County To Appraise Land For Potential Sports Complex Site

County To Appraise Land For Potential Sports Complex Site
File photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – County officials agreed to move forward with an appraisal for property that could be the site of a future sports complex.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday voted 5-2 to seek an appraisal for property being considered as the site of a sports complex. Several of the commissioners have spent years trying to move the county into sports tourism.

“Sports marketing tourism is the future,” said Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, president of the board, in an interview this week. “We could be the amateur sports capital of the East Coast if it’s done right.”

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Mitrecic said the county had identified a potential location for a sports complex. He said that while the property owner had one appraisal done, the county would need to have a second appraisal done if it was going to use Program Open Space funding to purchase the land. The commissioners voted 5-2 to support a motion by Commissioner Josh Nordstrom to move forward with an appraisal.

Mitrecic said Program Open Space could fund 100% of the purchase price of property. Though the county has been approached by several property owners with land to sell, he said the site referenced this week was the one officials were interested in.

In addition to seeking the appraisal, Mitrecic said the commissioners would meet in August with a Florida company that runs sports facilities throughout the country.

“This is the premier company in the country that does that,” he said.

As far as what sort of arrangement could be in place, Mitrecic said it was too early in the process to say. He added however that former county department head Tom Perlozzo and other members of the county’s recreation and parks, tourism and economic development departments had spent months exploring the logistics of a sports complex. Though the county is now pursuing an appraisal, seeking Program Open Space funding and actually buying the land are expected to take a significant amount of time.

Commissioner Chip Bertino, who with Commissioner Jim Bunting was one of two votes in opposition to seeking an appraisal, said he doesn’t support a sports complex that’s government funded. While Program Open Space money could fund the purchase, Bertino said it’s not clear how the county would be involved in the management of a sports facility.

“We don’t have any plan,” he said, adding that there was no business plan, just a piece of property the commissioners had been presented with. “When using taxpayer money it’s incumbent on us to have a plan in place so we can measure and manage it in an appropriate way.”

Mitrecic maintains that the economic impact of a sports complex would be significant for the area.

“Whole families travel to these tournaments,” he said. “They have to stay in places and they have to eat.”

With a facility featuring fields for a variety of sports, he says the complex could host any tournament.

“Tourism dollars coming to the area is huge,” he said. “Ocean City is willing to partner with us. This is the future of tourism.”

During his quarterly update to the Ocean City Mayor and Council meeting Tuesday, Mitrecic updated the resort officials on a number of county matters, including the progress on a sports complex.

“There have been some huge steps taken toward the county sports complex,” he said. “We’ve identified a parcel that meets our needs. The parcel is large enough to house not only outdoor fields, but also an indoor complex. This could very well make Worcester County the amateur sports capital of the east coast.”

The town’s tax differential issues are almost always a highlight of Mitrecic’s quarterly report and this week was no different. However, Mitrecic said he supported the county’s recently-passed budget because it included more funding for Ocean City.

“I voted for this year’s budget, although it doesn’t totally address tax differential,” he said. “It increases the EMS funding for West Ocean City. It also includes a supplemental grant of $125,000 this year.”

Mitrecic also said Worcester is seeing a spike in income tax revenue that should trickle down to Ocean City.

“Ocean City will also benefit from the extra income tax revenue that will be realized this year,” he said. “Some of my colleagues were predicting as much as a $5 million shortfall. Although the numbers are not in, it looks like we might end up at around $9 million to $12 million over anticipated revenue.”

Public school system funding is always a big issue in Worcester. Mitrecic said Worcester is among the highest in the state in terms of public school funding contributions.

“As you know, we fund our school system at one of the highest levels in the state,” he said. “We’re starting to see the effects of Kirwin mandates for maintenance of effort.”

Mitrecic also referenced the county’s emergency services committee formed to address some of the disparities in the cost of providing service to at-large areas of the county.

“We put together an EMS committee that has met quite frequently over the last year despite COVID,” he said. “Great progress has been made. I would like to thank [Ocean City Fire} Chief Richie Bowers as a member of the committee and commend his cool and rational thinking. Sometimes, these committee meetings get a little heated and he’s always a common-sense voice.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.