The laws of supply and demand were on full display during last weekend’s OC Air Show. Though difficult to prove historically, I would argue last Saturday featured some of the biggest crowds I have ever seen in Ocean City. The beach was packed from the ocean to the seawall along the Boardwalk as far as I could see from 21st Street, and traffic was intense on most roads for the better part of the day and night.
As I was driving into town at 9 a.m. last Saturday, I saw a property owner hanging a handmade sign saying all-day parking for $100. I wondered if anyone would pay it since other private property owners nearby were charging just $40 or $50. While sitting in traffic with thousands of other people trying to get out of town Saturday evening, I counted 10 vehicles in that lot.
While some would argue it’s price gouging, I maintain if the market will bear it charge it. Nobody forced the motorists to park there. They found value in it evidently.
It looks more and more likely the proposed room tax increase from 4.5% to 5% could be derailed over politics. A unanimous vote by the County Commissioners is needed when it comes up next month.
Worcester County Commissioner Josh Nordstrom, who represents Pocomoke City and nearby areas, is fed up with his requests for his home district not being taken seriously by his colleagues. In the spring budget process, Nordstrom sought three changes to benefit his region – Pocomoke receiving 10% of county’s table games revenue, tax incentives for businesses in southern Worcester County and infrastructure funding for Pocomoke.
The reality is Pocomoke is not being ignored by the county government. The municipality gets a grant like the other towns and Ocean Pines do, but Nordstrom believes his area needs extra help. Nordstrom is doing what he should be doing for his home constituency. He’s fighting hard for them and they need it.
Nordstrom’s opposition to the room tax increase, however, is inconsistent with his vote supporting the next fiscal year’s budget. Since his requests were not included in the budget, he should have voted against it. Nordstrom said he didn’t oppose the budget out of respect for the staff who spent hours crafting the budget. That stance should also apply to the proposed room tax increase as well, however. People have worked hard on that effort as well.
“I’m not hearing ‘hey we’re here to help,’” Nordstrom said. “What I am hearing are jokes, jokes at the expense of good people, hardworking people that pay taxes, people that are virtually ignored. … [The room tax] overwhelmingly benefits one part of the county [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.”
It doesn’t appear Nordstrom is going to fold here, but I think he should. If he’s not willing to back off his threat to not vote for the room tax hike, the commissioners need to have a meeting of the minds. A starting point may be a pledge to phase-in a percentage of the casino revenues, which is increasing year after year. I could see 5% the first year with the distribution increasing to 10% over five years.
The room tax hike needs to go through. The new room tax remains low compared to other resort destinations and the new revenue will help fund more tourism marketing as well as paying for expenses associated with bringing people to this area.
Worcester County has a hot potato on its hands with year-round occupancy in campground subdivisions.
The county’s zoning code is clear. There is to be no year-round, or “primary,” occupancy at White Horse Park and Assateague Pointe, the only two campground subdivisions in the county that were approved back in the 1980s. The code says, between Sept. 30 and April 1, units are not to be occupied for more than 30 days consecutive or 60 days total.
The issue here is people have been living in White Horse Park on a year-round basis for many years. One disabled resident wrote in a letter to the editor this week he’s lived in White Horse Park for more than 30 years on a year-round basis. This man is not alone, as there are reportedly 55 people living in the same community today. The county seems to have been aware of these instances for years, but Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor said, “We’d had complaints from time to time but it’s almost impossible to enforce.” Year-round residents said they were unaware of the restriction until recently.
Because of the hardships many of the year-round residents are facing if displaced, attorney Hugh Cropper recommended a text amendment be approved allowing for 25% of senior unit owners to live there year-round. The support did not seem to be there when it was reviewed.
A possible solution to me would be to grandfather in those proving hardship if the code is enforced for a period of two years. The county has said that’s not an option because it’s an existing law on the books. I wonder whether that matters if it hasn’t been enforced for more than three decades.