Vacation Guide Nod Likely After Ordinance Tweak

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials last week put the brakes, at least briefly, on a renewed partnership with the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce to distribute the annual vacation guide publication in order to figure out how best to pay for it.

During the Aug. 7 work session, Tourism Director Donna Abbott presented a proposal to renew the vacation guide magazine agreement with the Chamber of Commerce. For years, the town and the chamber produced and distributed their own vacation guides for visitors, but the two publications were merged a few years ago into one improved guide.

On Tuesday, Abbott told the Mayor and Council is was time to renew the agreement of the 2019 publication and beyond. Currently, the town budgets $20,000 to pay for its share of the distribution costs of the vacation guide along with another $16,000-plus in advertisements it takes out in the publication. This year, however, the chamber is seeking another $5,000 for the town’s share of the distribution costs.

Renewing the agreement appeared to be a slam dunk until a discussion of how best to fund the expenditure arose. A portion of the room tax collected in Ocean City each year is dedicated to marketing and clearly the annual vacation guide appears to fall under a marketing expense. However, Abbott pointed out language in the ordinance covering room tax allocations doesn’t currently allow the vacation guide to be paid for from that fund.

“This can’t come out marketing budget funded by the room tax,” she said. “I would argue that everything I do is marketing, but the way the ordinance is written, postage can’t be included under marketing.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman pointed out it appeared the ordinance needed reworking.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “When you mail out the vacation guide, that is marketing by any definition. I make a motion we tweak the ordinance to allow this expenditure to come out of the room tax marketing fund.”

However, City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said it wasn’t that simple. Stansbury said an ordinance change had to be posted and advertised and go through protocols for amending an ordinance. The council directed staff to craft the ordinance change and bring it back at a future work session. As a result, the council did not approve the renewed agreement, but Council Secretary Mary Knight said that should not be taken as indication the town did not support the chamber’s publication.

“We support what you’re doing,” she said. “This is just a housekeeping measure on our side. Don’t take this to mean we don’t support this.”

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.