OC Vows To Reconsider Funding For AGH Campaign As Budget Amendment

A rendering of Atlantic General Hospital’s new Regional Cancer Care Center is shown from Route 113. Submitted Image

OCEAN CITY — Prior to approving the fiscal year 2018 budget, Ocean City officials this week revisited the policy on making grants to various non-profits and left the door open for a future appropriation for Atlantic General Hospital.

During the budget wrap-up session late last month, the Mayor and Council had a lengthy debate about the town’s policy regarding supplemental contributions to various non-profit organizations and other entities that provide services to Ocean City and the entire county. After considerable debate, the Mayor and Council ultimately approved requests for special appropriations from various non-profits including Diakonia, Worcester Youth and Family Counseling, Wor-Wic Community College and the Cricket Center, just to name a few.

What was not included in the fiscal year 2018 budget was funding for the Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) capital campaign and Coastal Hospice, for example. AGH had requested a $200,000 contribution from Ocean City to assist in its ongoing capital campaign. During the debate, Councilman Wayne Hartman pointed out Ocean City essentially double donates to the various non-profits and other organizations because of its already substantial contribution to the Worcester County tax base.

During a second reading of the fiscal year 2018 budget on Monday, Hartman again reiterated his belief the town needed to revisit its special appropriations policy in future budget years.

“My position on this has been clear about collecting taxes and giving them to various non-profits,” he said. “If we are going to continue to do that, maybe we should set a certain amount so we aren’t sitting up here picking and choosing.”

However, Hartman said he had somewhat reconsidered the town’s decision to not make a contribution to the AGH capital campaign after a conversation with AGH President and CEO Michael Franklin.

“I had the opportunity to talk to Michael Franklin at the health fair and because of AGH being there, the Town of Ocean City actually saves a lot of money,” he said. “In the past, trauma runs had to go to Salisbury and that tied up resources at least another hour.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight said she believed there would be an opportunity to reconsider making a contribution to the AGH capital campaign and Coastal Hospice, for example, when the revenue picture became clearer in the fiscal year 2017 budget cycle, which closes on June 30.

“I strongly believe Atlantic General and Coastal Hospice are critical for Ocean City,” she said. “When we do a budget amendment in June for fiscal year 2017, I would ask that we have a very serious discussion about both of those. I know we’re going to start talking about financial planning in July and if there are additional revenues, and I suspect there are at this point, I think we need to discuss how to help these entities.”

Councilman Dennis Dare said the timing was not right to consider going back and adding funding for AGH in the fiscal year 2018 budget, which was set for a vote on Monday.

“During the budget wrap-up, one of the last things we talked about were some of these grants,” he said. “They’re all important and they’re all critical. The request from AGH is considerable. It’s not like it is $7,000 or even $20,000. We’ve been pointing toward our financial planning and it wasn’t the time to consider carving out something at that point when we’re faced with so many other critical issues.”

However, Dare did agree there would likely be an opportunity to consider funding for AGH in the near future, either during the financial planning period in July or perhaps later in the year when the town’s revenue picture shakes out.

“I think sometime before the end of the year, I hope we’re in a position to consider helping with AGH’s capital plan,” he said. “It’s vital to the town. Hopefully we can do something when our crystal ball gets a little clearer.”

Hartman, however, suggested revisiting the proposed contribution to AGH before passing the fiscal year 2018 budget.

“I think the time to do it is now, while we’re doing this budget,” he said. “I think trying to go back later in the year and adding more appropriations would only make matters worse. I think in the future we should set a certain amount so no one gets left out.”

Council President Lloyd Martin said Ocean City has always supported AGH during his considerable time on the council including a hefty initial contribution.

“I support AGH, Coastal Hospice and all of the non-profits out there,” he said. “I’ve been on the council for 15 years and we have always helped AGH expand and move forward. I think Ocean City has committed $2.5 million. I think we can continue to be a good partner, but we have to prioritize. We have a responsible budget and we need to move forward, not backward.”

Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out the not-so-subtle differences between the non-profits and the for-profit entities that request special appropriations from Ocean City. He pointed out for many, such as Worcester Youth and Family Counseling, the Humane Society and Worcester Warriors, for example, grants from the county and the municipalities were the only source of revenue.

“They don’t have a source of revenue,” he said. “They don’t charge for their services, so they rely on grants in order to exist. There is no other revenue source, yet they provide a service that, if they weren’t here, we would have to provide and there would be a cost associated with that.”

Meehan pointed out AGH is a for-profit entity, but supported the notion of revisiting its requested donation if possible. Contrary to Meehan’s point, all of AGH’s literature refers to the Berlin-based hospital system as a non-profit.

“AGH is not a non-profit,” he said. “It is a for-profit business. That doesn’t mean I don’t support what has been stated up here as far as working with them to continue to provide the best medical services, and I think we should look into ways of helping with their capital campaign.”

Meehan said the hospital provides a critical service to the resort and the entire county, which made it worthy of a supplemental appropriation from Ocean City, but reiterated AGH’s capital campaign should be supported by the entire county.

“Out of all of these, AGH really does supply a vital service to this entire county,” he said. “It’s such a large entity and employs so many people and provides services across the county, not only to Ocean City, but also the largest residential community, Ocean Pines.”

Meehan urged the county to financially support AGH and even suggested a creative way to help fund that support. Worcester County last week agreed to provide $100,000 toward the capital campaign as well as $75,000 as part of its annual commitment.

“I suggest this is one of those cases where the county should step up and support the hospital, even if it means adding a half a cent to the county tax rate in order to recognize funding from all over the county together,” he said.

Meehan said that would ensure the hospital’s expansion and improvements were supported by the entire county.

“I think that would be a good way to do it,” he said. “I’ve encouraged them to take a look at that because it is a county facility. If we could find a way to do that united together so everybody is contributing, I think that would really help the hospital move forward even at a faster rate then what is being proposed. It’s just something to consider for the future. Right now, we’re moving forward with this budget.”

The council moved forward with the fiscal year 2018 budget approval process with a promise to revisit the requested supplemental contribution to AGH, Coastal Hospice and other entities in the future.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.