To be sure, Ocean City’s decades-long feud with Worcester County over the tax differential issue, an issue that has now landed in Circuit Court, is very real and certainly not petty, but should it be something that could ultimately derail a potential, all-important long-term solution to the chronic shoaling problem in the Inlet that often leaves the channel impassable?
That’s the issue the Ocean City Mayor and Council were faced with this week and the elected officials essentially balked at a proposal to utilize a portion of the beach replenishment funding to subsidize an Army Corps of Engineers’ feasibility study of a long-term solution to the Inlet’s chronic shoaling problem. In simplest terms, the Army Corps’ study comes with an estimated cost of $1.2 million, of which the federal government would pay half, or $600,000.
The remaining $600,000 would be shared by the state, Worcester County and Ocean City, with the state paying $300,000 and each of the local jurisdictions paying around $150,000 each. The proposal on the table would tap a portion of the beach replenishment fund to help pay the town’s share of the money needed for the Army Corps’ Inlet study. It would require legislation to allow money in the beach replenishment fund to be used for anything other than its intended purpose, which is what the Mayor and Council were asked to consider on Tuesday.
Now, it’s important to note the beach replenishment funding is a sacred cow for Ocean City and the decades-long program has been responsible for maintaining and restoring the beach and dune network, preserving and protecting millions of dollars of real estate in the process. To that end, the town’s elected officials are right to be cautious about allowing it to be tapped for reasons other than preserving and maintaining Ocean City’s most important asset.
However, what appears to be short-sighted is the notion the Inlet’s chronic shoaling problem is largely a county issue and Ocean City’s responsibility, or perhaps culpability, ends at the west end of the rock jetties that border it. It is true, the constant shoaling problem has largely impacted the commercial fishermen working out the harbor in West Ocean City and even modest-sized vessels have difficulty traversing the Inlet on the highest of tides. There have been occasions when commercial vessels have had to offload their catch on the Ocean City side because they could not reach the harbor. However, there have often been occasions when some of the larger sportfishing vessels in the area’s recreational fleet have bottomed out on the Inlet’s floor in recent years.
Collectively, the town’s elected officials this week all but said the Inlet shoaling problem is not an Ocean City problem, but we believe that perception is short-sighted. The Inlet is a valuable resource for the entire region and keeping it clear and open to vessel traffic should be a responsibility borne by all parties that share it.
Now, there is a possibility the town could contribute its share of the study cost from another source, perhaps the general fund, but the Mayor and Council weren’t keen on that solution either. Essentially, they planted a flag in the sand, so to speak, over Ocean City’s share of the study cost. In stronger terms, they basically told the county to pound sand on the Inlet problem, and, as usual, it always comes back to the tax differential issue.
“Our share would be $150,000 and the county’s share would be $150,000, but our taxpayers pay 60 percent of the county’s budget already,” said Council Secretary Mary Knight. “Essentially, our taxpayers in this case would be paying $240,000. That’s just another example of how our taxpayers always get the short end of the deal.”
Mayor Rick Meehan agreed saying, “the harbor is in West Ocean City and Worcester County. The commercial fleet there, the boats moored there, the restaurants and attractions associated with that go to the benefit of Worcester County and that can create inequity too.”
Again, the tax differential issue is very real and maybe a Circuit Court opinion will resolve it finally one way or the other. In the meantime, we believe the largely parochial issue should not derail the all-important solution to finally solving the Inlet’s chronic shoaling problem.