(March 14, 2014) Making their annual pilgrimage to the county officials, representatives of Worcester’s four municipalities and the Ocean Pines Association board of directors asked for funds for various endeavors on March 4.
Representing Pocomoke City, Rob Clark, first vice president of the council, said he and the other council members realize that the county’s revenues had decreased in recent years and because of that, they were asking for funds in only two categories.
The town would like continued categorical funding and pass-through grants and funds for specific projects and activities that benefit all county residents in the Pocomoke City area.
Clark asked for $400,000 for economic development assistance, as in the current fiscal year, liquor license fees, 50 percent of profits from the Pocomoke dispensary, a 15 percent credit against tipping fees for the town’s recycling efforts, support for Pocomoke’s ambulance service based on the county’s formula, $4,500 for marketing and promotional assistance and funds for the fire department.
In the category of special projects and services with regional benefits and interest, Clark asked for funds for ambulance service, industrial development, tourism development and a new billboard.
Clark reminded the commissioners that Pocomoke City took over the operation of the local ambulance company in 2007. During the last fiscal year, the municipality had a loss of $52,000 in the ambulance department. The municipality has added a third and fourth ambulance and built a garage to house them.
Although the county’s ambulance reimbursement formula includes a mileage component of $0.505 per mile, that sum is insufficient considering that the newest ambulance cost the town $170,000 and it uses expensive diesel fuel. Clark suggested a mileage figure of at least $1.50 per mile.
“We go through our ambulances much faster than other departments,” Clark said.
Ambulances originating in Berlin often had to drive only a couple of miles to Atlantic General Hospital, but ambulances in Pocomoke take patients to that hospital, Peninsula Regional Medical
Center in Salisbury and McCready Hospital in Crisfield.
“It’s a minimum of three hours back and forth to hospitals,” Clark said.
Pocomoke’s council also wants funds for a new industrial shell building in its industrial park. Pocomoke is identified, in the county’s master plan, as the county’s primary industrial area and the new building would allow it to be better prepared for new industry and to provide another marketing tool for county and Pocomoke to provide new jobs and expand both tax bases.
Clark also asked for the county’s continued support of the MarVa Theater, the Delmarva Discovery Center, the Sturgis One-Room African-American School House and the Costen House. In addition, he requested $14,000 to replace a billboard on Route 13 to promote the municipality’s downtown, its waterfront, golf course, attractions and industrial park.
Lastly, Clark asked for continued financial assistance for the Delmarva Discovery Center, a museum on the Pocomoke River, which, he said, had become a regional attraction.
All in all, Clark asked for funding assistance in the amount of $1.4 million, which is less than the $1.43 million the commissioners gave Pocomoke for the current fiscal year.
Snow Hill Council President Eric Mullins asked for $1.5 million for that town.
That amount includes shared revenues of income tax, room tax and liquor license distributions, state aid to volunteer fire companies, a $500,000 unrestricted grant and $100,000 for stabilization of the Mason’s Opera House, which the town purchased with the intent of restoring it.
“We graciously appreciate your assistance with $100,000 [for that project] last year,” Mullins said.
The opera house, which has been cleaned and painted,” is an ongoing project that is expected to be “a very big anchor for the town of Snow Hill,” he said.
The current focus is on construction documents for a partial third floor to allow the original façade design of the Opera House to be reconstructed.
The work on the Opera House is part of the town’s improvements to the downtown area to attract new businesses. Old trees have been removed and new streetlights have been installed. New trees and flowers will be planted in the coming months as part of the beautification plan.
Snow Hill also wants a $500,000 unrestricted grant, a $79,000 fire grant, $195,705 for its volunteer fire department, $417,861 for its ambulances, and other funds for a total request of $1.52 million.
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams requested county funds to that town would be used primarily for upgrading and adding to the town‘s infrastructure.
The primary goal is to assure that the town’s sidewalks are safe, contiguous and meet ADA requirements. Berlin is also improving its parks so people can learn about environmental stewardship.
“We’re working to make them learning centers,” Williams said.
One of the town’s investments with the best rewards has been economic and community development, Williams said.
“It’s the biggest bang for our bucks,” he said.
That effort began a few years ago when the town hired Michael Day on a part-time basis. He and a recently hired person now work full time to promote the town in various ways and to attract businesses and visitors. The work has reaped rewards. The town’s businesses have grown in spite of a poor national economy, he said.
In 2011, the town purchased a building on Main Street to use as a visitors center. This year, the town hopes to replace the aging roof.
Another priority is the upgrade of the town’s utility billing software, which would allow it to fully integrate billing and payments for sewer, water, stormwater and electric.
Williams asked for $1.62 million, which included an unrestricted grant of $400,000.
Commissioner James Purnell told Williams that he had heard nothing about improvements to a short section of road near Stephen Decatur Middle School.
“That road has got to be fixed,” Purnell told Williams. “You’ve got an obligation to Briddletown to fix that road,” which in only about one-quarter of a mile long. “I’ve said something before about his, but nothing’s been done.”
Williams said the town has been fixing roads and would continue the work.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan asked for an unrestricted grant of $2.5 million as part of the total $19.2 million request. That amount includes $40,000 for the bus route between the Park and Ride in West Ocean City and Ocean City, and $50,000 for surveillance cameras on the Boardwalk to be monitored by public safety personnel.
“It’s important to the county and town to protect residents and visitors,” Meehan said.
The cameras, he said, would help prevent crime because signs would alert people to the fact of their presence.
The cameras would cost approximately $200,000 and the town would spend about $40,000 to $50,000 to pay people to watch them.
He also asked the commissioners to deed the land between Third and Fourth streets to the municipality with the condition that if it is not used for recreational purposes, its ownership would revert to the county. Ocean City wants to proceed with a $3 million project for improvements to the skate park and recreation area that include expanding the berthing area so tall ships may dock at the bayside boardwalk there.
Last year, a tall ship docked at the boardwalk and during the three days it was there, it attracted more visitors that it did when it was on display in New York City.
Plans for the park include an expanded skate park, a soccer field, a tot lot and more.
“Anything that’s there remains, but just gets enhanced,” Meehan said.
In addition, he said the city council would like to meet with the county commissioners to discuss a plan for yearly increases in the undesignated grant to address what he said is the disparity between the cost of services the town provides in lieu of the county providing those same services and the county contribution.
It is not the first time the city council has tried to get a tax differential.
“We have sent those letters for the past seven years,” Meehan said.
Ocean Pines Association
On behalf of the Ocean Pines Association, board member Sharyn O’Hare asked for $1.6 million, including $600,000 for police aid, $250,000 for roads, $195,703 for the volunteer fire department and $6,000 for the Fourth of July celebration.
O’Hare told the commissioners that 25 percent of the county’s population lives in Ocean Pines and many of its residents volunteer at Atlantic General Hospital and for many organizations within the county.
Ocean Pines has many events, activities and places that may be enjoyed free of charge to anyone, whether or not they reside in the community. For specifics, she named the parks, sports fields and boat ramps.
“All are free and open to anybody,” she said.
“We ask you to consider Ocean Pines when you review your budget,” O’Hare said.
At the conclusion of the funding request, Bud Church, president of the county commissioners, said, “It’s apparent to me . . . it’s a great county.”