The Ocean City Mayor and Council approved its proposed budget on first reading by a 5-2 vote this week. The budget sets the property tax rate at .4656 per $100 of assessed valuation as compared to last year’s rate of .4585. For a $400,000 assessed property, that means an annual city tax increase of $28, from $1,834 to $1,862. Although a small tax increase, the rate change will make a significant difference in the city’s $86 million budget, raising $638,000 in new revenue.
During a discussion of the budget this week, there were some tense moments among council members regarding the semantics of what the city was doing with its budget. It’s clear this is a small tax increase because property owners will be paying more to the city than they did last year. Councilmen Matt James and Tony DeLuca voted against the budget because it did not use a constant yield tax rate, which would have brought in the exact same amount of tax revenue as last year.
Councilman Mark Paddack, in his first year of elected office after being an employee of the town for decades, took James and DeLuca to task over their opposition to the budget. He accused them of foul play.
“It’s such a small amount that I think the public wouldn’t even notice it,” he said. “It’s $638,000 in an $86 million budget. I think, respectfully, you gentlemen are politically pandering to the public. You gentlemen sat in the same room I sat in for four or five days and heard the department heads being told the hold the line and hold the line and we did it. … Look, I ran on a platform that I was not going to raise taxes, but I got educated… I’m going to vote for this because it’s the right thing to do and the prudent thing to do. We have some differences, but I’m not going to sit up here and grandstand. I can’t wait until we see those recommendations about parking in the fall and see where you gentlemen stand on that.”
James made it clear he would not accept that line of criticism from the freshman councilman.
“I’m not sure what your problem is, or if you understood what I said, I was pretty clear that I support taking care of our town, the issues that may come up and being prepared,” James said. “I just don’t like the process in which this happened. On the last day of the budget sessions, we went away from the constant yield rate to the constant rate. Who’s to say last year’s number is the right number? I don’t know what your issue is, but this is not political pandering. … If we need to raise taxes, then we need to raise taxes, but I think we should talk about it. Again, I don’t know what your issue is, but get over it.”
When it was his turn to respond, DeLuca was quick to point out Paddack in his first budget went against what he campaigned on last fall.
“I don’t care what you call this, but it’s a slight tax increase,” he said. “It’s a $638,000 tax increase. Back on April 2 when we introduced the budget with the constant yield rate, what that did was give a slight decrease to the resident property owners. I think it’s interesting Councilman Paddack that you said you ran on not raising taxes, but that’s exactly what you did with this.”
In the journalism business, budget time is not typically exciting to report on. That can certainly not be said about this year with this week’s comments in Ocean City and all the tax and fee increase talks in Berlin.