Writing laws is not an exact science, no matter how many experts contribute to their arcane references and often incredibly detailed language. Fashioning regulations from the laws is also difficult and frequently leads to various requirements being subject to interpretation.
This is exactly the situation beach stand businesses face, as they are or are not subject to Ocean City’s admissions and amusement tax, depending on who you ask at the state comptroller’s office.
Obviously, there is at least a communication problem at the state level, considering that some beach stand franchisees have been taxed, some haven’t been, and still some others have received refunds of those taxes, only to see that refund be recalled.
Clearly, the state tax people are not of one mind on this, which is why local operators have asked the City Council to decide whether the amusement tax applies to their businesses.
Regardless of what the council decides, it’s not likely that the city will benefit one way or the other. If, on one hand, city officials determine that all franchisees must pay the tax, chances are that additional expense will show up in a somewhat reduced bid.
On the other hand, however, if the city exempts franchisees from the tax, beach stand operators aren’t going to up their ante as a result.
This is not necessarily a case of right or wrong, but is just another example of what happens when laws and regulations are subject to multiple interpretations within the same office. Those interpretations are taxing enough on our understanding.
The council will settle the issue one way or the other and that will be the final chapter of this particular mix-up, but not the end of conflicting interpretations of laws and regulations that were so broad that officials could come to different conclusions.
It’s no wonder that government and public exasperation seem to go together.