Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – January 20, 2017

The Ocean City Mayor and Council is in the unenviable position of having most decisions — especially those involving anything of a tourism nature — linked to greed and deception. This is not the reality but it’s the perception to some, at least according to every single article we post on social media these days.

The most recent example that has the online community in an uproar is a 10-minute reduction in the amount of free time motorists are permitted at the Inlet parking lot. While I will be the first to criticize the elected officials when they misstep, the outcry over this small change is simply not warranted. This change to 20-minute increments is not going to increase revenue by a tremendous amount but it might help with the problem of congestion in the lanes leading to the pay booths by eliminating the need for change to be handed out to cash payers.

An example of criticism that rang common in the comments section of the paper’s Facebook page was, “The city council did a survey. They found out that people were still leaving their vacation with a few dollars left in their pocket. Realizing the horror this was the city council went straight to work on creating new ways to take a bit of $$$ from people. Right away it was realized that people might be getting 10 minutes of free parking they had no right to and thus we see this. Smdh!” Another post read, “We need a new city council, during the summer they agreed to cut down a tree in somebody else’s property because it was a liability, how stupid. Now it’s decreasing the time by 10 min. These people have nothing better to do.”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan seemingly tried to diffuse the criticism that it’s a money grab with his comments at this week’s meeting.

“This is not about revenue,” he said. “This is about reducing congestion. Anything we can do to get that line moving faster will make a lot of people happy. I can tell you when it’s late at night and you have your family and kids loaded up, moving that line to get out faster will make a lot more people happier than a few put off by the shorter grace period.”

The fact a federal transportation department has repeatedly intervened in other jurisdictions’ attempts to create a thin blue line to show police support is disturbing. It’s one thing if it’s a federal highway, but that’s not the case for most of these municipalities who have initiated placing a thin blue line along road markings.

In Ocean City’s case, 65th Street is not a federal or state road. It’s the municipality’s and creating a blue line in between the double yellow line separating the lanes of traffic should not be questioned. I’m glad to see Ocean City moving forward with this plan even though there’s precedent to show the federal government does not support it or might not even allow it.

It seems the city is gambling the feds will not try and exercise control over a local road in this case. It’s a safe bet that will not happen. Here’s to hoping the blue line is in place before this coming summer season.

It’s nice to see some accountability for the rental company who clearly slipped up last summer when it rented a pontoon boat without enforcing required safety measures.

It would seem to be a clear case of negligence on the company’s part. Seventeen people rented the pontoon boat, exceeding the stated capacity. Additionally, there were only 15 life jackets on board. One of the two people not equipped with a life jacket was the 9-year-old who fell off the boat while bow riding and died after being struck by the propeller.

In this case, there’s no justice for the family members after this terrible accident. These charges levied by the Maryland Natural Resources Police likely mean nothing to them. What’s done is done, but it’s nice to see NRP allocated resources to investigate the fatality and at least attempt to hold the company accountable with charges and fines, while also sending a message to the rental industry in Ocean City.

Former Ocean City Councilman Vince Gisriel made some valid points this week when talking about the town’s reserve fund policy. According to Gisriel, the town’s fund now stands at 23 percent, considerably higher than the 15 percent goal. That equates to about seven cents on the town’s property tax rate, Gisriel said.

The Government Finance Officers Association, “recommends, at a minimum, that general-purpose governments, regardless of size, maintain unrestricted budgetary fund balance in their general fund of no less than two months of regular general fund operating revenues or regular general fund operating expenditures,” according to online documents.

Being a coastal community, Ocean City is right to exceed the typical standard of 12 percent as a reserve fund balance and set the goal at 15 percent. However, anything above that is being too cautious and fiscally irresponsible. An effort should be made in the upcoming budget process to return the level to the more appropriate 15 percent, which leaves Ocean City in a healthy position even in the event of a natural disaster.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.