(June 21, 2013) Ocean City government’s controversial parking ordinance has gone into effect without the signature of Mayor Rick Meehan, who allowed the 15-day deadline for the return of the ordinance to go by this week without either his approval or veto.
Acknowledging that the move was somewhat of a “silent protest” to his compromise proposal not being well-received by either side of the ongoing debate, Meehan said he “did not agree with the ordinance as written.”
Although he has gotten feedback from the community at large, Meehan said he found no interest in a compromise from the City Council or the parties affected by the fiercely contested addition of paid parking on a select few city streets.
“I didn’t hear from anybody, on either side of the issue, that they would accept some compromise,” Meehan said. “I still think my compromise was a fair response.”
Even without the mayor’s signature, the ordinance still took effect this week by default after having been passed two weeks ago by a five-to-two vote of council, as the Town of Ocean City’s charter does not provide for what is often referred to as a “pocket veto.”
Further, a petition to bring the ordinance to referendum will soon be circulated by a group calling itself OC Taxpayers for Social Justice, headed by local property owner and frequent council critic Tony Christ.
“We have a common cause with the residents and business owners who are being unfairly targeted with these meters,” Christ said at an organizational meeting for the group on Wednesday. “We are taking on their cause and we’re going out to help them [overturn the ordinance].”
As it stands, the city will be adding Cale-brand electronic meters to the ocean block of 146th and 49th Streets, the stretch of 131st Street between Coastal Highway and Sinepuxent Avenue, and the west side of Philadelphia Avenue below the Route 50 Bridge. Meters would also go into the municipal lots at City Hall and the 65th Street Public Safety Building.
Metering of the latter two lots has caused little disturbance, but there has been considerable public outcry about the metering of street parking, especially from adjacent property owners who claim the move will discourage visitors and make it more difficult for property owners to fully utilize their units.
City Council’s proponents of the additions, however, have submitted that hourly parking will encourage turnover and provide more readily available spaces for commercial and beach access, while at the same time collecting revenue from “day-trippers” who do not contribute the resort’s lodging tax.
As a result of the controversy, Meehan proposed a compromise that would see only portions of the streets in question receive metered parking, and the city’s revenue boost reduced from around $150,000 to $125,000. The idea was rejected by the council majority, who went ahead with the full implementation.
Because an unsigned ordinance defaults to law after 15 days, as if it had been signed, the only way for Meehan to prevent the additions would’ve been for him to veto the ordinance. However, this would’ve essentially prevented any additional paid parking, as moving forward with an ordinance after a veto requires a six-member council approval. Two members of the seven-member body – Brent Ashley and Margaret Pillas – have been staunchly opposed to any meter additions.
Ashley was present at the OC Taxpayers for Social Justice meeting this week.
“As an elected official, I feel I’m only an observer,” he said. “But this group wanted to present some ideas, which I think are good ideas, and I want to listen.”
“[The additional meters] are going to hurt tourism,” Ashley said. “Our numbers for the spring and what we have so far for the summer are already down. You’re going to lose more than you gain by doing this. It sets a bad precedent.”
After the language of the petition is approved by the city solicitor, Christ’s group – of which a dozen were in attendance this week – would have 40 days to collect the signatures of 40 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last municipal election.
Given that 3,064 people voted in the November 2012 city contest, a petition would require 1,226 voters in order to stay the ordinance until it could be put to referendum in the next election, or in a special election.
Christ pointed to the fact that the city had ordered the 13 new meters in April – after the council voted to add them to the budget, but before the ordinance authorizing them had been introduced – as evidence that the city was overstepping its bounds in its search for additional revenues.
“We’re very troubled by the fact that the meters were ordered 45 days before the final hearing on the ordinance,” he said. “It’s a clear overreach of power.”
Meehan said earlier this week that he knew a petition against the meters was in the works, and he feared it was being used as a bogeyman.
“I only hope the petition accurately depicts what the council did and isn’t a scare tactic,” he said.
Along with the petition against the meters, OC Taxpayers for Social Justice will also be circulating a petition for a change to the city’s charter – and effort that has no time limit – to reduce the cap on the town’s debt from 4.5 percent of total assets to 1.5 percent.
Christ said the group is concerned about the city’s indebtedness and the burden that it’s unaccounted obligations place on the municipal budget. Total debt rose from roughly $81 million last year to $96 million this year, he said. Debt service and pension contributions will consume roughly a third of the city’s unrestricted funds for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Further, the city has more than $40 million in road work that is not being fully funded, Christ said.
“These things are continually put of to make way for salary increases and other extraneous expenses,” Christ said.