Ocean City Council looking at $128M budget for FY18
(April 21, 2017) Following two weeks of budget sessions, the Ocean City Council is on track to approve a budget of $128 million for fiscal year 2018 that includes a minute tax break for property owners.
On May 1, the council will hold its first hearing on a spending package that in includes the general fund and six smaller operational budgets known as enterprise funds.
Three of these — water, wastewater and the golf course – generate revenue through service fees. The remaining three — the airport, convention center and transportation — get financial aid from the general fund.
Fiscal year 2018 proposes a $84.3 million general fund, which is $3.1 more than last year. Revenue for that account comes from property taxes, which contributes roughly less than half of the total, as well as other taxes, fees, service charges and grants.
This financial plan also draws $2.44 million from the fund reserve, which is similar to a savings account. That money will be used to help cover infrastructure projects such as canal dredging, street paving and IT projects.
By drawing from the reserves, the city was also able to lower the tax rate slightly to the constant yield level — the state-calculated rate that would generate the same amount of revenue as was collected in the previous year.
Because the assessed value of resort property rose marginally last year, the state found that a corresponding decrease was possible. The difference, however, is slight, from 47.27 cents per hundred dollars of assessed value last year to 46.56 cents in the new tax year.
Councilmembers reviewed line items last Friday that were highlighted for further discussion. Among other things, the council agreed to hire an additional police midway through the budget year at a cost of $44,989 for that six-month period.
Councilman Matt James asked the council to consider finding the money to hire additional officers for each shift to ensure police aren’t spread too thin in the summer.
In the last 13 months, seven officers have left the department. Four officers were hired this year, but Police Chief Ross Buzzuro estimated that four other officers will be retiring this year.
Council President Lloyd Martin agreed with James, but wanted to take a more moderate approach.
“We need to make sure the [Police] Chief has the manpower he needs, [but] I’d like to see it grow more slowly,” he said. “We want to have the ability to plan for people retiring as well.”
The council voted on one additional officer, with James supporting the motion with reservations.
“I think we’re playing catch up,” he said.
The council also agreed to pay for a Boardwalk code enforcement officer at a cost of $3,300. This seasonal position monitors Boardwalk businesses’ outdoor displays and signs, and was not used last season since there was more compliance. Planning and Zoning Director Bill Neville said there is enough money to get through this summer, but not enough to start the position early in summer 2018. Fiscal years run from June 30 to July 1.
The additional $3,300 would come within the Planning Department’s budget, via permit revenues or other means.
The budget also sets aside $985,500 for improvements to the Northside Park complex. These would include a new ceiling, new garage doors and renovations to the lobby.
Other renovations to the complex will involve de security measures, as Homeland Security inspected the property and recommended a remote locking system and a keyless entry to the lobby. City officials are in the process of fortifying their facilities, starting with barricades in front of City Hall, after Homeland Security presented a security study to the Police Commission in January.
Other final approved budget items were a GPS system for Eagle’s Landing Golf Course at $25,000. In addition to helping golfers track yardage to the next hole, course golf pro Bob Croll said it would have other benefits.
“It does improve the pace of the game and lets us know where players are, so people aren’t waiting on golfers to finish,” he said. “It also does save us on labor costs, because we’re not required to have people out there and we can manage it from the pro shop.”
While the budgeted amount was for $25,000, Croll estimated that the GPS system would cost around $16,000 or less, considering price negotiations.
The council also agreed to increase the fee for extra trash pick-ups from bulk containers from $75 to $100 per visit, regardless of how many containers were on the site. Officials also eliminated the $20 fee for 300-gallon containers since only a few businesses or hotels use those trash cans.
Bumping up the fee would generate around $15,000 in revenue.
At the end of discussion, approximately $180,000 went unspent. At Budget Manager Jennie Knapp’s recommendation, the council agreed to move that money back to the reserves to rebuild up the backup cushion.
Councilman Tony DeLuca said that this year’s process left him concerned for the next two years, as the city’s policy is to work with the constant yield.
“We’re always asking [Knapp] to hold the line. As I look at the trends, expenditures are up and revenue stays flat or goes down,” he said. “We have to talk about the uglies … room tax, parking meters and an increase in tram fares. We have to talk about decreasing our expenditures, like tax differential can do. I think we have to … have those conversations this year.”