SNOW HILL – The proposed Ocean City downtown amusement overlay tax district, intended to reduce property taxes for the resort’s historic Trimper’s rides and amusement park, does not pass constitutional muster, according to the State of Maryland, and any tax relief is likely to come through tax credits.
“The state has now determined they’re not going to be able to write legislation as originally proposed,” County Administrator Gerry Mason reported at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.
Trimper’s has repeatedly warned it might have to close down and sell off the Boardwalk property if some remedy for high property taxes, based on the recent reassessments, could not be found.
The County Commissioners voted to support the state’s enabling legislation Tuesday that would give the county and the town of Ocean City the power to provide tax relief to Trimper’s rides in the form of tax credits. Under the legislation, the commissioners and the town can determine the amount and length of any tax credit, reviewing that relief every year if they desire.
“It’s pretty broadly written. It would be a credit designed mainly for Trimper rides,” Mason said.
As written, the law can only apply to Trimper’s rides. No other business can meet the criteria listed in the bill: amusement parks over 100 years old, continuously owned by the same family, that have “created a tourist destination at the Boardwalk.”
The legislation does not require either jurisdiction to provide the tax credit. “It gives you the opportunity to do it if you so wish,” Mason said.
County Attorney Sonny Bloxom reiterated, “You don’t have to give this. It’s solely up to your discretion.”
The commissioners would also be able to add restrictions to the tax credits under the legislation.
“It allows the county to put on additional eligibility criteria,” Bloxom. “That is a really good provision.”
The law would allow each of the five parcels in Trimper’s downtown amusement complex to be considered differently.
“It really gives you the ability to adjust your criteria, look at the five lots individually,” Bloxom said.
The commissioners voted unanimously to support the state enabling legislation without discussion.
“I think it was absolutely positively the right thing to do,” said Commissioner Bud Church. “I don’t know how anyone could afford those types of taxes.”
Commissioner Bobby Cowger said after the meeting the help is warranted.
“Trimper’s definitely needs some help. The assessments they got now, it wasn’t fair at all,” said Cowger.
County Commission President Jim Purnell said the credit is justified.
“I think he deserves that tax credit because it’s a monumental attraction in Ocean City,” said Purnell.
Commissioner Louise Gulyas said Trimper’s deserves the special attention it’s getting.
“It should be looked at differently because of its historical value,” Gulyas said. “We are the family town, the family resort. We have to keep places like Trimper’s and places like Jolly Roger open.”
Commissioner Virgil Shockley questioned whether the state was providing any kind of tax break.
“In there does it say anything about the state giving anyone a break at all?” Shockley asked when interviewed after the meeting. “The state’s still going to collect theirs.”
Only Worcester County and Ocean City would be able to give Trimper’s tax credits under the bill. The State of Maryland is not included.
“It’s a good bill because it leaves it up to the county to decide, one parcel or all five,” Shockley acknowledged. “It’s a vague enough bill that it fits the purpose. You can pick what you want.”
Whether tax credits for Trimper’s Rides alone are fair is a good question, Church said. The amusement park at the Boardwalk is a major attraction, and one of only two amusement parks left in a town that once had a lot of smaller operations.
“Ocean City has almost put itself out of business with all these condos,” Church said. “I don’t think Ocean City can afford to lose Trimper’s rides.”
Cowger added, “Trimper’s is definitely a unique situation. Not too many people can say, our business has been around 117 years. There’s something to be said for that.”
Shockley said the historic aspect of the property is what makes it unique.
“There’s sympathy on my part for the carousel [property]. They are part of Worcester County history,” Shockley said. “That’s the only reason I would consider it, the historic value.”
No one from Trimper’s Rides could be reached for comment, no could anyone at Jolly Roger Amusement Park, which had asked to be included in the amusement tax district.
“Assessments have increased for all businesses in Ocean City, and the commissioners may get requests for similar tax break [Jolly Roger] up at a later date,” Church said. “I have heard Frontier Town is thinking of coming in and asking for some relief. I also heard that Baja may be coming in. We’ll just have to take them on a one-on-one basis.”
Purnell said the county would consider those when they come up.
“We’re going to have to take a serious look at it,” said Purnell. “We’re going to have to make some hard decisions.”
Legislators submitted the bill for consideration by the Maryland General Assembly on Feb. 6.