SNOW HILL – An additional $700,000 in revenue for Ocean City this fiscal year appears to hinge on one man’s vote.
After the Worcester County Commissioners approved legislation last month enabling the county to move forward with increasing the room tax rate, Commissioner Josh Nordstrom made it clear the increase didn’t yet have his support. In order for the rate to move from 4.5% to 5%, the increase needs the support of all seven commissioners.
Nordstrom says he’s still not sure how he’ll vote on the issue. His indecision stems from what he considers the lack of concern his peers have for the south end of Worcester County.
“My constituents expect me to fight and let them know that if you need my vote, you better start listening,” he said.
Nordstrom, who is in his first year as a commissioner, said he believed even as he campaigned that the southern region of the county was often overlooked by government. While the county gives Pocomoke City a grant like the other towns receive, and also supports various organizations in the south end, Nordstrom says it’s not much compared to the “inordinate” amount of money that’s spent in northern Worcester County.
“It was my belief we were being mostly ignored,” he said. “This past budget cycle confirmed that. The votes that were taken, the shocking lack of respect for the people I represent, I went from being frustrated to being angry. I realized something had to be done to make them listen.”
During the budget process, Nordstrom proposed three separate initiatives he thought would benefit the southern portion of the county. None of them were approved.
The initiative he’d put the most hope in was an effort to provide Snow Hill and Pocomoke each with the equivalent of 10% of the county’s table games revenue. He said it would equate to roughly $38,000 per municipality.
“It’s not a lot of money,” Nordstrom said. “It’s more symbolic.”
While it could be maintained the municipalities are too far away to be impacted by the casino, Nordstrom pointed out that plenty of people come from the south and traveled through Pocomoke and Snow Hill to get to the casino. He said the funding could go a long way toward helping the towns with their various infrastructure needs.
“Until my fellow commissioners recognize that, and address the issues the southern end of the county faces, I’ve got to keep trying,” Nordstrom said.
That’s where his indecision regarding the room tax vote comes in. The 5% room tax increase, if it goes into effect Jan. 1, would bring in an additional $700,000 in revenue for Ocean City this fiscal year. When the new rate is fully phased in in fiscal year 2021, it would mean additional revenue of $1.7 million for the resort. Fully phased in, the increase would mean additional revenue of $88,000 for Worcester County, $17,000 for Pocomoke, $3,000 for Berlin and $1,000 for Snow Hill.
“It overwhelmingly benefits one part of the county,” Nordstrom said, referencing Ocean City. “It’s going to benefit them more than anyone else. If you’re not going to listen when I talk about the needs of the south end, it’s more difficult for me to lend my vote to the things you believe in. We ought to be working toward what’s best for the whole county.”
Nordstrom says all he wants to hear from his fellow commissioners is a willingness to support some of the needs in District 1.
“I’m not hearing ‘hey we’re here to help,’” he said. “What I am hearing are jokes, jokes at the expense of good people, hardworking people that pay taxes, people that are virtually ignored.”
Nordstrom said he’s not playing a game.
“If they lived in my district they’d be very frustrated with their county government as well,” he said, adding that as he’d gone door-to-door during the campaign process countless residents had expressed their dissatisfaction.
Nordstrom stressed that he had his four-year term to accomplish as much as he possibly could. He’s hopeful that the commissioners will reconsider the ideas he brought up during the budget process, which in addition to casino revenue included tax incentives for businesses in southern Worcester County as well as infrastructure funding for Pocomoke. He said his stance on the room tax issue is not meant to upset anyone but rather to ensure that District 1 concerns are heard.
“My constituents did not elect me to stay quiet,” he said. “If they wanted someone to go along and get along they picked the wrong person.”
The commissioners are expected to introduce a resolution to increase the room tax rate in July, with a public hearing in August. The resolution will require a unanimous vote from the commissioners in order to pass.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, who represents Ocean City, declined to comment on the matter, saying, “I’m not going to get into a battle in the press about this.”