What Financial Crisis?
When you read the local papers over the last several weeks, one might believe that the Town of Ocean City is facing a financial crisis going into Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. City Councilmembers have publicly stated the budget shortfall is between $500,000 and $800,000. In an article in The Dispatch (March 15) about the recent effort to raise the room tax a half a cent, the town budget manager is quoted as saying, “In the rough draft of the general fund budget, we’re starting at $525,000 in the hole.”
In that same issue of The Dispatch, the parking consultant working with the parking task force is quoted as saying “One of the parking problems is you’re not making enough money. It’s a revenue issue. … From the council’s perspective, this is about revenue.”
We are led to believe that we are facing a serious financial dilemma as we approach FY20, and that if more revenue is not generated, there could be an increase in the property tax rate.
However, in an article in OC Today (Nov. 23, 2018) regarding a summary of the 2018 fiscal year, we read that revenue was up $1.2 million over budget projections, while expenses were more that $2 million under budget. The town finance director is quoted as saying, “We ended up with a favorable variance of $3.4 million for the year.”
On March 4, the budget manager wrote to the Mayor & City Council (M&CC) regarding FY19 Budget Amendment #1, that the amount in fund balance is over $6.4 million above the town’s 15% reserve policy. This is unassigned reserve money.
What am I missing here? Why is the M&CC pushing the narrative that we are in such a dire financial situation heading into FY20? Perhaps, the real question is what is being kept from tax paying public?
Vincent dePaul Gisriel, Jr.
Our Direction Questioned
Considering the recent failure of the U.S. Senate to pass Sen. Ben Sasse’s proposed legislation that would require that a baby born alive after an attempted abortion be given the same medical care as any other living, breathing human being, I have to ask where we are as a nation.
I ask myself how it can be that one may be fined thousands of dollars, and even incarcerated, for molesting or disturbing the eggs of a Bald or Golden Eagle (Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act 16 U.S.C. 668-668d), while at the same time abortion (which certainly molests, disturbs and then kills a human life) is perfectly legal and is even celebrated by many citizens of our country.
I wonder about the attitude of so many elites in our government and intelligentsia who seem to think work is nice, but not really essential, so if your job goes away because of minimum wage laws, or government regulations concerning the environment or health care, etc., why worry? The government will provide food stamps and housing vouchers and an unemployment check. And those who disagree with this idea, who believe work is better than welfare and want to promote policies that encourage work over welfare, are labeled as mean, heartless and racist.
I am sick, just sick, about the heroin epidemic and the path of death and destruction it is cutting through so many families and neighborhoods and our society in general. There has always been addiction to various substances, but not on this level. How did we get here? Why do people place so little value on themselves?
May I posit, for the sake of argument, that perhaps one of the causes of these societal ills is our embrace of the theory of evolution and the denial of the truth of the Creator God. When we choose, for whatever reason, to deny that humans are the intentional creations of a loving God, created with purpose (to worship, to work, to serve) then what we have done is dehumanize and convey the message that human life in and of itself has no intrinsic value, it has only the value placed on it by other humans.
When we place more value on the life contained within a bird’s egg than we do on the life contained within a human womb, what are we saying? If you’re inconvenient, you’re expendable? I will care for you for only so long as it benefits me? Think about what this means for you when you are old, and frail, and ill.
When we don’t acknowledge that one of the characteristics God gave humans is the desire to work and produce, then we are stealing some of a person’s humanity. We are saying, in effect, you’re not important, you have nothing to contribute, we don’t need you.
When we do not acknowledge that we were created to worship, then we fail to realize that the focus of our worship, if not God, will be something material that will never satisfy. From this arises addictions, not just to drugs, but to anything that satisfies that need to worship – power, wealth, fame, alcohol, on and on.
We have believed the lie for so long. Are we open minded enough to admit the possibility that what we’ve been doing is not working?
Sunlight Best Disinfectant
At the Feb. 19 Ocean City Council meeting, I saw a very unusual thing. Members Paddack and Gehrig introduced a motion to rent the 67th Street gym to the current occupants. It was odd as this was not on the agenda, but perfectly legal. The town subsequently bought the property for a future “water treatment” facility.
At the time of the motion, Mary Knight commented that she regretted losing Jerry’s Gym in Ocean City than she teamed with Matt James, Paddack and Gehrig to rent to the gym. Notably, Dennis Dare left the meeting room to avoid the public vote, why? In closed session later, I understand both members Dare and Martin fought against renting the gym to current management, yet both chose not to voice their opinions publicly. Member Tony DeLuca was absent on vacation.
In a closed session, on Feb. 26, Knight reversed her public position and voted to evict the gym, leaving only Gehrig, Paddack and James to uphold and finalize the public vote. When Deluca returned, he became the fourth vote out of seven supporting the decision to rent to the gym. The gym agreed to pay the city $84,000 a year. Deal done? Not really.
In closed session, on March 4, again, the council tried to change the terms of the agreed upon term sheet by adding county tax. Usually when the town buys a building there is no county tax. Like many businesses, the gym carries itself until summer when it expects to get caught up on its bills. During this tumult a young 22-year-old woman who worked at the gym, and opened the gym doors at 5 a.m., received a small raise and a 48-year-old women employee at the gym worried about losing her second job.
Undaunted Knight wanted people to believe, publicly, that she was sympathetic to the plight of the employees and members of the gym. Then in closed session, out of the public view, she voted along with Martin and Dare for eviction, thinking no one would know. The three used the closed session shrewdly to avoid voicing their opinions publicly. This happens often with all manner of decisions. When the issue of a pre-made decision is brought to public attention, the vote is perfunctory, essentially a rubber stamp from a decision that was made in a prior closed session. Decisions rendered in closed meetings are not in our interest.
Worse yet seldom, if ever, has a “behind closed doors” decision been reversed at a public hearing.
Leases and contracts can and should be fully aired publicly before they are signed. The gym agreement was signed in a closed-door session in September, with “urgency” and then released to the public in December, three months later. If the town was worried about the gym’s price being public, the council could have obtained an option to buy the gym building while it was being publicly aired and before signing an agreement.
Here are a few examples of closed session decisions, without public discussion, that were not in our best interest: On June 7, 2010, ordinance 2010-15 was passed with “urgency,” purchasing the Laws property at 64th Street for a “waste-water treatment facility” for “$5,100,000” of borrowed debt. The Laws property has sat fallow for nine years while we pay interest. Closed session decisions in 2016 and 2017 led to large bond indebtedness of “25,795,000” on Jan. 11, 2018 of which “$3,984,832” was to be used to build a “garage” on the same Laws property, again we are paying interest on both loans for the same property. On Jan. 15, 2019 again in a closed session, “$1,060,371 & $301,822” awarded to Harkins make it a parking lot, on the same “Laws” property. So far “$5,100,000” plus “$3,984,832” or “$9,084,832 of indebtedness and recently “$1,362,194” was awarded to Harkins a “wastewater treatment plant” than a “garage” and now a “parking lot” all in closed sessions. Could this have been any worse if it had been in public? In the sunshine?
We, the taxpayers, have every right to know what the council is doing, at all times with our money, not only when they choose. Taxpayers and voters should demand these types of purchases and huge bond indebtedness occur at all times in plain public view so we can observe and question should we choose, before we are further indebted. We have a right to know what Knight’s true opinion is, also Dare and Martin. Why would they not want to share their view in public? What do they have to hide?
Chalk it up to Mr. Paddack’s honesty and Mr. Gehrig’s courage or this letter could not have been written. It is not sufficient to have a sham public hearing and a rubber stamp vote to give an appearance of propriety on matters of substance often decided months before in a closed-door hearing. For those on the council that continue to want to do these deals behind closed doors and conceal their votes, be advised this is unacceptable. Remember, sunlight is the best disinfectant.