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Ocean Bowl Skate Park hit by insurance-related hour restrictions

(April 12, 2013) Ocean City’s Ocean Bowl Skate Park, the oldest public facility of its kind in the nation, is slated to be one of the first casualties of the city’s insurance-induced personnel crunch, as the city’s preliminary 2013-2014 fiscal year budget calls for a considerable reduction in the park’s hours, including a two-month winter closing.

“We can’t handle the part-time staff restrictions without closing,” said city Assistant Director of Recreation and Parks Susan Petito during this week’s Recreation and Parks Commission meeting. “It’s the nature of the skate park.”

Early this year, the city indicated that it would be facing a considerable financial and personnel crunch from the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare.” The law will require, as of January 2014, that any employer with 50 or more employees provide health insurance to any worker who is considered to be full-time and non-seasonal.

Under the ACA, the definition of such an employee is one who is “reasonably expected” to work 30 or more hours per week. The IRS has advised employers that anyone who works a total of 1,560 hours or more in 2013 (i.e., 30 hours for 52 weeks) will thus have a reasonable expectation of getting insurance for 2014, unless they work for fewer than four months.

The Town of Ocean City already offers health insurance, with premiums heavily subsidized by the city, to what it considers to be full-time year-round employees. But what resort government sees as full-time is no longer what the federal government sees as full-time.

As of City Manager David Recor’s last count, the city has 47 year-round employees who are classified as “part-time,” but would be scheduled to pick up more than 1,560 hours in 2013, thus mandating that the city offer them enrollment in its insurance plan.

During their budget planning for the fiscal year that starts in July, the city’s department heads have been advised they will need to use “management initiatives” to mitigate this effect, meaning that the hours of the employees in question will have to be cut below a projected 1,560 for the year, in order to avoid providing them with insurance.

This has considerably reduced the man-hours available to the city. In some critical cases, the city will come out ahead by eliminating a large number of part-time hours and adding a small number of new full-time employees to pick up the lion’s share of the work.

This would be the case with the Ocean City Fire Department, which is set to receive six new firefighter/paramedic positions to reduce its dependency on part-timers from other jurisdictions.

In other areas, however, staff cuts have not been replaced. The Public Works Maintenance Division needs at least four new part-time positions, which are not currently allocated for, in order to maintain its cleaning services.

“Some of the cuts were deep cuts, some of them were things that probably shouldn’t have been cut,” Budget Manager Jennie Knapp told the City Council this week. “There were some additional part-time employees in maintenance due to concerns they had about private events, and they got cut. I would ask that the council listen to the possibility that some of these things probably should be added back in.”

At the Ocean Bowl, Petito said that the limits put on the skate park’s allotted employees mean that the facility will likely have to close for two months of the year, and reduce its hours in others, in order to maintain full service in the summer. Restrictions on working hours have pulled its personnel budget back from $85,000 to $65,000.

Because patrons have already bought yearly passes for 2013, changing hours in the current calendar year is not an option. But the Recreation and Parks Department’s current budget calls for the skate park to be closed for January and February of 2014, and have limited hours, as well as being closed on Wednesdays, through the spring.

“I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be prudent to close down during weekdays when school goes back,” said Councilman and Recreation and Parks Commission Chair Joe Mitrecic.

However, Petito said, “Not all of our skaters are school-age children.”

“I think we’ll have some customer education to do,” said Recreation and Parks Director Tom Shuster.

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