Councilman Dennis Dare has yet to announce whether he is seeking a third term on the Ocean City Council in the November election, but he is still willing to sound off on the hottest topics in Ocean City. In an interview with OceanCity.com, Dare addressed the local Covid-19 response, budgeting and spending, the violence on the Boardwalk, and his previous experience as City Engineer and City Manager. No matter the topic, Dare is an open book.
Councilman Dennis Dare has been a dedicated servant to the Town of Ocean City for decades. He served as City Engineer from 1982 to 1990, and City Manager from 1990 to 2011. He garnered tremendous support in the 2012 city council election and won his re-election bid in 2016.
Dare believes that his prior experience has served him well over the past eight years on the council. “It’s benefitted me immensely. I know the actual operations of the town. We have many departments and divisions. The mayor, council, and city manager have different departments and divisions to oversee. There’s finance, human resources, the city garage, but then we have a golf course, fire department, beach patrol, and waste-water plant operation. It’s so diverse,” Dare said. “In 38 years, you get to know all the different people well.”
Dare addressed the controversial 2011 council vote that ultimately resulted in his retirement, and why he decided to return. “It was a trying time, but it was mostly the way it came down,” Dare said. “As I sat out for several months, I thought I had a unique perspective and wanted to finish some of the things that were in progress.” During his time as City Manager, Dare focused heavily on the expansion of the Ocean City Convention Center and beach replenishment.
What Have You Learned Over the Past Eight Years?
Dare: As City Engineer, they gave you a project and some money and told you to go do it. As City Manager, you had to find money to do things and present it to the council for approval. I’d sit there and look at the elected officials and wonder what they were thinking. As a councilman, it’s a whole different perspective. Now, you have to work with the other elected officials and with the constituents. We have four different groups of constituents. We have the residents, the non-residents that own condominiums and homes, the business owners, and finally, we have the visitors who love Ocean City…Only one group gets to vote for elected officials, but I’ve always felt obligated to represent everyone. However, I did learn a long time ago that you can’t please everyone.
Is Councilman Dennis Dare Running for Re-Election?
Councilman Dare has not made up his mind about whether he will run this election cycle, but he still has time to decide. The candidate filing deadline is not until October 6. If he decides against a run, he promises to remain active as a citizen.
The Role of Social Media in Council Affairs
Over the past decade, social media has become a top source of information. Dare said that elected officials have to be cautious when reading posts on social media. “Too often, you look at social media posts, and you start to form the public’s opinion. Half of the opinions people post on social media, they wouldn’t say it to your face, but for some reason, a person goes online and becomes a keyboard warrior. I’ve learned to separate that out, but everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Dare said.
He believes that when voting on issues, members of the council must investigate and become educated. Dare explained that just understanding the “capstone” is not enough to form a decision.
Councilman Dare is outspoken about the need for responsible spending due to the pandemic. The council voted unanimously last week to cancel Sunfest. However, the vote to consider SunLITE, which could cost between $50,000 and $100,000, was not unanimous. Dare was the only member to oppose. When the council discussed the motion, Dare spoke about the 2008 furloughs and hiring freezes. He made clear that he never wants to be forced down that path again.
“I know what a train wreck looks like. We had one in 2008 when the economy went down. At the time, we had over 600 full-time employees, and in a matter of six months, I presented many proposals to the mayor and council. We shrunk the budget by $5 million, and I had to cut 100 full-time employees. It was painful,” Dare said. “We still feel some of the pain of those decisions. I’m afraid of what I foresee. I hope none of this happens, but we are going to have to dip into our rainy-day fund for this past fiscal year.”
A second budget amendment was just approved for Fiscal Year 2020, containing an overall increase of $10 million, and a decrease of more than $430,000 in the general fund. Despite this amendment, there is good news to report. The town racked up nearly $3 million in June, which is up nearly $50,000. This will help to alleviate some financial stress.
Fiscal Year 2021
Dare expressed his worries about the next fiscal year, and the additional changes that might be necessary due to declines in revenue this summer. “We’re going to have deficiencies in room tax, food tax, admission and amusement tax, sales tax, slot revenue is going to be off, and parking revenue is going to be down,” Dare noted. “We have to take every advantage to save money because we are going to need it. If we don’t, we are going to have to make very painful decisions.”
While Dare recognized that the resort town has been crowded with tourists this summer, he said that he remains skeptical that the numbers will be normal.
Dare is not actively pushing for a tax increase, but he recognizes that costs must be covered somehow. Instead of increasing taxes, Dare believes there are alternatives such as more paid parking. Millions of dollars are spent on beach replenishment, and Dare said that visitors should help to cover that cost. “There’s a way to do this, and it needs to be done. We can get things done without a tax increase,” Dare said. “If you are against a tax increase, then you need to be for some other way of raising funds for services that are demanded by the residents, non-residents, businesses, and visitors.”
“It’s socially responsible to wear a mask. As the mayor says, Ocean City is not a Covid-free zone.”
The battle against Covid-19 continues in Ocean City, though Dare admits that the town’s response has not been perfect. A staunch supporter of wearing masks and social distancing, Dare questioned the decision to hold in-person council meetings. “They were meeting together socially distanced, but no one was wearing masks,” Dare said. “The audience wasn’t required to wear masks. It’s just a lot of poor decisions along those lines.” The council is back to meeting virtually, but Dare, who has underlying health conditions, refused to return to City Hall, even when in-person meetings resumed.
Councilman Dare also addressed the Boardwalk mask mandate. He agrees with the directive but voiced his frustrations about enforcement. “If you don’t want the police to enforce it, then you don’t put it in writing,” Dare said. “They’re going to do what they are told, and the mayor said wear masks on the Boardwalk.”
Has Ocean City Sent Too Many Mixed Messages?
Dare: We’ve followed all of the governor’s mandates. Initially, while the stay-at-home order was in place, we went a step farther by mandating that hotels and motels close. We’ve been consistent with the governor’s orders twice. Once with the lodging, and once with lifting the stay-at-home order. As far as quarantine lists go, that’s at a higher pay grade than us…It appears that locally, we haven’t suffered terribly. Do people go back to Pittsburgh or Lancaster and develop symptoms? Possibly.
Dare emphasized the importance of more law enforcement on the Boardwalk to combat unrest and crime. He hopes that the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) can hire ten more officers. He said that one of the reasons he is so cautious when it comes to spending is because of situations like these, when hiring more employees is necessary. “The way that we are going to overcome the deterioration, I hate to use that word, but it’s true, is to have more police officers,” Dare said. “We need more code enforcement, especially in the downtown area. I just did a white paper on the revitalization of the downtown and what it takes…some of that work is not getting done, and it’s starting to show up. If we want the businesses to make money, we have to provide more infrastructure, whether that’s in the form of a new water line or more police officers.”
What Is Your 10-Year Vision for the Town of Ocean City?
Dare: We need to maintain and restore our fundamental image of being safe and clean. I’d like to see more people living in Ocean City. One of the things the Covid crisis has brought forth is that people can work remotely. We have an opportunity to draw new residents. Why not live where people vacation? There are a lot of things to offer. One of the roadblocks is how taxpayers are being treated unfairly by Worcester County. We must address that.
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Keep an eye out for an announcement about whether Dare will seek re-election or not!