By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Nov. 23, 2023) In a meeting between Mayor Zack Tyndall, the Berlin Town Council and the Local Development Council (LDC) of Worcester County, LDC approved the town’s multi-year plan to use its share of casino funds (Local impact Grants or LIG funds) for its Law Enforcement Officers Pension System or LEOPS. LEOPS also now supports fire and EMS personnel.
“Public safety is crucial to us,” Tyndall said. “If you are not safe, if you are not healthy, then you cannot have an active commerce.”
Town officials consider securing funding for LEOPS to be critical to recruitment and retention of police officers.
The Town of Berlin has 15 sworn officer positions. Currently, the town has nine officers with three cadets going to the academy.
“The offer of LEOPS greatly increased our recruitment,” Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said.
The multi-year proposal by the town includes $425,000 for the LEOPS Stabilization Fund, $340,000 for FY24 LEOPS, with a $10,000 increase every year for three years. Any additional funding will go first to apparatus replacement for the Berlin Fire Company of $45,000 and $174,000 for a new community center, which is currently in the planning stages.
According to Maryland law, a share of casino revenue from Ocean Downs must be given to Worcester County, Ocean City, Berlin and Ocean Pines to be used for infrastructure improvements, facilities, public safety, sanitation, economic and community development and other public services and improvements.
During the discussions, members of the LDC raised concerns that this funding had never been used for LEOPS, claiming that this would be setting a precedent for other municipalities.
“We believe it is squarely within the legislation. It is a public safety expenditure,” Tyndall said.
“A road not traveled does not make it incorrect. There is not anything that said we could not do this.”
There was also concern raised by members of the LDC about relying on casino funds, which, although not expected, could go away someday, should the casino close.
“This is a liability we have taken on. We will be responsible for that,” Tyndall said.
“We can set up a plan down the road to wean off the LIG (Local Impact Grant) funding,” Councilman Jay Knerr said.
Currently, Tyndall said 30 percent of town funds go to public safety, which includes police, fire and EMS.
State Senator Mary Beth Carozza, a member of the LDC suggested the county approve the Berlin plan with a letter providing a clear direction of a phased out approach from relying on casino funds for LEOPS.
The Town Council agreed to consider a motion at its Nov. 27 meeting to send a letter to the LDC outlining plans to phase out the use of LIG funds for LEOPS in future multi-year plans.