Expansion Not Needed
The town is planning yet another expansion of the Ocean City Convention Center. The Performing Arts Center was just recently built by giving up valuable space in the facility. Now, there are plans to add an additional 30,000 square feet of exhibit space to the already existing 60,000 square feet, for a total of 90,000 square feet. I believe the Mayor & City Council and the State of Maryland should take a second look.
While there are some events that would benefit by an expansion, do we spend $34 million of local and State funds to accommodate a small number of groups?
The latest market analysis indicates that only 9% to 11% of conventions and exhibits in the mid-Atlantic region require between 60,001 and 90,000 square feet of exhibit space. Should we be expanding for such a small segment of what has been described as a very competitive market. The report points out that a key trend in the convention/meeting industry is that over the last two decades, the supply of exhibition and meeting space has seen significant growth, while demand has not kept up.
Based on a survey of existing and potential users, the average amount of exhibit space needed by those responding favorably to continued or future bookings was 46,300 square feet, which we can accommodate. The survey also reveals that about 44% of those surveyed indicated that they anticipate attendance at their event to increase over the next five years, while 56% expect attendance to remain the same. The survey further indicated that 50% of the respondents thought their space needs would increase over the next five years. The other 50% expect their space needs to remain the same. Again, is it worth $34 million?
With expansion, the town intends to target smaller groups in an attempt to book multiple events at the same time. The town will be competing with a number of our local hotels that host similar groups.
I keep hearing that any debt service incurred by an expansion will be paid for by the food and beverage tax. First of all, any bonds sold by the town are done so with the backing of the full faith and credit of the town. If any problems or changes occur, the debt could fall back on the tax payers. Next, the property owners continue to pay for all operating losses with their town and state taxes. That subsidy has averaged nearly $2.7 million annually over the last five years. Finally, I believe that no one pays more food and beverage taxes than our year-round residents and absentee property owners who frequently come to town. These are the people who go out to our restaurants, bars and night clubs, on average, more than any other group. When the food and beverage tax was first adopted, it had a sunset provision. Over 20 years later, it is still with us.
Vincent dePaul Gisriel, Jr.
Concerns With Harris Support For EPA Head
Congressman Andy Harris devotes a whopping two paragraphs on his website to his philosophy on the environment and his desire to protect the Chesapeake Bay. He acknowledges the watermen and farmers and restaurants that rely on the bay, and commits himself to “commonsense, multi-state solutions.” He adds that he too catches rockfish in the bay and lets his kids swim in it.
What doesn’t make sense, then, is his full support of Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or his voting record on environmental issues.
Since 2011, Harris has overwhelmingly supported what conservationists would label as “anti-environment” bills. Of 206 bills related to protecting the environment from 2011 to 2016, Harris voted in favor of six. And, currently, he’s serving as a principal sponsor of H.R. 637, a bill that removes many known pollutants such as carbon dioxide from the Clean Air Act.
But breathable air aside, the Chesapeake is a national treasure and the heart of this great state. As Harris should have learned since leaving Queens to take up residency at Johns Hopkins in the late 70s, we Marylanders are quite proud of our heritage. We love our crabs and Old Bay. We love playing host through the summer months. And we love the men and women who work the waters, the generations of watermen who live by the tides and have defined life for us on the Shore.
So given that six states and the District of Columbia have over 150 major rivers that feed into the Chesapeake, Harris should know how critical it is for the feds to establish legislation that promotes greater coordination between these stakeholders. This kind of oversight and mediation is exactly the role the federal government should be playing. Despite decades of research and evidence to the contrary, however, Harris continues to question the crucial impact regulation and federal oversight has had on Bay clean-up efforts.
Harris is right that all stakeholders need to be represented at the table, as over-regulation or nonsensical laws are counterproductive and erode these vital industries. But most importantly, first and foremost, all stakeholders need to be at the table and held accountable. Pruitt is hell-bent on dismantling the EPA, the one organization responsible for leveling the playing field and ensuring that state commitments are honored.
Why then is Harris on board with Pruitt’s approach, given that Maryland has so much to lose?
Election Probe Critical
It is imperative that Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election be investigated thoroughly by the FBI, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the House Intelligence Committee.
The reason is not to discredit the results of the 2016 election, but rather to ensure that all future elections are accurate, fair, and free from any tampering or influence by a foreign power. These investigations also should not be obfuscated by deflection or diversionary tactics.
No other presidential candidate has ever mentioned a Russian president so many times in any campaign as Donald Trump. What were his reasons for doing so? Why was/is he so enamored with Putin? Answers to these questions are important.
Aside from the concerns above, these investigations must ensure that all future elections are free from any foreign influence. Although it probably didn’t happen in the 2016 election, the next time, it could involve hacking into the voting machines. The integrity of the electoral process cannot be compromised.
Jean L. Fry
OC’s Bloated Budget
With all the fanfare over the council’s desire to maintain constant yield by reducing the tax rate .7 tenths of a penny or 1.5%, the 3.8% increase in General Fund expenditures has gone practically unnoticed. This decline in tax rate is largely offset by a corresponding increase in assessments. So taxes for 95% of taxpayers will not change. However the $3,100,000 increase in General Fund expenditures is being paid largely from savings, by debiting reserves $2.44 million. Is that wise?
Has the council given serious consideration to reducing expenses? Due to years of underfunding in the past of both pensions and medical expenses, we will incur years of future increases. Can we afford to deplete our limited reserves by increasing spending now? Jeanie Knapp stated, “A lot of tough decisions had to be made to make budget at constant yield, and I don’t know if that is feasible forever?” Really Jeanie?
I am not disparaging the commendable efforts of Councilmen DeLuca and Gehrig who promised voters last November to hold the line on taxes. Or Councilmen Hartman and James who have held similar positions on abstaining from tax increases in the past. The tax payers thank you gentlemen and will not forget your efforts. However can’t we do a little better on expenses? Of course we can.
When I gathered a petition to lower taxes by nine cents (13 times lower than the decline in the 2018 budget), I spoke with Jenny Knapp and we shared ideas on how about $8 million could be saved off expenses. Following that conversation I came up with the following areas, which are only examples many other areas could and should be considered:
Cut EMT service and any fire support for WOC for a saving of about $1,250,000-plus.
Cut winter bus routes (am tired of watching empty buses) for a saving of $1,500,000-plus.
Furlough police officers for 4-6 weeks in the winter, without pay, saving $2,000,000-plus.
Cut the rest from a bloated nonsensical advertising budget for saving $4,000,000-plus.
The police would be asked to do unpaid community service 4-6 weeks mentoring male children of single parent moms, hence productively occupying idle winter months.
We know we face increased contributions to the pension and medical funds in the future due to many years of underfunding. Can we afford to ignore increasing expenses this year? Ocean City government has grown 20 times in 30 years. Do you think we could hold off on more growth for government? Or maybe even make sensible reductions and allow the community to grow?
The county commissioners, lacking the temerity to attack their bloated education expenses, have put the county in a financial death spiral. Must we join the county in its decline? Of course not. So kudos to Mr. Hartman, Mr. DeLuca, Mr. James and Mr. Gehrig for the 1.5% reduction in the tax rate. The question remains do they have the courage to finish the job and prune the $3.1 million in expense increases in the General Fund budget proposal, The foresight to start a new period of enlightened government or will they fall prey to the sink hole of the county that is trapped in a cycle of increasing government and increasing taxes?