Voices From The Readers – March 11, 2022

Voices From The Readers – March 11, 2022

Sports Tourism Support

Editor:

Sports tourism is one of the best models for economic development using the least amount of resources. Mr. Gisriel is on the wrong side of this issue. A sports complex in Worcester County near Ocean City will be a great success for participants and local businesses. Teams will come from South Carolina to New York.

Worcester County Commissioners should have moved this plan forward 10 years ago. The demand is there. Do you think that tournament promoters would prefer to have events booked in Hagerstown and St. Mary’s County or Ocean City and the beach? Sports participation is bigger than ever. Many tournaments are scheduled for spring and fall, bringing much needed revenue to Worcester County during the shoulder seasons.

County Commissioners, it is time to energetically move this complex forward and commissioners who have been inclined to obstruct perhaps could take a closer, fresher look. It’s election season.

west o bottle shop

Giving young, outdoor oriented kids an excuse to come to the beach and Worcester County is an experience that will pay dividends for years to come (50), as they can’t wait to return and bring their families when they grow up. You can’t put a price on that, Vince.

John Fager

Ocean City

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Why A Gun Show In OC?

Editor:

The town council’s approval of Ocean City Adventure Fest raises many questions. Is this the kind of event that Ocean City wants to support? The Mayor and Council and Tourism Director Tom Perlozzo talk about wanting to project a family friendly atmosphere, please explain how a gun show supports that image. Mr. Perlozzo states that this event will saturate the town with 1,000 police officers, but what exactly does that mean? During that event would they be working for the Ocean City Police Department? If not, then they are just 1,000 tourists, and would have no authority to play a role in any official law enforcement capacity.

Would there be an understanding with the event promoter, regarding the role of these event attendees? If any of these 1,000 off duty police officers decide to confront the car rally attendees, then what happens? Will the Ocean City Police Department be responsible for arresting any off-duty police officers, and what will that look like? If the police department is expressing concerns about Ocean City Adventure Fest, then what exactly is the point of the event?

We have beautiful, clean, free beaches, great family attractions, restaurants and many local amenities. This event does nothing to highlight the strengths of Ocean City, nor does it bring the families that we hope to attract to our town.

Melissa Reid

Berlin

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Critical Rental Decision

Editor:

Make no mistake about it, Berlin Mayor Zack Tyndall’s decision to remove residency requirements from the proposed Short-Term Rental (STR) ordinance will result in Berlin’s housing stock being sold to outside speculators and other wealthy people from cities who are buying their second, third or fourth houses.

If the mayor’s misguided plan moves ahead, your neighbor may soon not be the family that you have known for 10, 20 or 50 years, but this week’s keg party of short term renters that rolled in from Pittsburgh.

And your friends that live in Ocean Pines, Newark, Snow Hill or elsewhere that want to live in Berlin but can’t find a place will be locked out forever by rising prices and mini-real estate oligarchs minting money on AirBnb.

If people want to buy a place on the shore and rent it out while they are back home, there’s definitely somewhere to do that. It’s called Ocean City. It is not called Berlin. In fact, since its renewal began in the 1980s, Berlin has thrived by being its own place, with its own cultures, history, and architecture. Berlin has done relatively well by being a yin to Ocean City’s yang, not by trying to be the resort’s mini-me.

Berlin has attracted residents because of its small-town values and quality of life. But you can’t raise a family paying by the night on an AirBnb.

As originally drafted by town staff, the STR ordinance sensibly contained the requirement that STRs licensed in R1 and R2-zoned areas should be owner-occupied. While town residents spoke in favor of this requirement, Mayor Tyndall later caved to pressure from big money and real estate agents, who stand to gain by churning parcels — making good money every time your great aunt’s rancher or childhood friend’s house gets resold to the next investor.

Though many people may not have yet realized it, what the STR ordinance says about non-owner occupied units is a turning point in the town’s future. If northern Worcester County, and Berlin, in particular, continue to experience growth pressures and attract tourism, if we encourage outside speculators to buy up Berlin’s housing stock for the purpose of Airbnb’s and gambling on future gains in the real estate market, we may tear the heart out of single family housing in Berlin, especially on its older streets and in its healthier neighborhoods.

Those fortunate enough to already own a house in Berlin may be able to weather the storm, but what happens when Dad dies? It’s hard to split a house into pieces. If we legalize an STR free-for-all, more and more of Berlin’s housing that comes onto the market will be snapped up not by people looking to live here, but by investors who do not care about our roads, our schools, our environment, or our way of life.

Those houses will then cease to be part of the town’s usable housing stock and instead become what amounts to boutique hotels. And for the person for whom it is hard to find the money to buy a house in town, she will become a renter in Delaware or move on to Willards or Salisbury in search of quality of life, even if her great-grandmother was born in Berlin and she’d rather stay.

It’s really simple. If we want Berlin to remain a viable community of neighbors and to try to keep housing here within economic reach for most people, STR licenses will not be granted for houses in which the owners do not live. That is, the residency requirement will be restored to the draft ordinance.

Beyond that, do we actually want to make all of the apartments in R3 and over commercial spaces eligible to become STRs? This could make things difficult for renters and, in particular, fixed and lower income residents. I think STRs should be permitted for apartments, but the total number should be limited, so that not too many apartments can be turned into glorified hotel rooms. This could be managed by a periodic lottery if there are more applicants than licenses available.

Finally, let’s not confuse investors with the little guy. If people that do really live in Berlin want to rent a cottage or part of their house on Airbnb, we should look in to creating ways to do that legally, bearing in mind the need to protect our bays and history.

But if the mayor gets his way and investor-owned STRs sprout up everywhere, many of the qualities that have made Berlin an attractive community will be undone by greed, and people looking for a ‘cool’ place to live will turn elsewhere, because greed isn’t cool.

Edward Hammond

Berlin

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Sports Complex Commentary

Editor:

There has been much talk about building a multi-million-dollar sports complex in northern Worcester County to attract national and regional lacrosse and soccer tournaments to the area. The Town of Ocean City has expressed interest in some way being a part of the project which is forecast to attract thousands of visitors who will fill hotel rooms and restaurants in Ocean City and West Ocean City, especially in the shoulder seasons. It’s been said the County will reap increased tax revenues.

The idea of sports complex being built in our county is appealing to me, more so if it were built in the southern part of the County. I recognize the economic possibilities of such an endeavor. Yet I have concerns, especially because taxpayer money will be involved.

Two of my greatest concerns are these: First, I don’t believe taxpayer money should fund the project because doing so mitigates any revenue growth the county treasury will realize. This should be a private sector endeavor.

Second, our road system would struggle, even more than it already does, with increased traffic volume.

I respect those advocating for this project, believing it will be a boon, a relatively easy way to increase tax revenue. That sounds pretty good to me. But when I look beneath the surface, the financial and quality-of-life realities associated with a taxpayer subsidized sports complex concern me.

Last month, a majority of commissioners moved another step closer to a taxpayer subsidized county sports complex by voting to bond about $11 million for the purchase of land and the construction of a facility, effectively making this a county taxpayer responsibility. This amount does not include the expenses of additional personnel necessary to manage, market and maintain the facility nor regular maintenance costs, still to be determined. The term of the bond will be 15 years with an annual debt service of about $750,000. I voted against this as did Commissioners Bunting and Elder.

As I write this, no business or marketing plan has been made available. No partnership details or discussions between the Commissioners and Ocean City have occurred or been outlined, discussed or agreed upon. And there is no land acquisition contract.

Under these conditions, I have concerns about moving forward at this time. Let me explain why.

The County collects a 5% tax for all room rental activity in the county and earns a 1% collection fee on room tax collections on behalf of incorporated towns such as Ocean City and Berlin.

Room Tax collections in the un-incorporated areas including West Ocean City are retained by the county.

So, for example, if there was a $1 million increase in overall lodging revenue in West Ocean City because of the new facility, the county would receive an additional $50,000 in direct room tax revenue.

If a guest decides to stay in Ocean City and the overall increase in lodging for the season is $1 million, the additional revenue to the county would be $500.

So, using this example, a sports complex would generate $50,500 in additional room tax revenue for the county.

The county also collects a one half of one percent tax for food sales only in Ocean City and retains a 5% administrative charge for the collection fee.

So, an increase in food sales of $100,000 for the season attributable to the sports facility would yield the county $25.

Combined, the county would net about $50,525 in additional tax revenue which is much less than the annual $750,000 bond debt service.

It has been said that Program Open Space (POS) grant money could pay for most, if not all, of the land acquisition and construction costs thus requiring little or no county taxpayer funding. That would be a good thing. But let’s look at that for a moment.

For those unfamiliar with Program Open Space, it is a state program that provides grant funding to local subdivisions for the planning, acquisition, and/or development of recreation land or open space areas. Assuming that all POS grant funding available to the County was applied to the sports complex and the project met all grant requirements, which has yet to be determined, as of this date, there is just over $2.6 million in grant funds available including $733,000 in funds the Commissioners have already earmarked for other projects.

That isn’t nearly enough to cover the $11 million the county has already committed to purchase land and build the complex.

Let me be clear, the idea of a sports complex is appealing but not at taxpayer expense under these conditions.

Thousands of additional visitors coming to northern Worcester County should concern us all. Think for a moment about traffic congestion on routes 589, 90 and 50 on any summer day. Consider event weekend back-ups during the off-season. Think where GPS may route thousands of vehicles to avoid congestion: Cathell Road? Ocean Parkway?

How can our roads accommodate thousands of additional sports complex visitors when they can’t handle current traffic volumes? State Highway Administration officials recently told the Commissioners that improvement funding is nowhere in sight. Road improvements are necessary to limit the negative impact of increased traffic on our already burdened roadways.

You may think this sports complex would be open to the public, similar to our many parks like Showell Park. It’s likely not be the case. It’s hard to imagine that a multi-million-dollar facility with tournament fields costing many hundreds of thousands of dollars each to construct and maintain will be open to the public for pick-up games or dog walking, jogging or bicycling. When taxpayer money is involved, the public should have access to it, which is one of the requirements of POS mentioned earlier.

Several years ago, a study concluded that a sports complex would compete with established complexes in nearby Wicomico County and Delaware. How will competition impact bookings for a Worcester complex?

One final point. Who in County government would be responsible for the success of this undertaking? Who would be the person held responsible for the management, maintenance and marketing of the complex? Who would be the person held accountable to ensure that the conceptual financial assertions currently bandied about are achieved?

Based on available information, here’s my take of what will happen if a taxpayer-funded complex continues to move forward: responsibility and accountability will be murky, promised results will be elusive and future subsidy allocations will be necessary. Eventually, the financial performance of the operation will be folded into the County’s general fund budget, becoming another line item for which taxpayers will be responsible.

This is certainly a project that begs for questions to be asked and answers to be supplied before taxpayer money is spent.

If this were a private venture, with no taxpayer involvement I could support the project. And, if traffic improvements were made to routes 50, 589 and 90 to accommodate more vehicle volume I could support the project.

Government has neither the expertise nor the entrepreneurial passion to sustain a business effectively and profitably.  Inevitably, taxpayer subsidies become part of the operation. Several years ago, I wholeheartedly supported Worcester County getting out of the liquor business for this very reason.

I support economic development. I like the idea of a privately owned and managed sports complex. But I cannot support a multi-million-dollar, taxpayer funded facility that to date has no property, plan or partnership, that will be a drain on the county treasury, that will congest our roadways and whose success is dependent on government bureaucracy. It’s not in the long-term best interests of taxpayers.

With so many blanks yet to be filled in, it would be interesting to learn whether a private lending institution would spend its money for this project as taxpayers may soon do.

If you share my concerns or if you think otherwise or still aren’t sure, I urge you to ask questions and request answers and participate when a public hearing is scheduled.

Chip Bertino

Worcester County Commissioner

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Response To Letter Rant

Editor:

Failed Ocean City Council candidate Dan Hagan is at it again. In a barely coherent rant in a letter to this paper, he attempted to compare our great Ocean City to the state of Florida. At least this is what I think he was trying to say. What he was clear about was his disdain for our community, our elected officials and the very people that live here.  Ironically, he managed to speak kindly of the idiots who participate in unsanctioned car events and return year after year to create havoc in town. With a mindset like this, it is little wonder why he finished in the cellar when it came to counting votes on Election Day.

I do hope Mr. Hagan realizes our community of about 7,000 residents is significantly smaller than Florida’s population of 23 million people. Clearly, the population difference alone makes any comparisons of the two locations impossible. Then there is the climate factor. While we enjoy our winters here and the occasional snow, our 45-degree weather in December is hardly conducive to taking a dip in the ocean or a visit to the amusement parks as you can do in Florida. Let’s also understand Florida is over 65,000 square miles in size. Our square mileage located above water is closer to about five miles.

There is also his common theme of bashing the mayor and those who sit on the City Council. Mr. Hagan says “Ocean City will stay obsolete and unaffordable while the Mayor and Council is in charge.” I wonder who he is suggesting should call the shots in town. A random angler on the Route 50 Bridge? A J1 Visa student working here for the summer making hotel beds and pizzas? Of course, the Mayor and Council will be in charge. This is the way government works.

Ocean City did make the news media nationwide during an incident regarding vaping last year on the Boardwalk. While this was uncomfortable for all of us, I can say it paled in comparison to some of the headlines in Florida. We all remember the tragic building collapse in Miami where 97 people were killed. Then there was the Pulse Nightclub shooting where 49 were killed. Only to be followed up by the Parkland school shooting where 17 were shot and killed. Do we have problems here in Ocean City? Yes. However, I think our community is doing just fine and one that most of us are proud to call home.

Florida is great. I love the beaches, climate and MLB Spring Training there. The sunshine state is a great place to visit, but for me there is no place like home.

Scott Chismar

Ocean City