Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – September 16, 2022

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – September 16, 2022

For now, the votes are there to extend the purchase contract between the Worcester County Commissioners and the private property owner for the eventual development of a sports complex. The extension, set for discussion at next week’s meeting in Snow Hill, will allow the county more time to slow its roll on this project and continue to gather needed information, including an updated Maryland Stadium Authority study and the review of Route 50 access points. Most of the key decisions on the sports complex have been 4-3 votes, and the decision to extend the purchase contractor will likely mirror the divide with Commissioners Joe Mitrecic, Bud Church, Diana Purnell and Josh Nordstrom in favor and Commissioners Chip Bertino, Jim Bunting and Ted Elder opposed.

The early process for a sports complex did seem rushed with the county entering into a purchase agreement for the 95-acre property on Route 50 before the County Commissioners even held a vote on buying the land. The concept was believed to be the county wanted to lock in a price for the property and worry about the details of the development later. County Commission President Joe Mitrecic said this week, “This spring we got accused of pushing it forward with no information. Now we’re trying to do our due diligence and everybody’s asking why it’s taking so long. It’s a process. We want to make sure we’re getting it right the first time.” Some light was shed on the spring contract signing process by county attorney Roscoe Leslie this week. In his response to Vince Gisriel, the former Ocean City councilman who is chair of the People For Fiscal Responsibility committee, Leslie issued five responses to Gisriel’s questions about the process, including a concern about the property contract timing.

“An agreement granting the Commissioners the option to purchase the property was negotiated and executed before the April 19, 2022 public hearing. To prevent a speculative buyer from taking advantage of a government’s interest in a particular property, it is standard practice for public bodies to enter option agreements before a final decision to close on a property is made. The agreement had no cost and allows for termination for any reason before closing,” Leslie wrote. “Real estate values have been rising recently unpredictably. As a result, the appraised price of the property was higher than project in the CIP (a non-binding planning document).”

There is no timetable on completion of the MSA update nor the traffic access study.

It’s a good call to let the Ocean City voters decide in November whether a proposed pay increase for the Mayor and Council should advance. On the table is increasing the mayor’s salary from $30,000 to $50,000 (67% jump); council members pay to $20,000, from $10,000 (100% increase); and the council president’s salary from $11,000 to $23,000 (109% hike). These recommendations were made after evaluations of other municipalities with like budgets and populations as well as the consumer price index.

On the surface, the increases appear too generous of an adjustment. A deeper dive shows it’s been 30 years since the pay has been adjusted and the role of the officials has certainly evolved over the years with the town’s budget growing as well. The proposal seems too much at one time in my opinion, but there is local precedent for significant adjustments in elected officials pay. In Berlin in 2017, the council agreed after the next election to boost compensation to $15,000 for the mayor (a 200% increase from the former $5,000) and $7,500 for council members (a 275% jump from the former $2,000). Nonetheless, it’s a sound call to let the Ocean City citizens decide the matter.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst seems to be Ocean City’s approach about the uncertainty of a pop-up rally gathering next week.  After a ruckus crowd in 2020 for the event, a major change was seen in 2021 with all crime indicators dropping significantly. Compared to previous years, it was quiet, and the hope is the troublesome aspect of the events continues to evaporate to nothing.

To prepare as normal with the special event zone and all that comes with it is the only tactic to take at this point, but early indicators – social media observations – are this will be a non-event this year. One post on the H2oi wildwood 2022 group page reads, “H2oi ocmd isn’t ever gonna be the same. Even if all the sideshow kids stop coming the laws they set in place for car modification will never go away. It’s time to move on.” Another post on H2O OCMD 2022 Uncensored reads, “H2O is moving from Ocean City MD to Kitty Hawk NC! Over the past few years H2O is Ocean City MD started to decline drastically from a cool car culture gathering to a clout chasing f-ck boy gathering. The goal is to relaunch H2O as a true car enthusiast gathering again and leave the *&)# boy stuff in Ocean City MD. Kitty Hawk is a great similar location with a nice strip to cruise, plenty of food and hotels, and the beach! A perfect place to start over. Let’s show the locals and police that we CAN gather peacefully, respect the area and not tolerate the kids that ruined the Ocean City Gathering. Book a hotel, come hang out and meet some cool people and cool cars.”

If this year’s gathering is a non-event, city officials would be wise to consider a new strategy for next year. To do otherwise would be a waste of resources.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.