County Wasting Tax Dollars Battling Citizens
The Town of Ocean City can no longer afford to provide free ambulance service to West Ocean City, according to Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan at a recent meeting of the Worcester County Commissioners.
The Board of Education has requested a 3. 71% increase in its annual operating budget, which represents $3.4 million.
I routinely attend County Commissioners’ meetings, and there is always an additional budget request from almost every department: the Sheriff’s Department needs new vehicles; the Public Works Department needs new dump trucks at the landfill; all departments need to attend out of state conferences, training, etc.
Apparently, it is expensive to provide Worcester County citizens with these essential services.
So, why are the County Commissioners spending your tax dollars on staff time, meetings, lawyers’ fees, monitoring, and expensive lawsuits to fight the full-time residents of White Horse Park?
White Horse Park is a campground subdivision. There are only two campground subdivisions in Worcester County: Assateague Pointe and White Horse Park. According to the Worcester County Zoning Ordinance, no new campground subdivisions are permitted.
There are 465 lots in White Horse Park, approximately 55 of which are occupied by permanent or full-time residents. Since 1993, there has been a provision in the Worcester County Zoning Ordinance prohibiting occupancy as a place of primary residence. Between Sept. 30 and April 1, lots may not be occupied for more than 30 consecutive days, or an aggregate of 60 days. Until recently, this provision was never enforced. In fact, residents were encouraged to live in White Horse Park full-time, for security reasons.
On Oct. 1, 2019, Diana Purnell, then president of the County Commissioners, wrote a letter to all White Horse Park owners, stating, “Occupancy will be monitored beginning October 1, 2019, and will continue to be monitored through March 31, 2020.” As a citizen of Worcester County, how would you like to be “monitored” by the county government? How will they monitor; spy on people in their houses? I understand that the security guards were instructed to take pictures of peoples’ license plates as they entered and exited White Horse Park. Can you believe that something like that really goes on in this country, let along in our county?
There is a couple 86 and 80 years old, who are parking their vehicle at a neighbor’s house down the street and staying in their home at night with no lights on to avoid being evicted.
Another person is staying at a relative’s home, which does not have adequate heat for cold weather. On the most bitter cold nights, he returned to his house at White Horse Park, but hid his car down the street to avoid detection.
Another couple, age 83 and 79, purchased a condominium in Baltimore with their daughter, which is only what they could afford. They are extremely emotional and upset over the move, being forced to leave their home after many years.
I cannot imagine a worse feeling than being insecure or feeling unsafe in your own home, that you have bought and paid for.
One of my clients is severely disabled. His home has been retrofitted to accommodate his disability. He has nowhere to go. It was a very expensive retrofit, and he cannot afford to retrofit another home. He has been incredibly distraught, and he was recently in the ICU at Atlantic General Hospital. I literally believe that his anxiety, and outright fear of being evicted with nowhere to go (and being not capable of caring for
himself in another home) has impacted his health.
There must be a million zoning violations in Worcester County; why has Worcester County decided to take a stand against the elderly and disabled of White Horse Park?
The notion that their presence somehow overburdens the infrastructure is ridiculous. They have been there for years and years. Their numbers continue to dwindle, as they get sick, are forced to move, go to the hospital, etc.
I just do not understand why Worcester County won’t let these people live out the rest of their lives in their homes that they have bought and paid for. Their tax assessments are for full-time residents. They have been accepted for Homestead Tax Credits. They received building permits for full-time houses.
I have become friends with many of these people, and it is honestly very sad.
Apparently, it is a political game for many of the County Commissioners; it is a matter of life and death for many of my clients.
I have appealed the county’s decision to Circuit Court. Worcester County’s fulltime attorney, and an attorney from a big respected law firm in Baltimore, are both opposing this appeal. As taxpayers, what do you think this is costing you? Is this how you want your tax dollars spent?
Worcester County cannot afford to pay for ambulance service to West Ocean City yet they can pay tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, to kick elderly and disabled citizens out of their homes.
Hugh Cropper IV
Lowering Reserves Would Save Taxpayers
We learn that upon adoption of the first budget amendment of this Fiscal Year (FY), the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) of the Town of Ocean City are sitting on $7,352,148, in excess reserves, over and above their stated policy of 15% of Unassigned General Fund Balance as a percentage of expenditures. In fact, with just over four months remaining in FY20, they have a Fund Balance of about 22.6%.
This additional amount of over $7.3 million is the equivalent of over eight cents on the current property tax rate. In other words, last year the property tax rate could have been reduced over 17%, and the town would still have a current balanced budget with a 15% amount in reserves.
Last fall, we learned that the town closed its books at the end of FY19 with revenue up $1.3 million over budget projections, while expenses were $2.9 million under budget, thus creating a favorable variance of $4.2 million. The M&CC have a longstanding pattern of underestimating revenue and overestimating expenses. This same scenario has occurred every year from FY13 to FY19.
Over the last seven fiscal years, the total amount of underestimated revenue is over $7.8 million; and the total amount of overestimated expenditures is over $15.4 million. Thus, the total favorable variance over this period is in excess of $23 million.
As the M&CC begin their upcoming budget discussions, they should be encouraged to hold the line on spending, and adopt a property tax rate that is more realistic and fair to the property owners of Ocean City.
Vincent dePaul Gisriel, Jr.
Sales Tax Expansion Would Hurt Consumers
The Maryland Insurance Administration’s core mission is to make sure residents of our great state are protected when they buy insurance.
That consumer protection begins at our agency by regulating the availability of insurance coverage at fair prices. Make no mistake, the prices that Marylanders pay for insurance would rise dramatically if House Bill 1628 passes as drafted.
The bill would extend Maryland’s sales tax to currently exempt services, including the sale of insurance products. That means most Marylanders would see an immediate 5% increase in insurance premiums. For many families, such an increase in the cost of essential products, especially health insurance, would create a great financial hardship.
The Maryland Insurance Administration is extremely concerned about this direct impact on families. But we’re also concerned about the potential impact on the state’s thriving insurance industry, which employs about 50,000 people in Maryland.
A fair, competitive marketplace keeps prices under control and encourages good customer service. Since 2015, we have added more than 200 insurance companies and additional lines of business to the Maryland market, giving consumers more choices. A sales tax on premiums would make Maryland a much less attractive place to do business.
As an agency charged with protecting consumers and maintaining a fair, competitive insurance market, we urge the General Assembly to reconsider the expansion of the state’s sales tax to insurance products. The burden on Maryland families is too great.
Al Redmer, Jr.
(The writer is the Maryland Insurance Commissioner.)