owns a resort-based real estate company, said, “there are two sides to that wall. … I didn’t really feel there was a there, but if y our perception is that there’s a wall there we’ll take the wall down.”
Whether there is a “wall” or not, communication has long been a problem and maybe this week’s little chat will see improved relations in the future. However, that doesn’t mean Ocean City should expect to see the county grant its request to restore the 2009 funding. That’s simply not going to happen by my estimation, considering the county is likely going to give salaries increase to its staff members as well as be facing what could be as much as $650,000 in new Sheriff’s Office expenses for the 13 new school resource officers (using a conservative salary/benefit total per employee of $50,000).
Concerns are arising among Berlin officials regarding the impact of the relocation of the county-owned liquor store outside of town limits. At a recent meeting, the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) confirmed it will shutter its West Ocean City store to create a flagship store on Route 50. The Berlin store is going to close, but when that will happen has not been confirmed. Nonetheless, the plan is to eventually close it and merge it with the new and larger store.
During this week’s annual “beg-a-thon” where town officials present their budget requests to the County Commissioners, Berlin Mayor Gee Williams raised a valid question. He wondered when the Berlin store is closed what will happen to the DLC’s annual contribution to the town. Annually, the DLC, and its darker predecessor, the LCB, divvied up profits among the various municipalities in the county.
“We totally agree with efficiency and whatever is the best service for the public and all that,” the Berlin mayor 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.”
County officials assured Williams whatever happens they will be fair to Berlin. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out in future months.