OCEAN CITY — A new full-time staff member for the city’s Planning and Community Development Department could be the first significant addition to the fiscal year 2022 budget introduced this week.
On Tuesday, the fiscal year 2022 budget was introduced and on Wednesday, individual department reviews began. Once the budget is introduced, each town department comes before the Mayor and Council to present what they do, how they do it and any budget considerations.
Those presentations began on Wednesday and will continue through much of the next week. As the individual departments make their presentations, the Mayor and Council make notes of various budgetary needs or shortcomings, which come back up for review during budget wrap-up sessions.
It didn’t take long for the first significant addition to come up on Wednesday. Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville made his pitch, outlining the many responsibilities of his department, including, but not limited to, development reviews, building permits, building inspections, housing inspections, housing code enforcement and even Boardwalk code enforcement. The department also acts as a liaison for the planning commission, the board of zoning appeals and other town agencies.
With a recent growth spurt in the town, Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out Neville’s department needs at least one more staffer to handle the myriad of duties.
“I think you’re one person down in your department,” he said. “I think you need the full complement in your office. I think sometimes we fall short of all of the goals with code enforcement because of a staff shortage.”
The department has five staff members in the planning and zoning section, including one part-time seasonal Boardwalk code inspector. There are seven staff members in the building and inspection section, including one part-time seasonal housing inspector, along with two staffers in the plumbing permit and inspection section.
The department has become adept and managing the caseload with cross-training and double duty for some staffers. While Neville has not asked for additional staff, Meehan said it was time to bolster the department.
“You’ve held the line too long,” he said. “We’re stretching this department too thin. You can only do so much with what you have.”
Of course, adding a full-time employee with an attractive salary and benefits package would come with a price, but Meehan said it would be a small price to pay for the benefit it would provide to the town.
“I know it’s a budgetary hit,” he said. “We say why weren’t more buildings inspected, or why wasn’t the code always enforced. You’ve done a great job with what you have, but you need more help.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca asked if the role could be filled with a part-timer.
“We’ve heard a lot of comments on delays with permits or delays with getting plans approved,” he said. “Would a part-time staff member fix this?”
Neville explained even a part-timer would need to be trained, which would take time away from the existing staff.
“It’s a very important and very skilled position,” he said. “We’ve benefitted from our part-timers, but we could really use a full-time staff member. There’s a great benefit to the town with a full-time staff member.”
Council President Matt James acknowledged he has heard complaints about delays in permits and inspections and the like, but said it was not a problem unique to Ocean City.
“We do hear the comments,” he said. “Somebody from your staff checked with other municipalities about turnaround times for permits, and while there is room for improvement, we do better than most.”
Councilman Mark Paddack the volume of growth and development in the town warranted adding another staffer to the department.
“When you look at the growth on Coastal Highway, there’s a lot of work and permitting going on,” he said. “You are being stretched too thin. We hear a number of complaints from contractors about delays in the permit process and plan reviews.”
Paddack said the department could probably use even more than one additional staffer.
“The Boardwalk inspector should be a full-time position,” he said. “You need a full-time trained and certified staff member. Look at the trend line for growth. We need to be able to ensure it’s constructed properly and up to code.”
For his part, while Neville did not come in seeking funds for a new staffer, he would welcome the help, especially on housing issues.
“I would need to come back with a job description,” he said. “It’s important to have someone wholly focused on over-occupancy and housing issues.”
After some debate, the Mayor and Council decided to revisit the issue during budget wrap-up sessions.