SNOW HILL – County officials agreed to help cover paving costs in Snow Hill this week but voted not to contribute to a project aimed at increasing Boardwalk security in Ocean City.
In a lengthy work session Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners reviewed the coming year’s proposed budget and made a variety of adjustments. Among those was the decision not to fund the $300,000 requested by Ocean City to help with the installation of vehicle access controls along the Boardwalk. The decision came with opposition from Commissioners Joe Mitrecic and Bud Church.
“I would caution that if for some reason something happened on the Boardwalk where somebody took a vehicle down it on a busy night, and I hate to even put that out there, the damage it could do to the town and county financially is not even close to the $300,000 that the Town of Ocean City is asking for in this case,” Mitrecic said.
In Tuesday’s budget review, Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins outlined the changes the county’s budget review committee had made to the proposed $211 million budget. In grants to towns, Higgins said the committee recommended a 2.5 percent increase in each municipality’s unrestricted grant. For Ocean City, which is set to receive roughly $2.5 million in an unrestricted grant, Higgins said the committee also recommended funding $300,000 for the Boardwalk vehicle access control project. Commissioner Jim Bunting, however, made a motion to “zero out” funding for the project.
Mitrecic voiced support for the funding in spite of the motion.
“I wish my fellow commissioners would rethink that and think about financially how this could hurt the county in the future if something was to happen,” he said.
The commissioners then voted 5-2, with Mitrecic and Church opposed, to eliminate funding for the project in the proposed budget.
While there was little discussion of the $465,000 unrestricted grants provided to each of the other municipalities, the budget committee’s recommendation to give Snow Hill funding to allow for the paving of Coulbourne Lane did generate some discussion.
“I don’t know of any time in my eight years of being here we’ve ever paid for a street in a town to be paved,” Bunting said.
Commissioner Ted Elder said there were three schools that generated lots of bus traffic along Coulbourne Lane.
“That’s the main reason that the road is needing repair,” he said.
Elder said he didn’t think the county should fund the entire $126,843 project but should at least contribute half the cost.
Commissioner Diana Purnell agreed the county needed to do something.
“Snow Hill is the county seat and Snow Hill is struggling,” she said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino asked about the road’s history. Staff explained that while it was a county road at one time, Snow Hill officials eventually asked to include it in the town’s inventory of roads.
“I think that certainly we need to support our municipalities however when it comes to paving of roads I think we’re opening the door to every municipality,” Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw said.
He said all of the local towns had suffered when they lost highway user revenues.
“Every town has problems with infrastructure,” he said. “If you open the door on this I think you’re really creating a problem.”
Bunting agreed and said there were schools on Berlin streets.
“I think it’s a poor excuse just because the buses are riding on it,” he said.
Elder said that while that was true Coulbourne Lane handled more school traffic than it did residential traffic.
“It gets quite a bit of wear from these buses,” he said. “There’s no place in Berlin or Ocean City or anywhere else that has as much bus traffic as they do right there.”
Bertino pointed out that the town had asked to take over the road.
“I think it’s a bad precedent…,” he said. “We’re opening ourselves up to additional requests we’re just not going to be able to fund.”
A motion by Bunting to eliminate Coulbourne Lane funding from the proposed budget failed with just three votes. A motion by Elder to give the town $63,425 — roughly half the cost of the project — passed 4-3. That motion was opposed by Bunting, Bertino and Lockfaw.