Room Tax Hike Needs Outside Support

OCEAN CITY – If legislation allowing for the ability to raise the room tax in Ocean City through Worcester County is going to be successful in the current session, it’s going to need some help from outside sources.

After raising the room tax in Ocean City in 2019 from 4.5% to 5%, resort officials are seeking to hike the rate again, or at least have the ability to raise the tax, to 6%. It’s a complicated process that must originate with the Worcester County Commissioners.

Earlier this year, Mayor Rick Meehan, at the bequest of the City Council, asked the county commissioners to support legislation that would allow for the ability to raise the room tax rate. The county commissioners last month voted to ask for a change in state law that would give the county the authority to increase the room tax from 5% to 6%.

The next step is the introduction of legislation in the General Assembly by a member of the local delegation, in this case Delegate Wayne Hartman, to amend the state law and allow for the room tax hike. Hartman has apparently prepared the legislation, but it was learned this week there could be a glitch in the process that could slow it down. Council Secretary Tony DeLuca asked about the progress at the close of Monday’s meeting.

“I have a question,” he said. “It has to do with the follow-up on the room tax legislation. For this legislative session, is there anything that’s needed from us?”

Mayor Rick Meehan explained Hartman’s proposed legislation is going to need support from other counties on the Eastern Shore because of an unanticipated requirement in the state code.

“Actually, things took a bit of a turn on us that we weren’t anticipating,” he said. “When the bill was drafted, it was brought to the attention of Delegate Hartman that because we are one of four code counties on the Eastern Shore, if, in fact, we apply for that change, we’re going to need the approval of the other three counties, including Kent County, Caroline and Queen Anne’s.”

Other than soliciting the support of the other Eastern Shore counties, the town’s hands are somewhat tied in terms of attempting to advance the proposed legislation. Because it’s formally a county request, Meehan explained it could be up to Worcester officials to gain the approval of the other counties on the shore. He said it’s a process already underway when the town officials learned of the code requirement.

“Since this is a county bill and a county request, we’ve been in contact with the county administrator and the president of the county commissioners to contact their counterparts in those counties and get support for this,” he said. “That’s where we are right now and we’re waiting to hear back from the county administrator on the progress with regard to that. He’s working closely with Delegate Hartman, who’s really done a great job with this and trying to make sure it continues to move forward.”

Meehan said it’s an obstacle that can be overcome, even for this session.

“This was an obstacle he did not anticipate,” he said. “We didn’t anticipate it either, but they’re continuing to try to move it forward. It still has the possibility to make this legislative session.”

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said the legislation is ready to go pending the approval of the other counties.

“The bill has been drafted,” she said. “It is in its accurate form. It’s now a matter of getting the other counties to support it. Everybody jumped right on it on Friday. I know the county administrator has reached out to the other counties.”

Stansbury briefly explained the process for gaining approval from the other counties.

“The county executives in those counties need to support it, but then they need to take it before their county commissioners,” she said. “It’s kind of a two-layer process.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.