NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: Council Decides To Abandon Skate Park Cuts; Vote Reverses Budget Move

OCEAN CITY – A packed council chambers of younger and older generations alike supporting the Ocean Bowl Skate Park must have left a mark, as the Mayor and City Council voted to reverse their decision to cut the skate park’s hours during the off-season months.

During a budget wrap-up on April 19, the Mayor and City Council voted to have the skate park operate through the summer during its normal hours, which is open seven days a week during daylight. The changes proposed begin the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend when it would continue to be open on weekends, holidays and all Worcester County school days off only, as well as shut down completely during the months of January and February. The reduction in hours will save the town approximately $21,000.

Since then a petition has surfaced online in support of keeping the park open during its normal hours in the off-season. Also, during a Mayor and City Council meeting on May 6, many skate park advocates turned out to voice their support to keep the park open. By the end of that meeting, the council voted to form a skate park committee of stakeholders and members of the local skateboard community along with town officials to come up with some sort of compromise but the skate park’s reduction in hours remained in the proposed budget.

During Monday’s Mayor and City Council, Mike Durkin, 17, returned to the podium as the first speaker of what looked like many to voice their support for the skate park. Durkin had started the online petition that had received 483 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

“Last time you were here we heard you loud and clear. The mayor is forming a committee to work on the skate park, and I think everybody was happy when they left the meeting that day,” Council President Lloyd Martin said before Durkin could get a full sentence out. “I don’t want to discourage anyone else from speaking, but I think it is something we need to look at.”

Durkin agreed forming a committee is a step in the right direction but felt a study on the usage of the park should be conducted while keeping the funding to remain open in the off-season in the proposed budget.

“I feel if it is closed in the budget it is probably going to stay closed,” he said.

Councilman Brent Ashley pointed out the appropriation of $14,333 in the proposed budget for the Cricket Center is left in question since the appropriation was based on a matching grant by Worcester County.

“It is my understanding that the County Commissioners declined any new appropriation for this group,” he said. “This would leave us with $14,333 in our budget with no appropriation for the funds.”

At that time Council Secretary Mary Knight looked over a list of other cuts the council had made to close the budget gap.

“This summer … we have advanced booking more than we did in July and August of last year so we are up, and this year is going to be a pivotal year for us where we will have a lot of new visitors. Something like painting a solid waste truck for $20,000 gives people the opinion and the idea that Ocean City is flourishing and doing well but when I look at this list, you just can’t say we have $14,000 let’s put it here. We have to make a decision,” she said.

However, Knight remained in support of forming a skate park committee and conducting a study.

“If I was a betting woman, I would bet right now the skate park is going to be open but we will be able to at least substantiate that,” she said.

Ashley countered the cuts Knight listed were material items, and the reduction in the skate park’s operation is going to directly affect the kids.

“You say that and you want to take money away from a child advocacy center that takes care of neglected and abused children,” Martin said. “The Cricket Center helps put away and prosecute cases of child abuse. Thirty-nine percent of the cases prosecuted in the county come from Ocean City, and you want to take that away.”

Mayor Rick Meehan stepped in and suggested keeping the funding for the Ocean Bowl’s normal hours of operation in the proposed budget, have the committee meet over the summer and conduct a study on the year-long usage of the skate park, and return to the council with a recommendation.

“Looking at this young man and the people in the audience, I have to agree they would have more faith in government if it was left in and then discussed rather than taken out and discussed,” he said. “So I would support putting it in but not at the expense of the Cricket Center.”

Ashley made a motion to appropriate $21,000 in the new budget to have the Ocean Bowl operate its normal hours during the off-season and continue with the formation of skate park committee to conduct a study. The council voted 5-0 to approve with Councilman Dennis Dare and Knight abstaining because they wanted to wait until after the proposed budget was presented a few items down on the agenda.

A couple hours later, the fiscal year 2014 budget was approved on first reading. There was no motion made to remove the appropriated funds for the Cricket Center.