Ocean City has experienced success through the model of providing early seed dollars to help get new special events up and running. The latest being the Professional Bull Riding event with town officials agreeing this week to provide $75,000 in advance support in exchange for a ticket revenue sharing plan. The dollars are needed as a result of supply chain issues and the narrow timeline for the event.
Prior to the weekend of June 3-5, event organizers will transform a portion of the Inlet parking lot into a bull riding arena with eight inches of dirt and bleachers constructed to hold as many as 4,000 people. Over the course of three days, the event could host 12,000 people if there are sell outs. As of this week, just 1,500 tickets have been sold, but more interest will be seen as the event approaches. Once the event is over, organizers will return the Inlet parking lot to its former state.
The concept with the early event investment should work just fine for Ocean City and the private event promoter under the ticket revenue sharing plan. For all involved, however, it would be better for this to not be an annual practice. One or two years of pre-event funding is acceptable, but the resort needs to be leery of making it an annual contribution.
Fifty-eight times there were no available crews to respond to an emergency in Ocean City in 2021. The concern of emergencies going unanswered combined with an average annual increase in service calls of 12% justifies action to boost staffing for the Ocean City Fire Department.
The department reviewed for the Ocean City Mayor and Council a creative staffing plan – totaling $130,000 – to address the manpower shortage. Though all officials feel comfortable with the plan, it would seem likely more changes will be needed in the near future to adequately manage manpower, especially if calls for service continue to climb annually at a 12% average.
With another editorial in The Baltimore Sun comes some more shots at Ocean City. The editorial, headlined “Ocean City needs a bigger investment in workforce housing,” hits the right marks. The time has come for a public-private partnership to address the seasonal workforce crisis. Businesses in the marketplace cannot be successful over the long term without a better grasp on managing their payroll and being able to answer questions about housing for employees. There is simply no where near enough units to accommodate the number of employees needed for Ocean City to handle the summer crowds.
The editorial in The Sun reiterates many points we have made on these pages in recent months about the need for a major housing complex dedicated to employees and the need for private enterprise and government to work together toward a creatively financed solution. The editorial read in part, “The answer is for local businesses and the town government to underwrite what is known as workforce housing — units specifically for low-wage workers that are both affordable and near their jobs. Some investments have been made. The Ocean City Development Corporation, for example, provides more than 100 beds in rental properties downtown. This spring, OCDC won approval for a new 3-story project, a $2.4 million effort (with nearly half expected to be financed through local parking fees), that will provide housing to 25 seasonal police officers that is intended to help boost recruitment. Yet more ambitious actions are required. There have been discussions about creating a much larger-scale dormitory hall accommodating up to 1,000 workers, but so far proponents (including an out-of-state developer) have had trouble working out details. Even that, officials say, would be a fraction of what is needed, particularly given that J-1 visas require proof of housing in advance. But while it’s too late to take corrective action before this summer’s season, there’s still time to make a difference in 2023 — if Ocean City officials and private business owners can put their heads together and develop projects that can meet the growing need.”
However, the opinion piece unnecessarily ends with another shot at Ocean City – a major economic engine for the state of Maryland — as the newspaper is prone to do. “As much attention has been given what others can do for Ocean City from bending the public school calendar to delaying school start until after Labor Day to highway improvements along the U.S. 50 and Route 90 approaches to the resort, it’s time those who most directly profit from the vacation crowd took a little more responsibility for the welfare of their workers,” the editorial read.
There are some grassroots efforts currently being weighed to petition the bond resolution – authorizing the acquisition of the sports complex site and development. The clock is ticking for the organizers who have met to discuss a petition, which if successful would place the matter on the ballot in November in the form of a referendum question. The referendum petition would need verified signatures of 10% of the registered voters in the county. There are currently 41,579 registered voters in Worcester County, as of March – 45% are Republican; 33% Democrat; and 20% unaffiliated. It would be a monumental effort to get more than 4,000 signatures. The county, meanwhile, seems resolute in moving ahead, saying in a statement the project could be funded through fund balance if the bond resolution is blocked.