SNOW HILL – Despite Ocean City’s campaign for funding to address tax differential, Worcester County officials voted 4-3 this week to fund the municipality at the same level it was funded last year.
During a budget work session Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners made a decision to keep funding to all of the municipalities flat in the coming fiscal year. Instead of the $5 million grant Ocean City was seeking, the resort will receive $3,084,956.
“I don’t think you should flat-fund anybody unless you’re going to flat fund everybody,” Commissioner Ted Elder said.
A committee of county staff proposed funding Ocean City with an additional $200,000 in FY 2016, which would have brought the total grant to $3,284,956.
“It was just put out here for conversation,” said Harold Higgins, the county’s chief administrative officer.
Jim Bunting, president of the county commissioners, said that while Ocean City officials had presented plans for a new funding formula that would gradually increase the level of funding the resort received from the county, changes would not happen this year. He said the county had included funding in its budget for a study to look into the possibility.
“Our next step is to have more meetings and come to some common ground,” he said. “We don’t have time to do that between now and adopting a budget.”
Higgins pointed out that every town the county provided with grants, as well as Ocean Pines, had requested an increase in funding for FY 2016 but that the budget as proposed included flat funding for each of them, except Ocean City.
Elder said the county government was meant to address the needs of all residents. He said he wanted to see all of the towns, including Ocean City, funded at the same level they were funded last year.
“The reason for county government is so everybody pulls together and takes care of the needs of the whole county,” Elder said. “What I see with this with Ocean City is the other towns could do the same, and you’re going to be pulling the county apart at the seams over money.”
Commissioner Bud Church pointed to Ocean City’s contribution to the county.
“As much as some hate to admit it, Ocean City is the goose that lays the golden egg,” he said. “Ocean City is somewhat shortchanged. I think the $200,000 will be well spent.”
He said it was better than going to court over a tax differential.
“I think they’re entitled to the $200,000,” Church said.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said Ocean City officials wouldn’t object to its funding level if the rest of the towns in the county were funded at the same level.
“Ocean City would be fine if all the other municipalities were funded at 4.5 percent of what they contribute,” he said. “That would be fair.”
Mitrecic said the resort wasn’t looking for a stipend.
“They’re looking for a fairness factor,” he said, adding that the $200,000 was a step in the right direction.
Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw said the county was fortunate to include Ocean City but that county spending benefitted everyone.
“All the eggs are going into the same basket,” he said. “We all travel the same highways. We all use the same schools. To sit here and start dividing the county, as Commissioner Elder has mentioned, I think that’s the direction we’re headed in if we continue down this road.”
The commissioners voted 4-3 to keep Ocean City’s funding at the level it was last year with Mitrecic, Church and Bunting opposed.