OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week said Worcester County including grant funding to the town of Ocean City for providing paramedic service to unincorporated West Ocean City signaled a thawing of sorts in the often-frigid relationship between the two jurisdictions.
For years, Ocean City has been providing ambulance service to unincorporated West Ocean City in the county at-large, but heretofore has not always been fully compensated by Worcester County. During budget deliberations this spring, the old issue reared its ugly head again as the Mayor and Council debated whether to continue to fund the service to West Ocean City at Ocean City taxpayers’ expense, or issue an ultimatum to the County Commissioners to reimburse the town or find an alternative to provide paramedic service to West Ocean City themselves.
The long and short of it is, Ocean City provides ambulance service to West Ocean City in the county at-large and is supposed to be compensated through a combination of user fees in the form of billing customers who use the service and grants from the county. The problem is, those who call 911 and receive medical attention and often transport to the hospital often don’t pay their bills.
In addition, the grants Worcester County pays to Ocean City for providing the service outside city limits fall short of compensating the resort. The result this year was a roughly $330,000 deficit that resort officials have to consider folding into the budget and eating on the backs of the taxpayers, or seeking an equitable means of being compensated, either through more stringent collection efforts or an increase in the grants from the county to offset the expense.
During budget deliberations, the Mayor and Council sent a strongly-worded letter to the county commissioners seeking compensation for the $330,000 expense to provide ambulance service to West Ocean City. The county in its own budget deliberations this year acquiesced and included the full $330,000 in its annual grant to Ocean City to continue to provide the service.
During Monday’s regular meeting, Mayor Rick Meehan said the town was pleased with the county’s grant to Ocean City this year and said the measure signaled a détente of sorts in the long-standing feud between the jurisdictions often over budget concerns.
“Each year we make a grant request to Worcester County,” he said. “I can tell you what we received this year was very favorable. The Worcester County Commissioners addressed many of our concerns.”
Meehan particularly addressed the West Ocean City ambulance service funding issue.
“The one thing that is of significant importance is the face they included the full $330,000 for providing service to West Ocean City,” he said. “The cost of providing paramedics to West Ocean City was exceeding what we were getting from the county. They listened and they responded.”
Meehan said with the funding in place from the county, Ocean City would continue to provide the service in the future.
“I just want to thank the commissioners for listening and realizing this is a very important issue,” he said. “I don’t think anybody can provide the service better than we can and I don’t think anybody can provide it at the cost we can. It’s only fair to the taxpayers of Ocean City that they be reimbursed for providing that service.”
Meehan also praised County Commission President and former Ocean City Councilman Joe Mitrecic for taking the lead on the issue. He said the issue has served as a catalyst for a broader view of how fire and emergency services are provided to at-large areas of the county by the various municipalities.
“They have also agreed to fund a task force to look at ways to fund this throughout the county so other municipalities will be able to have funding for their departments as well,” he said.
Meehan said the county’s decision to provide funding for paramedic service to West Ocean City perhaps signaled an easing of the often-tense relationship between the town and the county. For years, Ocean City has been battling Worcester County over the tax differential issue, or the duplicated cost of providing essential services, to no avail, but the county’s decision to provide the full funding for the West Ocean City could signal an easing of those tensions.
“Many times up here we don’t always agree with the county commissioners, but they do support us and, in this case, they listened and they really understood the issue,” Meehan said.
Councilman John Gehrig agreed the county’s decision on the West Ocean City funding represented an olive branch of sorts.
“Hopefully, this will be a bridge,” he said. “We can be and should be good partners with the county. I think this opens up a whole new conversation.”