Mitrecic Briefs Council On County Issues; Official Pushing To Stream Meetings

OCEAN CITY — Worcester County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic this week briefed the Ocean City Mayor and Council on a wide variety of county issues germane to the resort, including the planned exit strategy for the Department of Liquor Control and ongoing efforts to have the county’s public meetings available for public consumption.

Mitrecic, who represents Ocean City’s stand-alone commissioner district in Worcester County, briefed his former colleagues on a wide variety of shared issues.

Mitrecic further explained the county’s exit strategy for its beleaguered Department of Liquor Control (DLC), which was created in 2014 by state law to replace the county’s old Liquor Control Board (LCB) after that quasi-governmental agency came under fire in a price-fixing scandal.

The DLC maintained the county’s monopoly on supplying wholesale liquor to the hundreds of restaurants and bars in Worcester until the sunset provision expired in 2014, at which time the licensees were allowed to begin dealing directly with private-sector wholesalers. In the many months since, the DLC has seen its wholesale operations dwindle, and with it the annual contributions to the municipalities, to the point the county is now preparing to get out of the liquor business altogether.

However, closing the DLC’s retail and wholesale operations will likely come with a stiff price tag, Mitrecic explained to the council Tuesday.

“There have been some numbers thrown around, from $1 million to $2 million,” he said. “I don’t think anybody really has their hands around what it’s going to cost to get out. We’re going to do everything we can at the county level to minimize the cost and move forward.”

Mitrecic explained a bill will be introduced in the General Assembly allowing package goods stores in Worcester, which could allow the county to liquidate some of the DLC’s inventory. He explained the wholesale operation could be eliminated as soon as this fall, while the retail operations could be used to siphon off the remaining inventory before closing likely by 2017.

“The directors made a valiant effort to save this archaic enterprise that’s been a county staple since prohibition,” he said. “However, it cost the taxpayers $492,000 last year and is projected to lose over $300,000 this year. The fact is, a government agency should not be in competition with private industry and it’s time for it to go, and it is going.”

Another initiative for Mitrecic since joining the commissioners has been improved public access and transparency for the county residents and their local government. Ocean City videotapes and streams its council meeting on the town’s website as well as public access television, and Wicomico governmental meetings are shown on the closed-circuit PAC-14 station, but Worcester has remained decidedly behind the times.

Changing that has been a priority for Mitrecic, who has met resistance for a variety of reasons, largely the financial restraints of installing the technology. Potential funding for the equipment made a brief appearance in the county budget last year, but was dropped due to cuts. Now, Mitrecic told Ocean City officials this week the county is conducting some pricing research in advance of this year’s budget.

“We also received the first pricing for the equipment to video record and stream the county meetings,” he said. “I’m working to get the funding in next year’s budget to possibly be able to watch the meetings on the web first, and hopefully on TV not long after that. I think if we get it out there for the residents in some format, I’m sure the commissioners will realize what an asset it can become.”

Mitrecic also told Ocean City officials a design engineer had been hired for the Mystic Harbor wastewater system improvements, which are linked to the expansion of spray irrigation at the town’s municipal golf course Eagle’s Landing. The collaborative projects have been mired in red tape from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

“Since I’ve been down there, I’ve come to realize the MDE runs the state,” he said. “It is the strongest group in Annapolis.”
Mitrecic also explained how the county was stretching its limited street-paving budget with an alternative overlay that could also benefit the resort. Mitrecic said the county was using a product known as slurry seal on some of the roads projects, which lasts as long as 10 years and reduces the need for frequent milling and repaving projects. The county is currently implementing slurry seal during some of its repaving projects in Oyster Harbor in West Ocean City.

“It’s a better alternative to overlay at a fraction of the cost, so we can get more bang for the buck with paving,” he said. “We can get eight to 10 years out of it and it’s something Ocean City might want to consider in the future.”