Although unofficial until the budget is officially approved, major tax and fee increases are coming to Berlin property owners. That much is known for this year and more will be coming next year. The question now is whether the current feelings of disappointment with town elected officials and administrators from the majority of the citizenry today will remain until the next election.
The terms of Mayor Gee Williams and Councilmen Zack Tyndall and Elroy Brittingham expire next year. Breathing a sigh of relief their terms are not up in 2022 are Dean Burrell, Thom Gulyas and Troy Purnell.
If the election were this fall, I do not believe any of the town’s elected officials would be re-elected. The reality is these tax and fee increases would not have come if there was an election this year. Nonetheless, since half of the officials are up for re-election, here’s some thoughts on what could transpire next fall. Brittingham is probably the safest because he’s a legend in the African-American community, but there’s certainly no guarantee he will seek an incredible ninth term in office. If he seeks re-election in 2020, Williams will certainly be challenged for his fourth term. As the mayor and chief spokesman for the town, Williams has taken the brunt of the criticism during the budget process. Fair or unfair, Williams and Town Administrator Laura Allen are viewed as the primary reasons for the budget crisis. There were years of mismanagement and poor decisions, and Allen and Williams are the chief decision makers of the town. Although he was the lone official who voted against the budget, Tyndall did not make any friends with his council colleagues with his opposition. Many of his comments have been viewed as long on generalities and pleasantries and short on concrete ideas to avoid hikes to taxes and fees. At least a couple council members have accused him privately of blatantly trying to ingratiate himself to the taxpayers in an inevitable bid to run for mayor when his first term expires next year.
If you believe what town residents have been saying online in response to this paper’s articles, the entire council will be replaced when the time comes. The wait is long though to find out if that’s true.
It was interesting this week to hear comments made in response to a staff-proposed tax increase by Worcester County Commissioners Chip Bertino and Jim Bunting. Thought just two of seven commissioners, Bertino and Bunting, who are typically of the same mindset, seemed to indicate they were blindsided by staff’s recommendation to increase the county’s property tax rate by two cents to address a $6.8 shortfall between revenues and expenditures. It’s common practice in government the year after an election to raise taxes. The concept being voters will not hold it against their elected officials three years from now because they will not remember.
“I just want to say I was very surprised when I got the work session book,” Bunting said. “There’s things in there I didn’t expect to see. I’m very concerned about it.”
Bertino added, “… I would like to state at the outset I think that putting out there a tax increase without having consulted with the commissioners was inappropriate. … It was just sprung on us on Friday whenever we received our packets. To say that it’s justified at this point, that’s the process that we’re going through. That’s a decision for the commissioners not for staff.”
Another interesting development from the budget talk was the idea of breaking out the Board of Education budget approval from the county’s general spending plan. The reasoning being commissioners don’t want to be viewed as anti-education if the county’s ultimate budget before them were to earn a no vote while the schools’ budget was viewed prudent.
Have the weekly fireworks displays in downtown Ocean City lost their luster? It’s a worthy conversation.
It’s clear the north Ocean City fireworks displays on Sundays during the peak season are well received and popular. However, whether the Monday night fireworks displays during July and August should continue was debated this week. It’s important to note everything will occur as planned this summer. This was a broader discussion on whether they should be held in future years. The concept floated by Councilman John Gehrig during a tourism commission meeting was essentially over quality or quantity. He was proposing do away with the weekly downtown fireworks displays in favor of a few grand shows during strategic nights. Boardwalk business owner and commission member Stephane Meehan took it a step further, saying rather than weekly displays maybe the change should be to have larger fireworks shows on summer holiday weekends and around Halloween.
While the discussion ranged, the commission seemed open to exploring other events to replace the weekly fireworks displays. No official decision was made, but it appears this could be getting a lot of thought over the summer. Mayor Rick Meehan summed up the issue, saying, “I think the fireworks are a nice value-added amenity, but they aren’t a big event. I think we need to look at other things. I also think we shouldn’t abandon fireworks altogether. We know some people complain, but when they’re suddenly stopped, we’ll hear people saying what happened to the fireworks.”