OC Petition Drives Currently Underway; Effort Seeks To Cap Debt, Reduce Taxes

OC Petition Drives Currently Underway; Effort Seeks To Cap Debt, Reduce Taxes

OCEAN CITY – Following the success of a parking petition earlier this year, the leader of Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ) group is starting a petition drive for two charter amendments aimed at capping Ocean City’s debt and reducing taxes.
On Monday evening, OCTSJ spokesperson Tony Christ announced to the Mayor and Council there are two new petition drives being circulated.
“During the 18 months I have been coming and appearing here, and in the 60 years I have been in Ocean City, I have been trying to think what is wrong, what is not going the right way, and I have come up with something,” Christ said.
It is Christ’s opinion the year-round resident population has been declining for the past 25 years.
“I don’t think it is healthy,” he said. “I have come up with a plan and I have been going around with two charter amendments … now it is very early, so I am not willing to say they are going to be a success.”
According to Christ, himself and a couple members of OCTSJ are attempting to put at least two referendum questions on the 2014 ballot for a public vote. The first referendum would be to lower the limit on Ocean City’s debt and the second gives all residents a 15-cent reduction in the property tax rate until 2025.
In 1984, the total expense of the Ocean City government was $18 million, and there was practically no debt and a cash reserve for storms, Christ submitted. Today, Ocean City has grown the annual budget to $147 million while neither the vacationers nor the businesses have kept pace. To pay the increase in annual government costs, Ocean City has borrowed close to $100 million and increased revenues including property taxes, fines, fees, water bills and licenses.
“The increased taxes have increased expenses and caused residents to leave and businesses to increase their prices or go out of business, to where many traditional vacationers to Ocean City can no longer afford to come,” he said.
The first charter amendment is to cap Ocean City debt by limiting the total debt to a little over $100 million.
“Ocean City currently has about $87.5 million out and is presently adding $12.5 million. Even if we succeed in capping debt at around $100 million, it will cost more tomorrow in a rising interest rate environment. We also propose an additional borrowing authority of $50 million only used to restore storm damage,” Christ said.
The second charter amendment is to reduce real estate taxes to turn around the 25-year decline in residential population without Ocean City having to cut public services.
Christ looks to gain a nickel per $100 a year for three years, or a 15-cent reduction in three years, on Ocean City’s property tax rate. This will total about $4.2 million in the first year and increase each year for three years until it levels off at $12.6 million a year in property tax savings.
“That is not very much out of a $147 million budget,” Christ said. “For a resident with a $200,000 home, it will equal $300 less in tax a year.”
Christ warned the city government that the unions will fight the amendments at election time, reasoning the reduction in taxes will slight city services.
“The point is to let you keep your money. Good things will happen and who knows, maybe we can reverse these destructive trends of declining residents and visitors. We wish to make Ocean City an affordable place where people want to stay and or move to. As government shrinks, maybe things will become more affordable. In any case, we truly can’t afford the obligations we have created,” Christ said.