Thoughts from the Publisher's Desk
The ongoing cleansing of the department budgets in Ocean City has led to some interesting revelations. In last week's coverage of cost-cutting moves for the transportation department, it was revealed the town gives away approximately $122,000 worth of free rides on the Boardwalk tram and about 80 percent of that figure was used by about 2,200 senior citizens. In a move he knew would be unpopular, Public Works Director Hal Adkins suggested the town eliminate the free passes for seniors and Councilwoman Mary Knight agreed. However, the rest of the council did not like the idea and it appears to be dead in the water at this point. From a strictly business standpoint, the fact is eliminating this perk would save the town money because it would reduce fuel consumption, employee pay and vehicle wear and tear. However, it would also mean most of those senior citizens enjoying the free rides would simply not use the tram any longer and subsequently not enjoy the Boardwalk as much. Therefore, an argument could be made that all the town would be doing is alienating some of the community's voting residents to save some money, and most of the council members seem to think the political capital associated with standing up for the seniors in this case is more valuable than the financial gains. I can understand that approach.
A majority of Berlin District 1 voters gave developer Troy Purnell a vote of confidence on Tuesday. The fact Purnell was victorious could not be called a surprise, but it was startling how poor former Mayor and Councilman Rex Hailey fared. A couple weeks back, I pointed out that Hailey received 100 votes in his home district during the mayoral election, while Mayor Gee Williams received 130. My thought was if Hailey could secure most of those votes again he would win his district. The question at the time was: were those pro-Hailey or anti-Williams votes? It was confirmed this week those were anti-Williams votes because Hailey only secured 24 votes in the District 1 election, compared to 80 for political upstart Phil Cropper and 120 for Purnell. It was intriguing to me that both Cropper and Purnell were attending the Berlin Utilities Commission at Town Hall while the results were being tabulated on Tuesday night. They both deserve credit for being interested in what was taking place at this meeting while their political futures hung in the balance.
There seems to be some question this week on whether the Ocean City Mayor and Council will proceed with a $5 million upgrade of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center. Although its fate is uncertain this week, I am certain the council will go ahead and approve the plan at a future meeting. In keeping with the current division present on the council, it will likely be a 4-3 vote with Council members Jim Hall, Joe Hall and Margaret Pillas in opposition. It will be interesting to see if the process plays out in a predictable fashion or whether some curve balls are thrown in between now and then. In the meantime, it was interesting to examine this week exactly what $5 million in upgrades will do for a facility like the convention center. Here's a detailed breakdown by line item of the planned project, called in a city memo 'short-term enhancements':
-- Ballroom Modification/Renovation: Ballroom 1 to fixed seating, $1.25 million, adding 1,700 raised, fixed theater quality seats; new stage lighting, $150,000; new stage curtains, $40,000; and new sound system, $98,000.
-- Energy Efficiency/Improvements: Boilers at A/B Hall, $500,000, kitchen hot water heater, $35,000; new lighting in C hall, $25,000.
-- Enhanced Technology: Business Center, $300,000; motorized screens in meeting rooms, $27,300; AV system in boardroom, $20,000; enhanced wireless, $25,000; new building graphics, $100,000.
-- Banquet Room: A $2 million proposal to enclose the bayfront deck behind the stage and convert the old kitchen to restrooms.
-- Design fees and contingencies: $400,000.