OCEAN CITY — Worcester County officials this week signed off on an independent study to determine its own set of figures for Ocean City’s tax differential request, or tax setoffs to the resort for duplicated services.
In early December, the Ocean City Mayor and Council once again submitted its tax differential request to Worcester officials in advance of the county’s budget sessions this spring. Each year, the town of Ocean City seeks tax relief for municipal residents from Worcester County for services duplicated by the two jurisdictions. In simplest terms, tax differential is the cost of duplicated services such as police and fire protection, for example, that Ocean City provides for itself through its taxpayers, yet is often taxed at the same rate as residents in unincorporated areas of the county.
For years, Ocean City has requested tax differential from the county and has consistently been denied. Instead, the county makes unrestricted grants to the resort for a variety of uses in an attempt to offset the cost of tax differential. Ocean City and the county have often been at odds over the amount of duplicated services in question, but there is an effort underway to find some middle ground on the figures.
In December, Ocean City submitted its formal tax differential request to the county along with its independent study prepared by the Municipal and Financial Service Group that identified roughly $17 million in duplicated services provided by the resort. During the same debate last spring, the Worcester County Commissioners agreed to fund an independent study to determine its own ballpark figure on the cost of duplicated services.
On Tuesday, the County Commissioners approved the bid award for the tax offset study for Tischler-Bise at an amount just under $30,000. By Tuesday night, County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, who represents Ocean City, reported the news of an apparent détente on the tax differential issue to the Mayor and Council. As a former Ocean City Councilman, Mitrecic has been on the front lines of the tax differential battle over the years and has continued to advocate for an equitable solution since arriving in Snow Hill.
“The county hired Tischler-Bise to do its own tax differential study today, which is a huge victory for me,” he said. “We’re supposed to have this study back within 90 days.”
Even more so than his personal satisfaction in urging the county to conduct its own independent tax differential study, Mitrecic said it represents a potential thaw of sorts on the long-standing issue between the jurisdictions.
“This is a huge win for Ocean City,” he said. “Before I was down there, they wouldn’t even have considered doing this. The fact we’re having a study done and it’s been funded, I’m just really happy about it. I feel like I’ve gotten something done today.”
It remains to be seen if the county’s study conducted by Tischler-Bise mirrors the figures determined by Ocean City’s study, but the two independent studies should provide a framework from whence a middle ground could be determined. Mitrecic predicted the county’s study could be an eye-opener for the county commissioners.
“Even if the numbers don’t come back at the same level Ocean City’s study did, there has to be some inequity in the way the county grants the municipalities funds,” he said. “We’ll get that back in 90 days before we really get into the next budget.”
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, a long-time advocate for tax equity for the resort, agreed the county’s study could provide a baseline with which to work.
“Thank you for really moving forward with this initiative,” he said. “We need this study for tax differential so we have something to compare and move forward with finding a more equitable solution.”