Ocean City Today

Towns, OPA present county budget requests

OC to appear in two weeks, ahead of response to suit over tax differential demand
By Brian Gilliland | Mar 08, 2018

(March 9, 2018) Though Ocean City’s turn at the dais will come in two weeks because Mayor Rick Meehan was in Annapolis testifying about wind turbines, the remaining Worcester County municipalities and the Ocean Pines Association made their annual budget requests of county government this week.

For the past few years, Meehan would come to the county commissioners and ask for a tax differential for replicated services between the resort and county. The county has not granted this request, and instead has treated it like the other municipalities by providing an unrestricted grant, basically a lump sum payment, in lieu of other methods of payment.

In January, the Ocean City Council filed suit against the county seeking a judge’s opinion on whether the resort is entitled to seek the differential, while the county has yet to reply. The reply is due after Meehan’s presentation, on March 26, though the county could file it earlier.

The commissioners did not offer comment on the requests it did hear, and took no formal action. County budget hearings begin next month.

Starting with Pocomoke City, the commissioners then heard from Snow Hill, Berlin and the Ocean Pines Association.

According to OPA General Manager John Bailey, the association has the greatest concentration of people in the county, but requests the fewest dollars from it on a per capita basis.

In total, the association is seeking about $170,000 more than it received last year, contained, mostly, in three areas: public safety, tourism and roads, bridges and drainage.

In new money, the association is seeking $100,000 for assorted roadwork. Bailey asked for $30,000 more for recreation, $15,000 more for Ocean Pines’ July 4 celebration and a $35,000 bump to police aid.

Since the OPA is a homeowners’ association and not a municipality, it does not get the unrestricted grant other towns in Worcester do and it’s funded by an association assessment levied on its membership. The basic annual assessment increased $30 this year, to $951, while waterfront lot owners pay extra.

All of the municipalities asked for flat funding of their restricted grants, but if extra money could be found, they also all said they would gladly accept it.

The county seat of Snow Hill’s request increased by the second largest amount at about $123,000, most of which is in a request to increase the amount the town receives in lieu of taxes on county-owned property in the town. Worcester County paid Snow Hill $150,000 on this last year, but Mayor Charlie Dorman said the real number is closer to $320,000, which is what would have been paid in taxes if the properties weren’t county-owned. Various small increases and decreases in other areas makes the net increase of $123,000 in the town’s request.

The property tax rate in Snow Hill is 86 cents per $100 of assessed value, and this year’s constant yield rate — the amount the town could charge to bring in the same amount of taxes as it had last year — is slightly lower at about 84.6 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The Town of Berlin is seeking basically flat funding, with a total increase of about $32,000 over what it received from the county last year. Only small amounts of money were increased or decreased in various areas, some controlled by state or county code rather than the whim of the county commissioners, accounts for the change.

Berlin’s property tax rate in 2017 was 68 cents per $100 of assessed value, and its constant yield rate for this year is 66.15 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Pocomoke City’s request actually decreased a bit from last year, coming in about $6,000 less than it received last year. Pocomoke City and Snow hill both got money from the county to update police radios, and while Snow Hill didn’t ask to retain that money, Pocomoke did, but wanted to put the money to a different use.

City Manager Bobby Cowger said he would like to use the $55,000 for radios the town received last year to help fund the replacement of water pipes in town that have been delivering foul-smelling and sediment-laden water to Pocomoke Heights residences for decades.

The decrease can be attributed to a small loss in the town’s ambulance grant, which was increased back in fiscal 2016.

Pocomoke City’s tax structure is unique in Worcester, as it sets two rates: one for owner-occupied homes and another for non-owner occupied. Owner occupied rates are 93.17 cents per $100 of assessed value in 2017, and the constant yield rate this year is 93.15 cents. For non-owner occupied properties, the 2017 rate is $1.13 per $100 of assessed value, while the constant yield rate fell to $1.12 per $100 of assessed value.

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