Major Capital Projects Top OC Mayor’s 2014 Highlights; Smoking Decisions Set For January

Major Capital Projects Top OC Mayor’s 2014 Highlights; Smoking Decisions Set For January

OCEAN CITY – Mayor Rick Meehan checked off Ocean City’s successes in 2014 this week while recognizing there are challenges ahead.

Looking back, as a positive, the mayor pointed to the completion of the second phase of the St. Louis Ave. reconstruction project and the third and final phase is now underway.

The project is replacing the existing road base, installing underground conduit for new street lights and replacing sidewalks on all of St. Louis Ave. The first phase completed was 17th to 10th streets. The second phase completed was 10th to 4th streets, and the final phase being completed is 4th to North Division streets.

“We were able to pass a constant yield budget, which is the top priority of the council in making sure that we continue to supply the highest level of services at the best cost possible to the taxpayers,” the mayor continued. “Our figures for both room and food tax were up by about 3.5 percent through October, which shows we had a successful season, and of course that is always our goal.”

The reconstruction of Fire Station #4 located on 130th Street was recently completed as well as the town broke ground to construct the new Ocean City Beach Patrol Headquarters.

“The new station provides living quarters for our firefighters so that we can increase the level of protection in the north end of town and throughout Ocean City,” the mayor said. “A new headquarters for beach patrol has been a long time coming. We have been trying to find the right location for a number of years, and in working with the Ocean City Development Corporation we were able to put together the appropriate property to build that facility, and have it remain downtown.”

Another item that has been off and on the table and was finally agreed upon by the Mayor and City Council this past year was to move forward the implementation of a smoke free or restricted smoking on Ocean City’s Boardwalk and beaches. The specifics are scheduled to be discussed in the first work session of the New Year.

Meehan said he is looking forward to working with the new council on this issue in January.

“For the first time since I began serving the town in 1985, we have had three new council members elected at one time,” Meehan said. “We have an excellent council that is looking to move Ocean City forward and make what we do better. There is a lot of positive energy, and I look forward to working with the new council.”

November’s municipal election resulted in new council members Wayne Hartman, Matthew James and Tony DeLuca joining the elected body. Meehan ran unopposed and incumbent Council President Lloyd Martin also returned to the council. Former Councilman Joe Mitrecic ran unopposed to represent Ocean City on the Worcester County Commission, and former council members Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas chose not to run for re-election.

In recent months, the council voted to change the property tax credit for homeowner occupied residences to 100 percent, which means the taxable assessment will not increase each year unless there is a change in the use or the property is sold.

“In other words, the Homestead Property Tax Credit was changed to zero,” he said. “That was done to benefit our resident property owners. They live and work in Ocean City and are out every day supporting the economy and businesses in Ocean City. It was important in trying to follow our Strategic Plan in making Ocean City a more year-round livable community. That action was appropriate and certainly helped take us in that direction. It was well deserved.”

Finally, the new Performing Arts Center at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center opened to rave reviews with the performance by The Texas Tenors a few weeks ago.

“We feel that this new addition to the convention center will increase the level of service we are to provide to our current users, and also provide a new facility to promote the performing arts and entertainment in Ocean City. I believe the new PAC has exceeded our expectations,” the mayor said.

Although many positives were listed, Meehan acknowledged 2014 did come with unanticipated challenges.

In June, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) and allied law enforcement agencies all over Worcester County braced for the unsanctioned event, “College Takeover Beach Week” after hearing reports of what the unsanctioned event brought to Virginia Beach in 2013.

In April 2013, the event in Virginia Beach resulted in crowds estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 college-aged individuals invading the town’s Oceanfront area. According to reports, the big crowds roamed the streets, disrupted traffic and businesses and generally scared local residents and other visitors to the town. Perhaps more importantly, the event included several significant crimes including three shootings, multiple stabbings and other serious crimes all in the span of about four hours.

“The OCPD responded exactly the way they needed to … we welcome people here but we expect everybody to play by the rules, and respect others. That message was sent out loud and clear that weekend and that help set the course for the rest of the summer to help correct some of the problems we had faced the year before during the month of June,” the mayor said.

The town also continued to face challenges with increasing pedestrian safety.

“We were able to work with State Highway to continue the pedestrian safety campaign. We had no fatalities on our roads and no major pedestrian accidents in 2014, and overall pedestrian accidents decreased dramatically,” Meehan said.

Looking to 2015, Meehan said the city is looking forward to challenges that lie ahead.

“Even though there were a lot of good things that happened, we still face challenges and moving into 2015 we have to realize that some of those unanticipated challenges lie before us,” he said. “We will continue to work on a daily basis to be prepared to address those types of things.”

Moving ahead into 2015, the Mayor and City Council will immediately tackle how to implement a smoke-free or restricted smoking policy on the beaches and Boardwalk.

“Those discussions will begin in January and exactly how we will implement that plan and where we are going to provide areas for smokers will be determined,” the mayor said. “That will be a challenge but we will have a thorough outreach campaign to ensure our residents, property owners and visitors understand the new policy. I think it is the right direction to go in. It has worked in other areas, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t work in Ocean City.”

The mayor recognized the resort will continue to work with issues regarding street performers on the Boardwalk.

“The street performers have a right to be there and we recognize that but we need to work with them and with our businesses to make the whole concept work better for our Boardwalk,” he said. “To assist us in doing that we have hired a law firm that specializes in constitutional rights to work with us in trying to make it more compatible for everybody on the Boardwalk.”

The local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police and the city’s elected officials will soon begin salary and benefits discussions and reworking their union employment contract.

“The Mayor and City Council will work with the labor union for the police department to come to an agreement on what that contract will look like,” the mayor said.

All-in-all, Meehan is confident 2015 will continue to set pace for many successes in Ocean City.

“2105 is going to be a great year and the economic forecast for 2015 looks good. Ocean City is well positioned in the market place to have a great year. The fact that we are continuing to work on our infrastructure issues, such as street paving and continuing our canal dredging program, and addressing the needs of our citizens remains our top priority,” he said.