Ocean Pines, Towns Outline Annual Funding Requests

SNOW HILL – Ocean Pines is home to 23 percent of the county’s residents, provides a local police force and offers recreation programs to anyone who is interested.

That, leaders of the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) say, is why the homeowners association is asking for an increase in funding from Worcester County.

“You are the umbrella that helps us achieve what we do in Ocean Pines,” said Cheryl Jacobs, vice president of the OPA board of directors.

Officials from OPA joined leaders from the county’s municipalities this week to present their annual funding requests to the Worcester County Commissioners. The homeowners association, which received $1.2 million in funding last year from Worcester County, is seeking $1.8 million this year. The increase in funding would provide the association with money to help with bridge repairs and bolster the Ocean Pines Police budget. The funding increase would also mean more money for the association’s fire department and financial support for its July 4 celebration.

Pat Renaud, president of the OPA board of directors, said that in addition to the association’s summer population of nearly 25,000, residents from other parts of the county came to see the fireworks.

“Many people come from miles around to see our display,” he said.

Jacobs said the association was seeking an increase in recreation funding because those programs too were utilized by people who didn’t live in Ocean Pines.

“We provide a lot of amenities and services to county residents at large,” Jacobs said.

Like Ocean Pines, Pocomoke City and Snow Hill are both hoping for a boost in county funding levels in this year’s budget. Snow Hill, which received $1,454,699 last year, is asking for $1,620,445. Mayor Charlie Dorman pointed out that there were 23 tax exempt properties the county owned in Snow Hill. While the county does provide $100,000 in lieu of those taxes, Dorman said the taxes would amount to more than $320,000.

He said the increase in funding the town sought would help address infrastructure problems in town.

Pocomoke City Mayor Bruce Morrison presented a grant request for $1.5 million. Last year, the town received $1,471,400 from the county. Morrison said the municipality was seeking an increase in ambulance funding, as the vehicles handled a lot of calls and covered many miles transporting patients to area hospitals.

“You’re putting a lot of wear and tear on the vehicle,” he said.

The Town of Berlin submitted a budget request for $1,794,333. The request includes an unrestricted grant of $450,000, just as the commissioners awarded the town last year, as well as grants for the town’s fire and ambulance service.

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said the bulk of the unrestricted grant would go toward the town’s new police station, which is set to be built near the intersection of Bay Street and Route 113. Construction is expected to begin on the project later this year.

As in years past, when it came time for a grant request from Ocean City resort officials instead asked for a tax differential. The Town of Ocean City has sought tax relief from Worcester County for years, arguing that because the town uses many of its own services instead of those provided by the county, it should receive a tax break.

“I think Worcester County enjoys a lot of benefit from Ocean City,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.

A 2013 study submitted by resort officials identifies $17 million of the county’s roughly $120 million in property tax revenue that should not be paid by Ocean City taxpayers.

Services the report says Ocean City shouldn’t have to pay for include tourism, public works, recreation and parks, fire marshal, development review and permitting, police and environmental programs. According to the study, those departments do little for the resort because it offers similar or identical services.

Last year, Ocean City officials proposed a funding formula that would gradually increase the resort’s grant from the county. The commissioners, however, kept funding flat a little more than $3 million.

On Tuesday, Meehan told the commissioners that the taxes paid by Ocean City residents were helping to subsidize lower taxes in West Ocean City. He pointed out that Ocean City funded the bus that traveled from the resort to West Ocean City daily.

“That service costs us…,” he said. “It provides a definite benefit to West Ocean City.”

Meehan said Ocean City leaders were encouraged by the fact that the county had hired a firm to perform a tax differential study.

“We look forward to continuing our discussions,” he said.

The Worcester County Commissioners will spend the coming months mapping out spending for the coming fiscal year. They’re expected to adopt a budget in June.