(March 16, 2017) As part of the annual budget process, the county commissioners invite the governments of Berlin, Snow Hill, Pocomoke City, the Ocean Pines Association and Ocean City to outline their wants and needs for the coming fiscal year.
The talks are generally informal, in that most of the municipalities are just starting their own budget processes, so certain numbers or contingencies could change between now and when the county budget is formally adopted — usually in early June.
Ocean Pines, as represented by interim General Manager Brett Hill, is looking for about $154,000 more than was approved last year, primarily in the areas of recreation, tourism and police aid.
Pines Police Chief David Massey explained the nearly $100,000 extra his department requested was aid to help the association combat opioid addiction. Massey said the issue is primarily one for residential communities, and as Worcester’s largest residential community, more support was warranted.
Massey said his officers had saved four lives this year already by using Naloxone, an anti-overdose medication.
Hill is seeking to double the association’s recreation grant to $20,000, and almost as much for tourism — increasing the grant from $10,000 to $17,500.
If approved as submitted, Ocean Pines would receive about $1.37 million from the county.
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams asked for the same amount the town received in its unrestricted grant as it did last year — $450,000. Changes in the restricted fire grant and other expenses led to a slight increase in the town’s total from $1.86 million in 2017 to $2.04 million requested in 2018.
Williams said the money would be used for infrastructure, including new sidewalks and the construction of a new police station.
Pocomoke City Mayor Bruce Morrison asked for $55,000 to update the town’s emergency radio system, and for “support” from the commissioners as he seeks to redevelop the disused armory into a community center in addition to the funding received last year, $450,000.
Morrison said the armory could be elevated to an economic asset to the town, rather than remaining a dilapidated building. The town has been refused grant funding from the state to rehabilitate or demolish in the past.
Pocomoke’s total request jumped about $170,000 from last year based on the radio funding and projected increases to shared revenues, to just over $1.7 million.
Snow Hill Mayor Charlie Dorman related the struggle of small towns in the southern end of the county to keep up with the revitalization seen in more northern parts. Dorman proposed including Snow Hill and Pocomoke City into casino funds dispersal and said even a 1 percent share would make a huge difference in his town.
Snow Hill’s request changed the least of the parties heard during the commissioner’s meeting, increasing by about $85,000 to $1.593 million from $1.508 million.
For the past several years, Ocean City has used its time to push for one issue: a tax differential for the services the resort contends it duplicates from county services.
Except this year, when Mayor Rick Meehan opened his presentation with, “I am not here to talk about a tax differential.”
Asserting that the resort’s unrestricted grant, which the county provides to the municipalities and Ocean Pines in lieu of other financing mechanisms, hadn’t been increased since 2014, Meehan asked for a 4.75 percent increase to more than $2.4 million.
Meehan also asked that grants for tourism, recreation, convention bureau and park and ride continue to be funded at the same level as last year. If accepted, those grants total $530,000.
The commissioners will use these requests in the formulation of their own budget, when the county tax rates are set, so then the municipalities can finalize their own budgets. The county is scheduled for its first budget work session at the end of the month, on March 28.