OCEAN CITY — Use it or lose it appeared to be the message one councilman offered this week after the town realized unexpected revenue.
During many council meetings, the town’s elected officials are faced with unexpected and unbudgeted expenditures, such as the need for new fire department apparatus or a cost overrun of some sort. On rare occasions, the town realizes an unanticipated or unbudgeted revenue windfall. Such was the case on Monday when the council approved changes to the town’s paid parking rate structure to the tune of around $900,000, coupled with the results of the south end beach rental franchise auction, which will result in another $300,000-plus in unexpected revenue.
Councilman John Gehrig, who has long been an advocate for rebranding the town’s image as a youth sports marketing destination, or hiring a marketing specialist to better analyze the town’s market share in the region, said the time is now to reinvest the roughly $1.2 million on those initiatives.
“With the $1.2 million, I continue to propose we have a salesperson or an economic development director or whatever we call that person as soon as possible to identify the trends in the marketplace and to address the challenges we have with tourism and how people travel and to introduce new visitors and new families to Ocean City,” he said. “This involves more than just sports marketing. This involves events and participation in events that target specific visitors that match our brand and address some of the situations that are kind of off-brand.”
In addition to tourism marketing, Gehrig suggested the town’s elected officials begin exploring ways to make it more attractive for families to move into the resort and for more businesses to set up shop in the resort.
“We can also encourage new young families to live here and make it easier and friendlier for new businesses,” he said. “Maybe we need to reduce impact fees. We hear from citizens all the time about the challenges they have in building and in opening businesses here and how long it takes and how expensive it is compared to competing communities.”
Gehrig suggested if the council is not interested in reinvesting in market research, the revenue should simply go in the other direction and return to the taxpayers.
“Otherwise, let’s give it back to the taxpayers, of which we all are,” he said. “This is like bait fish, like a ballyhoo. We can catch it and eat it, or we can catch it and put it on a hook and catch bigger and better fish. If we’re not going to use it and we’re not going to use it soon, then let’s give it back to the community.”
While not entirely disagreeing, Councilman Tony DeLuca said Monday was not the time or place to explore spending the unbudgeted revenue. He pointed out Gehrig in past meetings has been wont to willy-nilly spend unanticipated revenue.
“When we brought up the $1.2 million in revenue we made up tonight, that is for budget discussions and that begins March 24,” he said. “As Councilman Gehrig has said, we don’t want to make any off-cycle requests, so we’ll begin those discussions on March 24.”
Gehrig, however, continued to urge his colleagues to be proactive with the unexpected revenue.
“While this is all unbudgeted income, all I’m saying is we become proactive so we can attack the market share and help our residents, our business owners and our non-resident property owners,” he said. “Let’s just make a commitment to lowering taxes. This is an opportunity, but the longer we wait, the less real income we earn. We’ve been talking about this since strategic planning almost three years ago.”