(April 12, 2019) Although the Downtown Association received increased funding of $2,000 this week for staffing the Boardwalk information cottage on Caroline Street, the Ocean City Council asked for more details before approving a freestanding ATM machine at the location.
The two-year memo of understanding presented to the council Tuesday by Executive Director Mary Ann Manganello showed increased annual staffing costs, from $7,000 to $9,000, over the next two years.
Manganello said a mix of paid staff and volunteer had operated the information cottage, with the funding increase intended to reduce use of the latter.
“It’s mainly so that we can have a little higher caliber of people working in the Boardwalk booth,” she said.
Employment statistics from the Downtown Association, which operates the cottage between early May and early September, show 959 staff hours were worked last summer, including 571 by paid employees and 388 from volunteers.
While volunteer support is always appreciated, Manganello said the goal is to incorporate fewer unpaid and more paid hours for cottage staffers this summer.
“We really like to have people in there that are used to being there all the time, know what they’re doing and can give out correct information,” she said.
Between continued development throughout the resort and covering peak crowds during high-drawing events, such as the OC Air Show, volunteer support has proven ineffective at times, she said.
“When there’s a lot going on in the city, we need to make sure we have full coverage in there,” she said.
Councilman Tony DeLuca asked if the additional $2,000 funding request was included in the fiscal 2020 budget currently being finalized.
City Manager Doug Miller confirmed the proposed fiscal 2020 budget included the funding request.
The Downtown Association Council also suggested the cottage would be an ideal spot for an ATM machine,
“We get a lot of people in there asking for ATMs and also asking for change,” she said.
Manganello said after consulting with bank machine vendors, the north facing side of the booth would prove an ideal spot for an ATM.
“The company would own the machine and they would … also load the cash,” she said. “The Downtown Association would just get a nominal fee from each transaction.”
Based on her previous experience volunteering at the information booth, Councilwoman Mary Knight said the request for enhanced staff was reasonable.
“It’s amazing the amount of information they give,” she said.
Knight moved to approve the two-year MOU, which received unanimous support, but a separate motion for the ATM proposal was left in limbo.
Council President Lloyd Martin noted numerous Boardwalk merchants already have ATMs inside their businesses and asked if any were consulted for opinions.
“I don’t want to take away from somebody’s revenue stream if they’re getting money from [ATMs],” he said.
Although in agreement, Manganello said the presence of other cash sources has done little to stymie frequent inquiries at the information cottage.
“We still have people coming on a regular basis asking where’s the ATM machine,” she said.
Councilman Mark Paddack said the proposed location would provide a rare ATM option on the east side of the Boardwalk, along with the Bank of America outlet next to the tram station by South First Street.
“The rest of them are inside and on private property,” he said.
Paddack also echoed Martin’s request to consult with adjacent businesses containing ATM machines.
Councilman Matt James asked if the city’s agreement with Bank of America for its Boardwalk ATM would restrict another unit being installed outside the information booth.
Miller said the issue would require further research to confirm precise contract terms with Bank of America.
In 2018, roughly 25,000 visitors consulted the Boardwalk Information Cottage, which opens on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. during May, with hours expanding from noon to 8 p.m. all week from Memorial Day through Labor Day.