It’s safe to say the eight members of the Ocean City Mayor and Council are typically not on the same page when it comes to current events. That’s a great thing in the current circumstances because there seems to be a mature, professional, healthy and open dialogue surrounding decisions. This is the way government is supposed to operate.
During the weekly meetings, differences are being hashed out in the public arena. The main difference between this body and others locally as well as even in Washington, D.C. is it’s been being done for the most part in a respectful fashion without any nasty or adversarial undertones. The seven council members are debating the issues in the council chambers with the non-voting mayor adding his perspective from three-plus decades in public office into the discussions. It’s a positive situation. While there does seem to be some ideological aligning among the recently elected officials, there does not appear to be covert voting blocks orchestrating public discussions beforehand in private.
This week’s dialogue around the proposed new mid-town Ocean City fire station is a prime example. Heading into the meeting this week, it seemed a foregone conclusion the town would proceed with a $30,000 design study for the new Ocean City fire station at 65th Street with the plan to shutter the smaller, outdated station a mile to the north.
Personally, I have not been convinced a new state-of-the-art fire station was needed at 65th Street at this time. The town within the last five years has funded millions of dollars to reconstruct a new fire station in north Ocean City and then this off-season a massive overhaul of the 15th Street headquarters. I was hoping the council would not simply rubberstamp this study as an initial step in a longer range process with the same end result — another multi-million dollar fire station next year or the year after.
The majority of the Ocean City Council members were right this week to refuse the new mid-town fire station study at this time. The existing station can serve the town well for now and there should be no rush to build another new station on the heels of the other major fire department projects.
Spending $30,000 on a design plan for a firehouse that does not have the full support of the council would be a waste of money. There’s no need to fund a study to determine the cost of a new station if the city has no intention of moving forward soon with the goal — a new firehouse at 65th Street. The votes are not there currently to support it. Five years from now, if the city is then ready to proceed, the study will need to be done again because the estimates will not be accurate any longer.
Prior to this week’s meeting, it appeared Ocean City would be getting out of the towing business. The Mayor and Council seemed to support closing the city’s impound lot on 65th Street and having the private tow companies haul the vehicles to their own lots off island. However, after a host of concerns were aired this week, the direction changed swiftly.
The most compelling testimony heard this week came from tow company owner Chris Cropper, who urged the council members to reconsider the route he thought they were headed.
“If a person has their vehicle towed, they’re upset. It’s a convenience for that person once their vehicle gets towed to ride the city bus … to get their vehicle with an hour-and-a-half turnaround time. Now, they would have to take a taxi or an Uber or whatever to Berlin, which will cost $20 to $30 and it will take three to four hours just to get there depending on the time of day. Then they still have to fight traffic getting back. Now, they’re really going to be mad,” Cropper said. “I understand the situation at 65th Street. That’s the hub and you need all the space there you can get, but I’ve been checking around and there are plenty of places in town to put an impound lot or even multiple impound lots.”
Delmarva Condominium Managers Association President Joe Groves added his organization is opposed to any changes in the impound lot’s location, predicting an uproar from renters as well as unit owners.
“The overall consensus, all 47 emails, is they don’t want to see changes to this policy,” he said. “It’s a great management tool for us. It works if you have the impound lot here on the island. … “It’s going to be an absolute PR nightmare, not just for us but for the town of Ocean City if you start moving it off the island and taking it to other places. People get upset when they have to write a check to the town of Ocean City, but they’re really upset with the manager of that building or that property.”
After all the comments, what initially looked like an easy vote for a major change turned into the unanimous vote to hike the tow rates and keep the impound lot on the island. It was the right call in the end. There were too many negative factors to weigh, particularly the part of vacationers having to spend $30 for a cab to Berlin and other locales to retrieve their vehicles. That would have taken a negative experience to another level that flies in the face of being a hospitable vacation destination.