Sports Complex Support
We can’t just print money like the federal government.
I have read the letters to the editor by Mr. Gisriel, Mr. Christ, and now my colleagues in opposition to the sports complex.
There has been a great deal of conjecture as to the purchase agreement we have signed, namely that I had acted hastily, or even without the proper authority. These assumptions are patently false, and I can assure the citizens of Worcester County that I could not have acted without the majority vote of the commissioners.
As for the timing involved in the signing of the purchase order, I believe that anyone who was an elected official would know that a contract must be in place before you release the information on the purchase to secure the governments interest. Speaking to the idea that the sports complex is being rushed, this project was brought to us by Mr. Perlozzo over 4 years ago and has continued to move forward methodically.
The rest of the accusations leveled in previous letters to the editor are just smoke and mirrors to enhance the writer’s position. I would have hoped that the national trend of throwing falsehoods and personal attacks out there and seeing if it will stick would not have filtered down to local politics.
The county is soon to face a great deal of costs. Due to the State’s unfunded mandates on education (Kirwan), we are looking at a 20% raise in starting teacher salaries. Assuming the whole Board of Education salary scale moves up we are looking at an increase of about 16 million or roughly 4 million per year for the next four years. The Board of Education just submitted their CIP 2024-2028 detailing the future needs of our school repair/replacements totaling 101 million dollars. We can all agree the importance of funding our schools and our educators, but how can we turn a blind eye to the future financial needs of the county?
The commissioners voted today to authorize a bond sale of over 28 million dollars that includes money for the jail project, a public safety facility, and a wastewater project. Also included in that sale will be over 10 million for the expansion of the Stephen Decatur Middle School. This is the same classroom space that was cut to save a million dollars when the school was taken to referendum by another short-sighted, “financially concerned” group.
As for the concern of the project paying for itself, The MSA “Maryland Stadium Authority” has a preliminary projection that could potentially support debt service between $142 and $169 million of a 20-year revenue bond. These numbers far exceed the anticipated cost to purchase and build-out the property.
Whether it is their intention or not, I don’t believe my colleagues take into consideration that property taxes on hotels/ motels are calculated on the revenue they bring in; to put it simply if rooms are occupied more nights, there’s more revenue, and more property tax. The argument to place the sports complex in the south end of the county is not viable, and my colleagues know this. There is not enough infrastructure in place to house these visitors, they would end up staying in Wicomico County or down in Virginia, not benefitting Worcester County. To place the sports complex there would fulfill the prophecy of my colleagues and detractors of the complex and set it up for failure.
I have said many times, we either increase revenue or we increase taxes. The cost of running government is increasing just like the cost of running your household. Government is in the service business; we supply services to the residents. There is nothing to cut out of the budget, the next cuts will be to the services enjoyed by our county residents.
The youth sports market is projected to continue to grow to over 77.6 billion dollars a year by 2026. Vote to secure a piece of that revenue for Worcester County, Vote yes on question A.
(The writer is the president of the Worcester County Commissioners.)
‘Witchy Women’ Response
I was very disappointed to read Mr. Christ’s letter to the editor – “Changing Seasons” – published in last week’s edition of The Dispatch.
Setting aside Mr. Christ’s numerous errors in his recollection of our school system’s assistance with his program and his perpetuating misinformation on gender identity and social emotional learning in our schools, he used this platform to demean me and the other female leaders within our school system by insinuating impropriety and calling us “witchy women.” To this, I take great offense. Yes, our superintendent often shares how he relies on the expertise of those around him, but it is incredibly unfortunate that because we are women, we are vilified by people like Mr. Christ.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Christ feels he cannot continue his program without our participation, but his disappointment with the school system’s decision should not result in lashing out in a public forum with conjecture, misinformation, and damaging insults.
While I have dedicated a lot of time to helping Mr. Christ advertise and then facilitate our participation in his program since his first requests in 2017, I have notified our Superintendent that I will not engage with Mr. Christ any further. I will not be bullied or vilified, and I hope that Mr. Christ recognizes that his words and actions have consequences.
Vote Against Question A
In a recent ad published by some individuals pushing for a Worcester County Sports Complex, it reads, in part, “Question ‘A’ is a vote for: lower taxes…”. How so, when the Bond Bill obligates our County Commissioners by providing for “… an irrevocable pledge of the full faith and credit and unlimited taxing power of the county …” for the payment of the bonds? Furthermore, the consultants pointed out that most government owned sports facilities require about a 25% operating subsidy before debt service and capital reserve funding.
The ad further states that “Question A is not about the location, those details will be finalized at a later date.” If that was the case, why did four commissioners vote to purchase the land next to Stephen Decatur High School to build a sports complex? And, why did the Commission President sign a Contract of Sale to purchase the land for nearly $75,000 per acre, when land was readily available throughout the county for $10,000 to $19,000 per acre?
Do not be misled by the proponents of the sports complex. Vote against the sports complex. Vote against Question A.
To the voters of the Town of Ocean City, vote against a second Question A on the town ballot to reign in excessive advertising and marketing expenditures, already at $10.2 million in Fiscal Year 2022 alone.
Vincent dePaul Gisriel, Jr.
A Vote For Question A
I am writing this to encourage everyone to vote yes on Question A, which involves the construction of a first-class sports complex in our county.
Organized sports competitions are year-round events, so the demand for such facilities will be steady, especially in convenient and family-oriented places such as the Delmarva coastline.
When you have other places on the shore for family entertainment from New Jersey to the Outer Banks, you need an attraction that sets you apart from others, and that would include a first-class sports facility for both regional and national competitions. Obviously, local business interests would profit as well, whether they be hotels, restaurants, or entertainment locations.
In the years that I was involved in soccer organizations, both in our region and across the country, quality sports complexes, like the one proposed here, were always in demand. They were profitable, in demand, and they still are today. Start-up costs should not scare us away from long-term financial gain, for the county and private businesses.
Again, I urge all of you to vote yes on Question A. Vote yes for this project, a positive financial move for our future.
Commissioners Explain Sports Complex Position
Worcester County voters have the opportunity to vote on Question A, a local referendum by petition to determine whether the County Commissioners may finance a portion of the costs of designing and constructing a Worcester County Sports Complex by issuing a bond.
It should be understood this question has nothing to do with how the Commissioners would pay for the $7.2 million land acquisition. To date, that has not been discussed or decided upon by the Commissioners. Should a majority of Commissioners decide, the money could come from reserves or fund balance or some other source yet to be determined. Whatever is decided, county taxpayers will foot the bill. And should the referendum pass and a majority of Commissioners proceed with a bond issue, taxpayers will pay for that as well. The term of the bond would likely be 15 years with an annual debt service of about $800,000 depending on what market rate is available at issuance.
The idea of a sports complex being built in our county is appealing, more so if it were built in the southern part of the County where economic development is long overdue. Although we recognize the economic possibilities of such an endeavor, we believe strongly that taxpayer money should not be involved.
We 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.
While we respect those advocating for this project, believing it will be a boon, a relatively easy way to increase tax revenue, we disagree. A look beneath the surface reveals the financial concerns when a taxpayer money is used.
Presently, no business or marketing plan has been made available or prepared. No partnership details or discussions between the Commissioners and Ocean City and/or Berlin have occurred nor been outlined or agreed upon. Nor has County government applied for or requested grants or loans from the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Arguments that a sports complex would eliminate, or lower future possible County tax increases do not square with reality.
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 estimated annual $800,000 bond debt service and the amount used to purchase the land.
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? Even if a third party is hired to manage the facility, 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? And how much would a third-party operator charge? There is no way of knowing because no research has been done.
Based on available information, here is our take of what will happen if a taxpayer-funded complex moves 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 answered before taxpayer money is spent.
Government has neither the expertise nor the entrepreneurial passion to sustain a business effectively and profitably. Inevitably, taxpayer subsidies will become part of the operation.
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.
As was mentioned above, the results for or against Referendum Question A will not answer all the questions yet to be answered. The only certainty is that County taxpayers will ultimately be financially responsible.
Chip Bertino, Jim Bunting and Ted Elder
(The writers are Worcester County Commissioners.)
Sunfest Date Hurt Vendors
(The following letter was addressed to members of Ocean City’s Tourism Department.)
Hopefully y’all have recovered from Sunfest 2022. I really appreciated all the blood, sweat and tears that go into putting on such a huge event. I do know about some of the behind-the-scenes mechanics that go with putting on such a huge show, doing about 35 shows/year, so I am thankful for all of the efforts of everyone involved. I am writing because I care deeply about Sunfest and its future. I hope that this email gets received before the next meeting about Sunfest.
I will get right to my main point: Sunfest date change was not beneficial, in fact it was quite detrimental to me and most other artists/vendors that I spoke to. I am sure you are starting to hear a chorus of similar comments from other vendors about the Sunfest 2022 date change. First and foremost, my sales were way down from 2021. In fact, they were the lowest they have been since I started selling at Sunfest. Even when I compare the first three days of 2022 to the first three days of the previous years the sales were way down, even my average sale was about 50% of previous years. The crowds were about the same for Thursday and Friday this year. However, the Saturday crowd was enormous, and I had high hopes upon seeing the throngs of people Saturday. There were thousands of people enjoying the free concerts Saturday, however they were not the “art or craft buying” crowd and my Saturday sales were just “average.”
I only got a fraction of the repeat buyers that I normally get at Sunfest. I contacted all of my “collectors” beforehand about the Sunfest date change, and I wanted to get them excited about my new art. Most of them said that either they had not heard about the date change or that they had other plans that fall in late October that conflicted. I think that they had made a tradition of coming to Ocean City at the end of September and that shifting it a month later broke that tradition. And many of my customers who did come by my booth were bewildered by the change and also complained that it was so cold. A few even commented that they should change the name to “Fallfest” or “Winterfest” and I will say that I kind of agree with them.
I can understand the desire to try to get more tourists at the end of the season into Ocean City but I feel y’all messed with the wrong event. You don’t mess with the “Grandfather Of All Festivals” that has been around for 50-plus years. If you feel you need to move an event into late October you could move “Bike Week” or that music festival that was planned for this year. In my career as an artist, I have discovered that the number one way to kill an art show/festival is to change the dates. A show or festival that has been around only a few years can survive a date change, however a show that has been around for decades rarely survives a date change on this magnitude.
Perhaps other factors were not considered when this change was proposed. Please understand that this is not a static equation, rather it is a dynamic equation: you change one variable the other variables will change. When you change the date drastically the artists and vendors will not stay the same. You will get fewer artists and crafters and also lower quality art and crafts. I saw a lot less artists that I know and a lot more new artists/vendors this year. We make our schedule a year, or more, in advance and when we get into a successful show we will stick with it. When Sunfest changed dates it created conflicts with other shows that are in late fall that we also find successful. For example, the Boardwalk Art Show in Virginia Beach was also last weekend and that probably drew a lot of the fine artists away from Sunfest. Most artists I know want to do both shows and have done so in the past but when you try a date change you force some hard choices. I am sure there are other examples, with other conflicts, where previous Sunfest artists did not send back their contract for 2022 because of a conflict with another good show on their schedule. You may be able to book the same music, food and activities for October 2023 but you will find it hard to fill the artists/vendors booths in late October.
So please, please, please end the experiment with Sunfest/Fallfest/Winterfest and return Sunfest 2023 to its original dates in September.