The expansion of paid parking in Ocean City is back on the table. The last time the town wanted to expand paid parking on city streets was in 2013 when the council installed paid parking at a variety of locations around town, most notably on 146th Street from Coastal Highway to the beach and 131st Street from the highway to Sinepuxent Avenue.
Bringing paid parking to north Ocean City was frowned upon by many residents and business owners and led to a petition drive, which successfully met the minimum number required to take the matter to referendum. Before that could happen, the Mayor and Council reversed its decision and bagged the move.
While steering clear of north Ocean City, the town did discuss this week expanding paid parking on the ocean blocks from 11th to 33rd streets this week. It was estimated there are 444 parking spaces that are currently not paid in the 22-block area. It was reported the new paid parking could generate nearly $622,000 annually for the town. Before too much discussion was had this week, a motion was quickly made to study the issue at a task force level. The task force would be convened and report back before the end of the calendar year.
“My motion is that we form a task force for the parking meter issue,” Councilman Tony DeLuca said. “The task force process has been successful with the Boardwalk, the special enforcement zone and other issues.”
What’s most interesting here is Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, who will be primarily charged with assembling the task force, promised back in 2014 he will never support more paid parking on city streets. He agreed this week the task force was the right direction but didn’t weigh in one way or the other during the discussion.
“As long as I am the mayor of Ocean City, I am going to object to any more parking meters on city streets,” said Meehan in April 2014. “Unless there are six votes to override a mayoral veto, I don’t think you are going to see parking meters on the streets. I hope we continue to look at our city lots, and other ways, not just parking meters to reduce costs and to increase revenues where they are palatable and where they are necessary.”
That vow is an important consideration for the task force and the council to remember moving forward.
It’s completely unacceptable for the Ocean City Fire Department to not be able to answer ambulance calls ever. Unfortunately, it was learned last week that is the reality at some points in the year.
During a report to the Mayor and Council during budget discussions last month, Chief Chris Larmore pointed out in 2017, “there were 60 times we were out of units and out of personnel to respond to calls. That number was in the low 20s the previous year.” That’s a 300-percent increase.
“Naturally, my question is what happened?” Larmore said. “I handed that task to my crew chiefs and they worked dozens of hours to analyze it. The long and short of it is it’s the number of calls in the offseason that is causing the majority of the problem. In-season we’re pretty good. … We analyzed every call, where the call was and what other calls surrounded them that caused us to be out of units. Over the last four years, we’ve seen a 10-percent increase in call volume. You can say that’s not really dramatic, but the real key is call volume in the offseason. The increase in call volume in the offseason is 21 percent and we have not increased the staffing proportionate to that. When we looked at the time period from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., it almost increased 40 percent.”
Larmore added, “Aside from the safety of our people, providing resources is our top priority. That we can’t always do that is concerning. You have accomplished the goal of expanding the shoulder seasons by bringing people in with special events. What has happened is we have not expanded to match that.”
While the off season may be the biggest concern, an internal fire department email shared in some circles publicly clearly shows there is an issue with staffing covering the peak season shifts as well, including the upcoming Cruisin weekend as well as Memorial Day weekend. As of last month, there more than 30 positions that needed to be filled over the busy back-to-back weekends. The email asked for current staff to volunteer to work the shifts or mandatory overtime would have to be enforced to ensure adequate staffing. It’s desperate times it seems.
Why is that happening? Many folks believe the scheduling change enacted last fall plays a role while others question current leadership’s ability to retain existing personnel. Whatever the case, it’s a major issue that merits close scrutiny at City Hall.