OC Requests Tax Differential Meeting With County

SNOW HILL — For the most part, county towns kept grant requests modest in their annual budget meeting with the Worcester County Commission Tuesday.

A lot of ongoing issues like the Delmarva Discovery Center in Pocomoke, street improvements in Berlin, Snow Hill’s Opera House and Ocean City’s request for a tax differential were also mentioned.

First at bat with grant requests was Pocomoke City. The town is making a total grant request, including debt, for next year of $1,056,504, down from the $1,086,040 they received in Fiscal Year 2014. Things like industrial and tourism development are high on the town’s list for next year as well as community preservation.

“Without the county’s previous assistance, some of our most important tourist and cultural attractions would not be open to the public and benefitting the economy of southern Worcester County today,” wrote Russell Blake, city manager. “We would encourage the county’s continued support and assistance to the MarVa Theater, the Delmarva Discovery Center, the Sturgis One-Room African American School House, and the Costen House, as funding becomes available for these attractions.”

Among Pocomoke’s special requests are a new billboard on Route 13 at a cost of $14,000 and an allotment of $1.50 per mile for their ambulance service, an expected cost of $28,298.

Following Pocomoke City was Snow Hill. That municipality is requesting a modest increase in grant funding from last year with a total request of $1,382,564 compared to the $1,364,066 it received in FY14. Developing Snow Hill’s downtown and promoting the community’s Opera House will be priorities for the town.

“We have been focusing on improving our downtown as a means to entice new businesses,” wrote Mayor Charlie Dorman. “We have improved the streetscape on Washington Street with removal of old trees and the installation of new street lights that increase visibility of the businesses and galleries. We anticipate adding new trees and flowers in the coming months as we continue with the beautification plan.”

Berlin has similar designs for its downtown. It’s requesting considerably less in grant funding this year, $1,401,174 compared to $1,475,836.

“Our overall approach to using the annual grant will remain similar to the uses we have followed during the past five years,” wrote Mayor Gee Williams. “Generally speaking the funds have and will continue to be used primarily for upgrading and adding to our town’s infrastructure, including about $150,000 for significantly improving our town sidewalks and streets.”

The recently named “Coolest Small Town in America” is also looking to grow their Economic and Community Development Department and work on a new Visitor’s Center. Commissioner Jim Purnell asked that Berlin make road repairs on Flower Street a priority next year, as part of that street has been annexed into town from the county and is in bad shape, in his opinion.

“That really has got to be fixed. Along with annexation comes responsibilities and I urge you to live up to the responsibility to fix that portion of that road,” said Purnell.

Williams promised to keep that in mind.

Priorities for Ocean City next year will include safety improvements on the Boardwalk via a $50,000 investment in cameras as well as recreation improvements in areas like the town skate park. The total grant request was $4,653,127, up 3 percent from $4,514,789 last year. In his report, Mayor Rick Meehan also touched on one of the longest ongoing debates between the resort and the county: a tax differential for duplicated services.

“The issue of tax differential is still very important to Ocean City taxpayers. The increase in the undesignated grant in 2009, which was provided in lieu of a tax differential was a start to address this issue,” Meehan said. “The City Council would like the opportunity to meet with you to develop a plan for future annual increases in the amount of the undesignated grant to address the disparity and create fairness between the cost of the services the town provides in lieu of the county providing the services and the county contribution.”

The final presentation was from Ocean Pines.

“Our funding request involves four distinct needs: public safety, roads and bridges, tourism and recreation,” wrote Ocean Pines Association President Bob Thompson.

Thompson noted in his report to the commission that Ocean Pines often serves residents outside of its boundaries with everything from police calls for service to providing recreation and entertainment through free concerts and fireworks, which are heavily attended by non-residents.

Ocean Pines asked for $1,577,530 in country grant support, up 44 percent from $1,097,359 the year prior.

It is worth noting that the numbers for all municipality requests were affected by the loss of a $28,426 one-time supplemental Volunteer Fire Department grant from FY14.

The commissioners made no decisions on the municipal grant requests this week but will use the town reports while crafting a county budget this spring.