OCEAN CITY — With several weighty issues on the Ocean City Mayor and Council work session agenda this week, a seemingly innocuous request to donate old holiday decorations spurred some of the most contentious debate.
Special Events Director Frank Miller approached the council on Tuesday with a request to donate 90 Christmas wreaths and five non-denominational light-up holiday displays that graced the Inlet parking lot over a decade ago to the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC). The OCDC would then provide the wreaths and holiday displays to the Downtown Association, which would then distribute them to businesses and private property owners during the holidays in an effort to brighten up the downtown area during the holidays.
The 90 wreaths, which measure around four feet in diameter, were once used to adorn the lampposts in the downtown area during the holidays, while the larger light-up displays once created a mini-Winterfest of Lights of sorts at the Inlet parking lot. The decorations have been in storage for the last 10 years or so at the town’s facility on Keyser Point Road and Public Works last fall approached Special Events about offering them on GovDeals.com to clear out the much needed storage space.
According to Miller, Mayor Rick Meehan approached him in December about coming up with a plan to provide additional holiday décor in the downtown area. From that request was born the idea of repurposing the old, or “vintage,” decorations in storage for the downtown area and the donation to the OCDC and the Downtown Association.
“The wreaths were used over a decade ago for the lampposts but they found the weight was too much for the posts and they’ve been put in storage since,” he said. “It seemed like an opportunity to revitalize and redecorate the downtown area.”
While all agreed it was a great idea conceptually, the donation came with a modest price tag for the town. Miller explained many of the traditional lights on the wreaths and displays were broken or missing over the years and asked the town to invest in some LED replacements.
He estimated about 5,000 LED lights would be needed and his preliminary pricing came out to be around 99 cents per bulb, or a total investment of around $5,000. Suddenly, what appeared to be a slam dunk turned into a spirited debate.
“Just because we have them doesn’t mean we have to give them away,” said Councilman Wayne Hartman. “I have no problem with donating them. I think it’s a great idea, but I do have a problem with spending the $5,000 for the bulbs. It’s a gift on top of the other gift.”
Miller said the $5,000 investment was merely an estimate and the final price tag could come in much lower.
“The cost of the bulbs can vary,” he said. “They could be anywhere for 99 cents apiece to 55 cents apiece. That $5,000 number will likely be much less than that.”
Miller said donating the wreaths and displays and investing in the new bulbs might jumpstart the downtown holiday redecoration efforts.
“Getting the private owners involved is a plus,” he said. “There used to be decorations and displays down there, and there has been a conscious effort to redecorate downtown.”
However, while he supported the concept of donating the decorations, Councilman Matt James agreed with Hartman’s assessment of the additional $5,000 for the bulbs.
“We’re already gifting thousands of dollars’ worth of decorations,” he said.
Councilman Doug Cymek said his colleagues were getting lost in the modest investment in the LED bulbs.
“We have to look at the big picture here,” he said. “The downtown area needs some lights and this is a good way to do that.”
Councilman Dennis Dare said the displays at the Inlet went away several years ago for a variety of reasons. With frequent winter storms, they were often damaged and hard to maintain. Dare said there has been a modest effort to redecorate downtown in recent years and donating the wreaths and displays could help jumpstart that effort.
“Since then, there have been requests for the town to decorate the downtown area,” he said. “If you drive through downtown, there is very little effort with a few exceptions. If they can help themselves, then we can help them. I support giving them the money for the bulbs.”
Miller reiterated handing over the wreaths and displays without replacing the bulbs would likely fall short of the goal.
“If we hand these out without the bulbs, we’re handing out something incomplete,” he said. “It might discourage them from utilizing them. That’s not what Ocean City is all about. This is a worthwhile investment in the town.”
Hartman said he agreed with the concept of the donation, but he wasn’t comfortable with the added cost.
“I’d like to see downtown decorated, but we have a responsibility to the taxpayers,” he said. “Donating these four-foot wreaths is a gift. Now, we’re going to spend extra money to give something away.”
Councilmember Mary Knight said the town spends a lot of money and effort on decorating the midtown and uptown areas, particularly Northside Park,, with little effort in the downtown area.
“Essentially, you’re discriminating against the taxpayers that live downtown versus those who live in midtown or uptown,” she said. “I think we’re being extremely petty in giving a present that’s incomplete. It’s like giving someone a nice designer dress with four buttons missing and saying ‘here’s a nice gift, now you go find the four buttons.’”
Hartman took exception to Knight’s comments about the different standards for different areas of the town.
“One thing I don’t do is discriminate,”
he said. “This is just common sense. It’s just being conservative with taxpayer dollars.”
Hartman made a motion seconded by James to donate the wreaths and displays without the investment in the bulbs, but it failed by a 5-2 vote. Knight then made a motion to make the donation with Miller and his staff finding the best possible price on the replacement bulbs. That motion was seconded by Cymek and passed by the same 5-2 vote.
“As an uptown taxpayer, I’ll gladly second it,” Cymek said. “We used to take the kids down to look at the downtown lights at the holidays and those are some fond memories.”