Where Candidates Stand On OC Issues
In a continuing effort to brief Ocean City registered voters on the candidates and their viewpoints, The Dispatch presents the final installment of a three-part, question-and-answer series with the seven City Council candidates.
Question 3: Ocean City is currently pursuing or in the middle of some large capital improvement projects, including the reconstruction of St. Louis Avenue, a new comfort station on the Boardwalk and a new concession stand at Northside Park. Should the town be pursuing these expensive projects or is it time to rein in spending?
Following their responses to the question above are excerpts of their responses from questions posed over the last two weeks.
Brent Ashley: A conservative always reins in spending. However, at times, facilities become economically obsolete.
The St. Louis Ave. project could be put on hold for two years. People are not complaining about St. Louis Ave. The undergrounding of utilities needs to be done but that could wait for two years.
The Comfort Station on Caroline St. is a must do project.
At Northside Park, if the renovations have not started and the correcting of the restrooms facilities to comply with ADA could wait, the project could wait.
On whether willing to ensure residents you will vote to decrease the property tax rate: As a conservative, a rising or falling economy does not change my point of view. I would refuse to increase property taxes and would lower expenses. In a down economy, you must revamp your approach to the budget. Major cities use hybrid police cars. During the gas crisis of the 1980’s, the city used motor scooters. Move forward on renewable energy sources such as solar, geo-thermal, wind, biofuel and biodiesel. Because that’s the future, I would also call for a 10-percent decrease in city department budgets.
On why seeking a seat on the Ocean City Council: I am a conservative. I would approach the budget from a conservative point of view. As a taxpayer, with a field of non-conservative representatives, I want to see a conservative council member. I do not believe in and would not tolerate any loose spending.
As a council member, I would institute informal "town hall" meetings. This would give the taxpayer a chance to voice their concerns in a setting less intimidating than the formal council meeting. I would also address the lack of continuity in the decision making process of the council.
In a minor but current situation, the vanity license plate program was presented to the full council by Nancy Howard. It was decided by the council to have further later discussions. As far as I can determine, by watching all telecast, it was never further discussed by the council but soon turned up as a contest on the Ocean City web site.
Doug Cymek: All capital projects may be warranted at some point in time, however some may not be during a dramatic downturn in our local economy, such as we are currently experiencing. I believe the St. Louis Avenue design project should be completed to provide community input and realistic cost estimates, but the actual construction phase may need to wait until better economic times.
The Boardwalk comfort station should be looked at in two ways to determine cost estimates; first an extensive renovation of the existing structure and secondly, demolition of the existing and construction of a new facility. This project will undoubtedly enhance the Boardwalk as the new concession stand will do at Northside Park. However, before moving ahead we need to ask ourselves whether each project will generate a return on our investment that will bring money back into Ocean City’s economy.
On whether willing to ensure residents you will vote to decrease the property tax rate: Our property tax bills will hopefully take a welcomed downturn next year, but at the same time there will be a corresponding reduction in tax revenues. The Mayor and Council will have to work diligently to find ways of reducing the costs of running our town.
Simply stated, I am not in favor of putting any increased tax burden on the backs of the taxpayers. If property tax values and revenue decline, the town must get back to basics and hold the line on spending. I pledge to work towards capping or reducing our current tax bills by continual review of expenditures and capital projects.
On why seeking a seat on the Ocean City Council? Since 1996, I have maintained a deep desire to become a council member and serve those of our town by helping to make it the greatest place to live, work and visit.
My 33 years experience as a successful small business owner, combined with 38 years of marriage and my participation on various boards and committees throughout the years, has provided me with unparalleled knowledge and experience over the new less experienced candidates.
Jim Hall: I believe that all capital expenditures must be carefully examined and we have begun doing just that.
Our discussions at a recent council meeting and well into the future will revolve around cutting spending to avoid what has happened in our nation.
We collectively have accomplished a lot of major projects and now is the time to take a breather and only fund those that are a necessity.
On whether willing to ensure residents you will vote to decrease the property tax rate: As I write this answer on Tuesday, the stock market is down another 500 points. Our present tax bills are too high and yes I would lower the tax rate as we did this year. Additionally, it is my hope that the new assessments will dramatically decrease the amount of taxes all residents must pay. I believe the focus for the next couple years will all be on finances
On why seeking a seat on the Ocean City Council: I presently serve the residents of Ocean City and have done so proudly for 21 years. This is a long time and a lot of sacrifice, especially for my family.
Anyone who watches the televised meetings or attends regularly knows that I am a full participant and often lead with ideas and suggestions. I often propose legislation to carry the city forward with public safety issues, budgetary concerns and public works projects.
Residents and visitors are struggling with the high cost of everything. I can help by lowering taxes and cutting spending. The residents deserve to be happy and comfortable living in Ocean City and that continues to be my priority.
Joe Hall: My first motion in our first official meeting will be to suspend all major capital improvement projects for six months. This will allow for the national elections to be held and a clearer picture of our national economy will become available.
Once we know the economy is bottoming and showing signs of an upward trend, we can look at some viable sustainable capital improvement projects. We as a town will save millions by capitalizing on the challenging economic conditions. We should only accept bargain-priced bids on high valued projects. It is not a time to over pay. So with a long term outlook and strategic timing we could get some great capital improvements with affordable pricing. During the six-month period we should not sit idle, but be reviewing and planning a sustainable future.
I have a conservative nature, but realize you must make investments in the town to secure a viable future.
On whether willing to ensure residents you will vote to decrease the property tax rate: When personal finances tighten, so must your budget. It would be irresponsible for local government to ask our property owners to give anymore money than they paid in this tax year. I will hold taxes to the constant yield rate at the minimum while striving to even go below it. A tightening of our governmental belt is necessary. I believe there are many areas of our budget we can change to a supporting role instead of a leading role, which will provide cost savings without sacrificing the priority of quality of life. By cutting your taxes, it will give you the property owners the extra money to maintain your properties and reinvest into the town as you personally choose. I believe you can spend your money better that government.
On why seeking a seat on the Ocean City Council One, I run a family business that makes its lively hood in 100 days, but I must manage year-round bills. This takes excellent budgeting skills. Two, I have lived here longer than any other candidate. I’ve seen what works and doesn’t work for Ocean City. Bottom line 37 years’ experience being a resident. Three, solidly independent, nobody is going to sway me off what’s best for Ocean City.
Jay Hancock: OC risks stopping capital spend at its own peril. Roadway, water, sewer and service systems – the basics of the St. Louis Avenue project – cannot be maintained with a “Band-aid” approach.
Critical infrastructure upgrades must continue economically: not to do so will cost more in dollars and diminished/failed services later. Enhancements can be phased over subsequent years. Failing/inadequate, but still functional and compliant facilities – the Northside Park and Caroline Street projects – may be re-evaluated, reviewing costs and benefits of now vs. later, recognizing some funds are already committed and the work at some time must be undertaken.
“Penny-wise (though immediately attractive), but pound-foolish” is not a wise approach to preserving and protecting taxpayer investments.
On whether willing to ensure residents you will vote to decrease the property tax rate: I won’t promise what, despite good intentions, may not be possible or practical. Other local revenue streams and moneys from federal, state and county sources also may decline significantly. In the 70s, New York City faced severe financial limitations and drastically cut its budget for public safety, infrastructure, services, etc. It lost businesses, visitors and residents, further worsening its finances. As a tourism-based economy, Ocean City cannot afford to appear unsafe, unclean or unwelcoming without devastating impacts to its broad economic health. With streamlined government and well-planned budget cuts, the constant yield tax rate is achievable – cuts below that cannot honestly be given.
On why seeking a seat on the Ocean City Council? 1. Experience: Four years on the council, plus 31 as an OC police officer, provide a strong background in local government.
2. Effectiveness: Sought pragmatic solutions, which achieve compromise and develop consensus much most can support.
3. Continuation: Completion of goals and projects in progress, e.g., comprehensive plan implementation legislation.
4. Solutions: Finding answers to new challenges facing OC: fiscal restraints, energy efficiency and development, managing limited resources economically to maintain the quality of life expected by residents, property owners and visitors.
5. Commitment: I enjoy the job.
Mary Knight: You cannot panic and eliminate all capital projects. Ocean City has always thrived in hard times because of its infrastructure. Our image is important to remain a first-rate destination.
The Concession stand, also known as “press box,” is currently funded and $50,000 below budget. Concession revenues are $50,000 annually. The project enhances our ability to attract tournaments, which generates revenue for Ocean City.
Both the design of St. Louis Avenue and the comfort station were funded last year. The building of these two projects will face a vote weighing cost benefit to the town. They may or may not be approved.
I can prioritize capital expenditures based on current data and future needs.
On whether willing to ensure residents you will vote to decrease the property tax rate: I will do all that I can to decrease the tax rate again, but it is impossible to ensure to what degree.
Remember 72 percent of the budget is fixed. We are taking pre-emptive measures now anticipating the need to decrease expenditures in fiscal 2010. As a council member, I have the experience to guide us through these challenging times. I will continue to find innovative ways to increase tourism, cut unessential items from the budget, and add enhancements that will save money while sustaining services.
We also must impress upon all state legislators that it is in their best interest to fund advertising to keep Marylanders’ tourism dollars in the State.
On why seeking a seat on the Ocean City Council? I want to continue on the Ocean City Council to serve the families, the retirees on fixed incomes, the business owners and all of the taxpayers in Ocean City.
In my two years on the council, I know that I have worked hard for Ocean City by successfully meeting as many citizens as possible at numerous functions. I am always prepared for council business by conferring with department heads, commission chairs, business leaders, tourists and always being completely accessible to my constituents.
I helped spearhead the increase in advertising for tourism and the free events on the beach that kept our economic numbers well above those of other resorts. These tourism dollars keep the tax rate down and I will continue in my next term to strive to keep revenues up so we can maintain the same services and amenities we enjoy today.
Sean Rox: The best time to buy is when goods are on sale. Our negotiation leverage on these projects is at its peak during times of recession.
The law of supply and demand gives us a great opportunity to pursue these projects at a much lower cost than if we wait until the construction market rebounds. "Buy low- sell high" economics suggest that if the price is right, we move ahead on these valuable projects.
On whether willing to ensure residents you will vote to decrease the property tax rate: Yes. The short-term solution is to utilize technology to reduce overhead. The long-term solution would be to invest in generating energy from offshore wind turbines. This clean power is virtually unlimited and would provide Ocean City energy independence in these volatile times. The long-term savings of eco- friendly technology will save millions and insulate our property tax from runaway inflation.
On why seeking a seat on the Ocean City Council? 1. I have a powerful background in business and marketing. I can utilize my experience in Internet sales and advertising to promote Ocean City to a new generation of potential visitors.
2. I’ve spent four years overseas working in international resorts. I would like to see our diverse supplemental work force translate into the growth of international tourism. Ocean City is one of the finest family resorts on the planet and deserves to be represented accordingly.
3. I’m out in the community. I attend nearly every City Council meeting. I’ve been helping out with the youth basketball, baseball and flag football programs at Northside Park since 1994.