Ocean City Seeks County Grant For Marketing, EMS, Police; Worcester Looking To Reconcile $8 Million Budget Shortfall

SNOW HILL – The Town of Ocean City came before the Worcester County Commissioners this week to request funds for marketing, EMS services and police officer salaries, among other things.

On Tuesday, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan presented the commissioners with the town’s grant requests for the coming fiscal year. He noted 2020 was a challenging year for the resort, as it experienced significant revenue losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were down between $5 million and $6 million in revenue because so much of our revenue is based on our visitors,” he said, highlighting reduced capacity limits and nearly all weekend event cancellations. “That caused a significant loss of revenue for the town of Ocean City because so much of our revenue – as opposed to your revenue, which is property taxes – is based on tourism, visitation to Ocean City.”

Meehan said the resort was requesting continued grant funding for recreation, Ocean City Development Corporation, the convention bureau and the Park and Ride, as well as a 2.5% increase in undesignated grant funding.

“That’s a minimal amount,” he said. “It’s probably about $65,000. It was something that was done last year and helps offset some of those expenses, some of those services we provide in lieu of the county providing those services.”

Meehan told the commissioners Ocean City was also requesting an additional $100,000 be added to the town’s tourism grant. He said the funds would be used to increase advertising and market Ocean City as a safe destination.

“Out of the lost revenue for this past year, we lost $1 million in room tax …,” he said. “This request was granted two years ago, it wasn’t granted last year. But we think it’s very appropriate this year considering what we went through and the loss we endured with regard to room tax, which is what we use to fund our advertising and tourism.”

The town is also seeking $154,000 to fund the balance of purchasing a new bomb squad robot, which is used throughout the county, as well as $14,180 to purchase a second Avigilon mobile camera that would be available to the sheriff’s office upon request.

Meehan said the town was also requesting $315,674 to offset the cost of providing EMS service to the West Ocean City area. While Ocean City had originally requested $423,387 – or the same grant funding as last year – he said officials had reviewed the funding formula and revised the amount.

“A lot of that had to do with less visitors to the area, particularly early on,” he said. “So our request this year to offset that cost, instead of $423,387, would be $315,674 … That really reflects the service that was provided, and we can take another look at that as we move forward.”

The town is also seeking $250,000 in funding to assist with the cost of hiring 10 additional full-time police officers. Meehan noted that adding those officers to the force would cost the town $1,085,281 annually.

“That’s a significant amount, but it’s also something we think is significantly important,” he said.

Wrapping up his presentation, Meehan thanked the commissioners for their continued support.

He also added that the town was eager to work with the county as it explores options for a sports complex that will host major tournaments and sporting events.

“We think that is the catalyst for future development and future economic success …,” he said. “We have all the infrastructure right here in Ocean City and West Ocean City and throughout this whole county to accommodate those type of visitors. It’s just the perfect place for it, and we look forward to that.”

The Worcester County Commissioners this week also heard requests from Wor-Wic Community College. President Dr. Murray Hoy said the college was seeking an additional $112,120 from the county in fiscal year 2022.

“Mid-year when we lost $1.2 million of state funding, you stepped up and we sincerely appreciate it, providing us an additional $112,000,” he said. “All we are asking for is a continuation of that.”

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, a former Ocean City Mayor and Council member, said requests would be considered when county officials begin their review of the coming year’s budget.

Chief Administrative Officer Herold Higgins noted general fund revenues are estimated to be $210,591,207, while requested general fund operating expenditures total $218,604,720.

“This leaves a shortfall of $8,013,513,” he said, “which must be reconciled either with a reduction in expenditures, additional revenues or a combination of the two.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.