Some weighty decisions are on the horizon in Ocean City as officials are most likely facing a multi-year right sizing of the resort’s police force.
At a meeting last month when the hiring of an additional 10 police officers was approved by the Mayor and Council, Police Chief Ross Buzzuro outlined his reasons for needing more police manpower. The chief pointed out the town’s increase in special events have stressed the existing police force and the seasonal police officer program has seen a 75% decrease in interest. Buzzuro also pointed out his force has been at 107 full-time officers for the last 15 years, while special event crowds have surged and June crime has intensified, leading to increased requirements for police.
In his report last month, the chief said he was requesting 10 new officers be added over the next two fiscal years with an ultimate goal of added 33 more bodies over future years. The council was quick to approve the request, but began this week discussions on how to fund the increased expenditures. Each officer is expected to cost about $113,000 annually when salary, benefits, training and equipment are considered. Therefore, the city is looking at more than $1.1 million in increased expenditures in the near future. If 33 more police officers are needed, more than $3.6 million will be required.
The council is united on the need for more police officers. This week’s talks of how to fund it were preliminary but interesting nonetheless. It has been intimated a property tax increase may be needed with the current fiscal year sure to be impacted by the pandemic. Councilman Tony DeLuca pitched the idea of raising the current 5% room tax rate by 1%, which would raise an estimated $3.2 million in a normal year, or by half of a percent, which would net $1.6 million. We believe a half of a percent increase to the room tax, taking it to 5.5% compared to Virginia Beach’s 8% and Atlantic City’s 13%, should be considered. We would support dedicating half of a percent of room tax dollars to public safety. The need for increased officers is due to more demands, which are directly linked to visitors.
Opposition to the increase could come from those who suggest the cost of vacationing in Ocean City is already too high. While those arguments have validity, room rates increase every year no matter the room tax rate as a result of increasing costs to provide service. We see a slight adjustment to the room tax as a reasonable proposal for the city to give full consideration.