Requests reflect inflation’s effect on local budgets
(March 9, 2023) Across the board, Worcester County municipalities and the Ocean Pines Association want more money to keep up with the costs associated with inflation.
Each municipality plus the Ocean Pines Association made its FY24 budget requests to the Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday and while there were no audible gasps in reaction to the requests, each one asked for more than what they received in FY23.
Berlin’s funding request by itself is actually less than what was approved in FY23 — $2.41 million this year compared to $2.6 million last year — but the town is also requesting $700,013 in grant funding.
In his formal letter explaining the request, Berlin Mayor Zack Tyndall wrote, “In fiscal year 2022, the Worcester County Commissioners granted the Town of Berlin $39,875 for a Phase I grant application for the Rails and Trails program. Due to the timing of the grant application, we did not receive notification that our grant was unsuccessful until after we received funding from the Worcester County Commissioners in fiscal year 2023 for a Phase II grant application.”
This year’s grant application will combine the two phases, therefore Tyndall wrote that the town is asking that its funding be retained for $116,013.
The town is also still in the first phase of the Flower Street traffic mitigation project for which it received funding for $122,000 and is requesting to maintain that as well.
Finally, the town is requesting $465,000 to offset some of the public safety funding for police, fire and EMS. At the meeting, Tyndall noted this dollar figure is consistent with what the town has asked for in previous years.
“Our budget is taking shape and we’re seeing some of the impacts of inflationary pressure on business that we do day-to-day,” he said. “We’re asking for some assistance in helping divert this $122,000 in funding.”
“(In developing our budget) we’ve come to a significant deficit that we’re trying to overcome. We’re … pulling various levers to try and help keep things whole. We’re not adding new services or anything this year. We’re just trying to maintain the services that we do have. So we’re asking for your help and support in that process as well.”
Taking everything in, Commissioner Chip Bertino said that the town’s request is a “big ask” that shouldn’t fall on county taxpayers to shoulder.
“I just caution you that the likelihood of (having this approved), I would have a plan B if I were you,” Bertino said.
The Ocean Pines Association, on the other hand, requested $1.87 million, close to $200,000 more than its FY23 total.
The lion’s share of this increase could be found in a new $150,000 request for road and bridge repairs. Another increase of about $36,000 was requested for ambulance grants.
OPA President Doug Parks pointed out that the $550,000, the second-biggest line item on the request sheet, requested for police aid was “commensurate with last year.”
Bertino then asked Parks what is going on with the Ocean Pines Police Department in terms of whether everything is under control, presumably in light of Ocean Pines Police Chief Leo Ehrisman being placed on administrative leave in January, following the robbery of a police-owned shed in December.
“You’re putting me on the spot, Chip,” Parks replied. “It’s an ongoing situation, an ongoing issue that’s in progress. I’d be remiss to make any incorrect statements.”
Ocean Pines General Manager John Viola said the association “has been in the law enforcement business for 50 years” and has no plans to cease.
“There are some things going on,” he acknowledged. “We are looking at it and I’ve been to the (Ocean Pines Board of Directors) and gotten direction to go forward with being more competitive with everyone else. We’re not in LEOPS because we’re a homeowners association. We’re looking at comparable compensation packages to be competitive.”
Parks added that the board is “100 percent behind supporting the police department,” a proven commodity.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan took to the podium at the commissioner’s meeting and requested a 5-percent increase to the city’s undesignated grants, which helps offset service costs that the city provides in lieu of the county doing so.
Resort government’s overall request came to $9.13 million, about $290,000 more than in FY23.
Meehan requested changes in grants for tourism, recreation, the Ocean City Development Corporation, the Convention Center Bureau or Park and Ride services. Likewise, Ocean City asked to carry on with money supplied by a formula that allows the resort to provide fire and EMS to unincorporated West Ocean City.
“Public safety remains our number one priority,” Meehan said. “One of the things we’re doing in Ocean City is expanding city watch program (cameras) (which help) reconstruct accidents, identify people who have left crime scenes.”
Those cameras, an $80,000 endeavor, helped mitigate the “H2O crisis,” as Meehan described the unofficial pop-up car rally that descended on the town every summer, causing plenty of headaches for local government and law enforcement. The unofficial rally hasn’t materialized in either of the last two summers.
Meehan also highlighted the downtown recreation project that’s redeveloping a property on 3rd and 4th streets at $5.5 million.
He also cited the redeveloping of the skate park, which he described as one of the oldest in the country and a consistent hotspot, with a request of $250,000 in open-space funding to “move forward with the project in a timely manner.”
He noted that the city has not requested open-space funds since 2017 when they asked for $20,000.
Pocomoke City’s budget request came in at $1.86 million, just $5,000 more than its FY23 allotment.
Mayor-elect Todd J. Nock, who assumes office in April, said the increase would help cover rising costs of support and materials. It will be used for public works, police, economic development and water and wastewater services.
Snow Hill requested $2.27 million, about $170,000 more than FY23. The request included $161,600 for a Byrd Park Grant which breaks down to about $98,000 to help address flooding issues and $62,000 to replace the “aging” basketball court at the park, Mayor Michael Pruitt said.