ANNAPOLIS – Legislation enabling the County Commissioners and/or the Ocean City Mayor and Council to provide tax credits to two landmark amusement parks in the resort faced with soaring property tax assessments cruised through both the House and Senate last week, tossing the decision to provide relief back in the court of local lawmakers.
Both the House of Delegates and the Senate last week approved enabling legislation that would allow local governing bodies, in this case the County Commissioners and/or the Ocean City Mayor and Council to provide tax credits to certain elements of the Trimper’s Rides amusement park at the foot of the Boardwalk in the resort. Just a few days later, the two chambers approved similar legislation for the Jolly Roger parks on both the Sinepuxent Pier and the vast location on 30th Street.
Faced with soaring property tax assessments, which rose a staggering 163-percent in the three years since the last reassessment, Trimper’s officials said last year they could be forced to close all or parts of the historic park if some relief could not be afforded. The announcement touched off a wave of emotion from long-time visitors and residents alike, many of whom have visited the historic park for generations, and prompted local and state officials to explore ways to relieve the company’s onerous tax burden or find an alternative solution to saving the park.
Several ideas were bandied about including a historic designation for the park, but after careful consideration, local officials opted to find a way to offer special tax credits to the park in the future. Before local officials could grant tax credits to Trimper’s, however, they needed a change in existing state law to enable the provision.
At the request of the county commissioners and the Ocean City Council, Delegates James Mathias and Norm Conway introduced the enabling legislation in the House and Senator Lowell Stoltzfus introduced sister legislation in the Senate. Last week, the House unanimously approved House Bill 1151 by a vote of 136-0. Three days later, the Senate approved its version of the bill by a vote of 45-1.
The bills will now go before the governor for final approval, which is expected given the overwhelming support for the twin bills on both sides of the aisle. O’Malley toured Trimper’s last summer with family members and vowed to work toward a solution to save the park.
Mathias said this week he was happy with the result and hoped the local governing bodies use it to work toward a solution for Trimper’s.
“I’m very pleased with the result,” he said. “All of those letters, phone calls and emails – all of those efforts – are reflected in the happy ending in terms of the legislation. The thing to remember is this is enabling legislation and the onus now falls back on the commissioners and the council to see this through.”
Pointing out Trimper’s is not the only historic Ocean City amusement park threatened with extinction over soaring property taxes, Buddy Jenkins, who owns and operates the Jolly Roger parks on the Sinepuxent Pier and at 30th Street, came before the commissioners and the Ocean City Council seeking similar relief and the elected bodies agreed to request similar legislation on his behalf.
Although the language is different in the Jolly Roger’s bills and the circumstances are not quite the same, the intent is the same and state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved similar enabling legislation for the parks last week. House Bill 1572 was passed by a vote of 137-0, while the sister Senate Bill 999 was approved by a vote of 46-1. Essentially, the two pieces of enabling legislation allow the county and the municipality to offer similar tax credits.
Mathias said this week existing state law already included a provision for local governments to provide tax credits to the amusement park on the pier and the bill passed by the House last year extended the provision to the roughly 30-acre site on 30th Street.
“The amusement pier already had that consideration under state law,” he said. “Somebody preceding me had already done that. I’m not sure when that happened or who did it, but it was already in place for the pier. This only extends the same consideration to the park on 30th Street.”
The approval of the enabling legislation for both Trimper’s and Jolly Roger’s puts the onus back on the county and/or the municipality to actually provide the tax credits for the parks. The local governing bodies will ultimately decide how much to grant and how long to grant it in what will likely be a complex and deliberate debate.
Given that the two elected bodies have tacitly expressed their approval by requesting the enabling bills be introduced, there appears to be a will to follow through with the tax credits, although it could be difficult in what is expected to be a difficult budget year. Commissioner Louise Gulyas, who represents Ocean City, said yesterday saving both parks is paramount.
“I’m very concerned about keeping those amusement parks,” she said. “They are vital to the future of the town and their historic value – particularly Trimper’s – Is so important. The same goes for Jolly Roger, both at the pier and further up town. The alternatives could be a nightmare.”