County, Resort Officials Will Meet To Talk Tax Differential

SNOW HILL – Worcester County representatives will meet with Town of Ocean City leadership in the beginning of 2020 to discuss the municipality’s annual request for a tax differential.

Following receipt of a letter from Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan seeking a meeting to discuss the issue, the Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to send a letter requesting a copy of the town’s operating budget and advising that a meeting date would be set in the near future.

“You’re required by law to do this every year,” said Maureen Howarth, the county’s attorney.

On Dec. 9, Meehan sent the commissioners a letter formally requesting a meeting to discuss a tax differential prior to the coming year’s budget process.

“This tax differential will recognize and credit the Ocean City taxpayer for services provided by the town paid for by town property taxes which the county does not provide to our taxpayers,” Meehan wrote.

Meehan referenced a 2013 study done by the town as well as a 2016 study conducted by the county. Meehan pointed out that while the county’s study agreed that resort taxpayers should receive a differential, it did not agree with the amount identified in the study done by Ocean City. Past meetings regarding the issue have not resulted in a mutually agreeable solution but Meehan said he hoped that would change.

“We look forward to meeting and having a productive conversation,” he said. “We share many common interests as we all represent citizens and taxpayers in Worcester County. The continued development in West Ocean City has created the need for additional funding if Ocean City is to continue to provide EMS services to this area outside of our city limits…Currently the cost to Ocean City taxpayers to provide this essential service exceeds the amount of funding we receive from the county.”

Meehan said suggested the town and county find a way to partner.

“We would suggest that our discussions include ways to work together to develop an economic strategy, with an emphasis on sports marketing and the building of a first class sports complex to host major tournaments and sporting events,” he said.  “We already have the necessary tourism related infrastructure in place to make this the catalyst for future economic success. The building of this type of partnership could also be the first real step toward resolving out tax differential issues.”

Now that Ocean City has submitted its request, the county is required by state law to meet with resort leaders at least 90 days before the county budget is required to be approved.

This year’s tax differential request comes as a legal battle on the issue continues. In 2018, after years of veiled threats, the Town of Ocean City and the majority of its elected officials filed a petition for declaratory judgment against Worcester County seeking judicial relief on the long-standing tax differential issue. After several rulings at different levels, the case is now back in the state Court of Special Appeals awaiting a ruling that could send it to the higher Court of Appeals for review.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.