While US Wind seems to be moving ahead through the regulatory process to build wind turbines off Ocean City, there appears to be some uncertainty surrounding the other identified developer, Ørsted. Anti-wind farm advocates have been touting this week’s news Ørsted has abandoned two wind farm projects off New Jersey’s coast as a potential indication Ocean City’s project could be doomed as well.
There is no word yet on what Ørsted’s decision to abandon the two New Jersey projects means for the Maryland project. However, a statement this week from Ørsted on the Skipjack Wind project off Maryland reads, “Ørsted continues to reconfigure this project with minimal project spend and expects to have more clarity on its path forward in the Q4 2023 report as Ørsted continues discussions with stakeholders in Maryland.”
According to the statement released Oct. 31 specifically on the New Jersey projects, Ørsted said, “Following decisions of its Board of Directors, Ørsted will cease development of the Ocean Wind 1 and 2 projects and has taken final investment decision on the Revolution Wind project. The decisions are part of an ongoing review of Ørsted’s U.S. offshore wind portfolio.” The statement continues, “US offshore wind projects have experienced further negative developments from adverse impacts relating to supply chains, increased interest rates and the lack of an OREC (Offshore Renewable Energy Certificate) …” Ørsted’s statement did report the project to build 100 offshore wind turbines to serve Rhode Island and Connecticut will continue to move forward with land infrastructure efforts.
As part of its ongoing social media outreach, the Ocean City Police Department has been posting on Facebook each week a “Wanted Wednesday” suspect. The posts have been successful in apprehending wanted individuals, but this week’s post was quite unique.
An arrest warrant was issued last month for a 38-year-old New Jersey man, Adrian Sanchez, on felony rape and assault charges from an incident in Ocean City. Last Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection was conducting a scan of international flight manifests when it came across Sanchez’s name. Sanchez was subsequently apprehended at the Philadelphia International Airport while boarding a flight for Cancun with the intention to turn him over to local authorities for extradition to Worcester County to face the charges.
In a statement, Shawn Polley, CBP’s Acting Area Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia said, “The quick actions by Customs and Border Protection officers prevented a suspect of seriously heinous charges from fleeing the United States. CBP’s continued commitment to assist our law enforcement partners in ensures that victims have a voice, and that fugitives of serious crimes have their day in court.” This would all be excellent work if the story ended there. However, the issue only becomes more complicated, as Sanchez was evidently released within days of being caught at the airport on a $30,000 bond by Pennsylvania officials.
Therefore, the Ocean City authorities had no choice but to post Sanchez as his “Wanted Wednesday” suspect. Unless more complexities come to light, this seems like an obvious gaff on the part of Pennsylvania authorities. Sanchez is now wanted on two counts of first-degree rape, two counts of second-degree rape, third-degree sex offense, three counts of fourth-degree sexual contact and two counts of second-degree assault.
Governments run the risk of criticism when they hold too much in reserve funds. Like any business or household, municipalities need to ensure there’s enough money in the bank to cover unexpected expenses from natural disasters or infrastructure emergencies. For government, the standard is typically about 20% of the operating budget.
The Town of Ocean City has long been above that 20% threshold and the most recent financial analysis has the unassigned fund balance at 32.5%, or $31.6 million. There seemed to be some acknowledgement the figure has grown too high, and Councilman Peter Buas asked what the city’s finance folks would be doing about it. In response to the question, City Manger Terry McGean said staff would be bringing a recommendation to the council on “what to do with that increase in fund balance.”
Having a significant money stashed away for a rainy day is something government officials must justify. Astute citizens will likely ask if the government is making so much money why not reduce the property tax rate to ease the delta between expenditures and revenues. In Ocean City’s case, the philosophy has always been to keep a higher-than-normal unassigned fund balance because of its coastal nature and susceptibility to natural disasters. From talks at this week’s meeting, it appears some of the excess funds over and above the 20% could go to pension expenses. It was also noted by Assistant Finance Director Shawn Bunting the city is planning to hit the bond market in the coming months to finance capital project. Bunting said, “The one thing I do want to say about unassigned fund balance, we’re going to go to the bond market at the end of this year. The rating agencies consistently look at these reserve levels … I think if our rating was downgraded to single A that could be about a quarter percent on our interest that we get on our bonds.”
It’s a balance city officials will need to juggle when determining the right amount to keep as unassigned funds.