Timing is a big part of life, and I think it helps to explain the vehement opposition from many about Berlin’s intention to impose a fee for bulk trash collection. With property owners still smarting over the unprecedented tax increases from the summer, talk of charging for a valued service hits hard.
At least twice a year the town offers free bulk pickup for items from residences. It has clearly been abused over the years. Evidence of that can be clearly seen the nights before the planned pickups. One property I saw near my home had about a dozen mattresses, several broken couches and a variety of old lawn equipment. In all, there were at least two dozen large items to be hauled away.
According to Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood, the town collected 22 tons in 2018 costing the town $9,500 compared to 38 tons this year for a cost of $18,584. That’s an exorbitant increase and the town is right to make some changes to ease the financial burden. What’s important to remember is there are a handful of scavengers who pick through the items left out throughout town for metal before they are hauled away. Without these resourceful types picking up in an unknown amount of goods, the expense to the town would be even higher.
When I first moved to Berlin 13 years ago from Ocean City, where there is a reasonable fee for large item pickups, the free service was a nice surprise. It was not expected by any means. Due to the abuses in recent years and the doubling of the town’s expenses in one year, the town is considering a new policy. Under consideration is a plan that would allow for three items to be picked up for free during these bulk pickup days with a $25 administrative charge and a $25 fee for each item thereafter.
Though beginning to charge for a certain amount of items over three works, the $25 per item charge does seem a bit high. When this proposal gets to the full council, my prediction is the policy will be implemented but that a lower fee could be determined. There is a value to simply putting an unwanted item at the curb and not having to worry about a landfill trip.
This cleanup effort is a worthwhile perk to offer residents, but it can’t crush the town financially. The council’s job will be finding a middle ground where the town doesn’t get taken advantage of, which is clearly the case presently, and the residents don’t feel gouged, which is already the case on the tax front.
Though the survey sample size was only 52 respondents, it did contain some interesting information about tourism in Ocean City. The survey of hotels, motels and vacation rental operators served more as a confirmation of recent trends, rather than revealing new insights.
One of the big takeaways involved average length of stay and when visitors stayed. The average length of stays at hotels and motels was three nights or less. The traditional rental properties reported an average stay of six nights or less. The respondents also confirmed the summer weekends are mostly at capacity. It’s the weekdays that continue to be the growth areas.
“Those surveyed revealed they are practically booked completely on weekends in the peak season, although there are still issues with mid-week. For example, the hotels and motels surveyed reported they were just 53% booked on Wednesday and Thursday. The vacation rentals did a little better at about three-quarters booked during the week,” Ocean City Tourism Director Donna Abbott said.
It’s one thing to know what the weaknesses are – in Ocean City’s case the weekdays – but it’s another matter of how to address it. It will take a specific marketing approach highlighting attractions or opportunities Ocean City has that other destinations may not have, or at least not be spotlighting. Potential marketing opportunities could include culinary events, eco-tourism, pet-friendly hotels, rainy day offerings or youth sports tournaments. The intention needs to be deliberately expressed – it’s worth it to stay longer. Families are not looking to come to Ocean City on a Tuesday and leave on a Thursday, but they are looking for a value and specific reasons to stay beyond their planned weekends.
For instance, a friend brought his family of six to Ocean City in late July for a weekend from West Virginia. They stayed at an oceanfront hotel for four nights for all the wedding activities as well as sun and fun on the beach, Boardwalk and amusements. Aside from price, my friend remarked they had done everything they wanted to do in those four days, especially consider it was expected to rain a couple days after they planned to check out. Specific events or other opportunities marketed through their hotel while they are here could have resulted in a couple extra nights.
I had a little fun on social media this week. I was having trouble deciding between two photos for page one. I asked our Facebook and Instagram followers which photo they preferred for the wide front page picture – a beautiful reflection scene of the pond at Ocean Pines or a picture of a couple walking through a tree-lined path with pretty autumn leaves.
As of Thursday afternoon, the pond photo received 425 social media votes while the people picture earned 88 votes. Though I liked the landscape photo, I preferred the couple’s picture. That put me at odds with our online followers. Being a compromising type, I decided both pictures should get the front page. It worked for me.