Ocean City Council Reviews Capital Improvement List

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week got a first look at the proposed fiscal year 2024 capital improvement plan (CIP) and are now in the early stages of prioritizing the myriad of projects for potential funding in the coming years.

In his first go at it, City Engineer Paul Mauser on Tuesday presented the draft fiscal year 2024 CIP to the council, which is now charged with ranking the lengthy list of projects included for review from street paving, canal dredging and infrastructure improvements to recreation and parks and Eagle’s Landing golf course enhancements and everything in between. City Manager Terry McGean outlined the presentation for the council during Tuesday’s work session.

“Every two years we update the capital improvement plan,” he said. “It will involve multiple meetings. There are no decisions that need to be made today. Your homework will be to hear the presentations and grade the projects you believe are the top priorities.”

Most importantly, the draft CIP presented on Tuesday outlines potential plans for how to fund the laundry list of major projects. Some of the larger projects on the list will ultimately be funded through bond sales, while others fall into the category of “pay as you go” projects and can be funded through ongoing contributions from the town’s general fund or other creative means.

Some of the major projects in the draft CIP are included on the list largely as placeholders and will be paid for through enterprise fund user fees such as water and wastewater projects and the municipal golf course, for example. The Mayor and Council are tasked with reviewing each of the projects on the list and prioritizing them as “wants” or “needs” on a scale from one to five. The Mayor and Council will come up with their priority lists based on need and available funding and the CIP will be winnowed down and carefully vetted before the final plan is approved and the many projects end up in the fiscal year 2024 budget. Each elected officials’ rating list will be aggregated to create one list of top priorities.

“This is the first of a series of presentations on the CIP,” said Mauser. “This is my first and I’m essentially going to follow the formula Terry has laid out and stick to what is working.”

Councilman John Gehrig said the distinction between critical projects and “nice to haves” was important.

“This asks us to grade what we believe are critical on a scale of one to five, with one being critical,” he said. “If we have failing infrastructure, those should automatically be rated critical. We might have more than a few number-ones when we consider what must failing infrastructure must be repaired for public safety.”

Council Secretary Tony DeLuca said each councilmember likely has their own pet projects, but public safety and critical infrastructure needs should be at the top of everyone’s list.

“We all have our priorities and our stated number one priority has been Baltimore Avenue,” he said. “Safety is always our top priority. I’d like to go back and look at this for ratings after we establish the things we have to do. Things like street paving and canal dredging are things we have to do. We don’t have a choice on those. If something is broken, we need to fix it.”

McGean agreed certain ongoing projects such as street paving and canal dredging, for example, should be given critical ratings by the council and staff.

“The number ones have to be done,” he said. “You really don’t have a choice on those. It’s really ranking the twos through the fives after that. If you want to rank these other projects, staff can come back and say these are the ones we really have to do.”

Mauser began his presentation and invited various department heads to outline their top priorities in the CIP. Again not all of the projects on the list will be fully funded, but the CIP provides a framework for potential expenditures in the coming years and recommendations on how best to fund them. The following is a snapshot of some of the projects presented for discussion in the draft CIP by department.

Public Works

Public Works Director Hal Adkins said one of the projects on his list that has appeared on the CIP in years past was replacing the town’s public works facility on Keyser Point Road in West Ocean City.

“It’s not a need,” he said. “It’s more of a want. You have the facility in West Ocean City. Since 1960, it has steadily been surrounded by residential development. The first phase of the process would be acquiring a piece of land somewhere else.”

Adkins also said the Boardwalk comfort stations at various locations were in need of repair and upgrades.

“You have reached the point where we need to redo of all of them in order to maintain a certain image for the town,” he said. “We could piecemeal them one by one through the budget over time, but I’m recommending doing one big project all at once.”

Adkins also addressed increasing traffic concerns in the area of 142nd Street.

“The Caine Woods Association has voiced some concerns,” he said. “There are volume concerns at that intersection and not necessarily speeding concerns. The discussion thus far has included a possible traffic circle at 142nd Street and Sinepuxent Avenue.”

Street paving is an ongoing and seemingly never-ending project for the public works department and a handful are done each year. Adkins said the time has come to start tackling street paving projects in the Montego Bay residential community uptown.

“We really need to tackle the streets in Montego Bay,” he said. “For the most part, they are very long streets. They are not short streets that we can bang out. We haven’t done any of the streets in Montego Bay as long as I’ve been here.”

For his part, McGean agreed taking up street paving in Montego Bay should be rated a priority.

“It might not be critical but it’s up there,” he said. “Those streets are in bad shape. If we don’t do those soon, we will never catch up. This is the best way to do it.”

Convention Center

In terms of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, there are a handful of significant projects included in the proposed CIP. For example, the plan calls for dredging the navigable channel behind the facility and constructing a proposed water taxi terminal to accommodate convention and concertgoers, for example.

Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino said the convention center’s escalators that have been down for some time are back up and running. He expressed concern about the facility’s large freight elevator, however.

“Our most important project is the large freight elevator,” he said. “We can lose valuable customers without that elevator. There are ADA requirements because without that elevator, we can’t get folks upstairs. There is also a revenue loss to consider. It works now but it’s on its last legs. It is 50 years old and it’s a top priority.”

McGean said there were a number of projects at the convention center that should be prioritized, and with the cost-sharing agreement with the Maryland Stadium Authority in place, they should likely be tackled all at once.

“We have these projects that are a couple of hundred thousand dollars here and there,” he said. “The idea is to lump them all together in a bond issue. We would get reimbursed 50-50 from the state.”

Recreation And Parks

From the recreation and parks standpoint, Director Susan Petito outlined a number of projects, from fence replacement and light fixture replacements at the ball fields to moving forward with the downtown recreation complex redevelopment and skate park expansion. She said her department has been successful in scoring grants for playground replacements, but those funding sources might not always be available.

“We can’t always count on getting grant funding for playground replacements but they need to be done,” she said. “We will continue to apply and we’ve been fairly successful but we might have to look to the town for funding help. Some of the equipment has gone beyond its expected 20-year lifespan and they get a lot of play.”

Petito said a top priority remains stabilizing the shoreline at Northside Park, which continues to deteriorate. The shoreline along the bayside park is heavily utilized by private recreational opportunities along with several camps and other water-related activities.

“The shoreline at Northside Park is experiencing continue erosion and needs to be stabilized,” she said. “It really needs to be addressed. There are safety issues that need to be addressed. Engineering has been able to help, but they are really just band-aids for a larger problem.”

Petito said her department’s CIP requests also includes a redevelopment of the town’s decades-old midtown tennis center near the base of the Route 90 bridge. She said all of the tennis courts around town likely need to be resurfaced at some point, and with the growth of enthusiasm over pickleball, there could be an opportunity to provide more access to outdoor courts while upgrading the existing tennis center.

“With the growth of pickleball, we’re constantly looking to expand outdoor opportunities,” she said. “We can line some of the tennis courts for pickleball but the challenge is the premiere surfacing we use is not conducive for pickleball and, honestly, tennis either. The base of most of our tennis courts is 40 years old and it deteriorating. We want to take a step back and look at that entire tennis center and see if it needs a redevelopment.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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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.