(May 24, 2019) City Council members on Monday ratified several changes to the city code, including sections involving multiple zoning ordinances and altering the labor code to include some firefighters in the city’s pension plan.

Councilmembers on May 6 voted 5-1 for a first reading of the latter, to adopt changes included in the 2019-2022 collective bargaining agreement between the Town of Ocean City and the Career Fire Fighter Paramedics Association of Ocean City, IAFF Local 4269.

According to a summary provided to the council, the changes restore eligible IAFF plan participants to the defined benefit plan and enact a 9 percent contribution rate for certain participants hired after June 30, 2013. The fiscal impact over three years was listed at $54,000.

This time, the vote was 6-1 in favor. Only Councilwoman Mary Knight voted against the measure.

Councilman John Gehrig, meanwhile, said he would hold his nose in a “yes” vote. Gehrig has been a frequent critic of the negotiation process that led to the collective bargaining agreement.

“Once again, I think this is a step backwards and a big mistake, but it is part of a larger package – that I don’t really like either,” he said. “The unknown alternative is not very appealing.

“This will be the last time you have to hear me say this, but I promised that every single time it came up that I would say it: This is, I believe, a mistake,” Gehrig continued. “I don’t think I’ve ever voted for a mistake, but I’m going to officially do it twice.”

Knight in a previous meeting said she would vote against the measure for the sake of consistency, because she previously opposed the IAFF contract.

In a related move, the councilmembers voted 7-0 to amend the city labor code, “detailing the IAFF impasse panel procedure if negotiating parties are unable to reach an agreement.” City Solicitor Guy Ayers during the first reading on May 6 said such procedures existed for negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police, but not for the IAFF.

 Approved with less controversy were several zoning items related to a proposed land swap between the Town of Ocean City and the Wenzlaff Family LLLP. In the deal, the city would consolidate land in the area of 66th Street for a planned water treatment plant, while the Wenzlaff Family would get additional space for an Advance Marine boating storage facility.

Approved 6-0 was a rezoning application from LC-1, Commercial Zoning District with Public/Governmental Overlay Zone, to BMUD, or Bayside Mixed Use Zoning District. Knight was not in the room during the vote.

Councilmembers also by a 6-0 vote, without Knight, approved a second reading for an ordinance to amend city code to adopt seven zoning code proposals approved during a March 26 work session.

Finally, by a 6-0 vote with Councilman Matt James not in the room, the City Council approved an ordinance to purchase 5.78 acres of land at 12315 Sinepuxent Road in Berlin, for runway clearance at the Ocean City Airport.

According to the meeting packet, the mayor and City Council, during an April 30 closed session, unanimously approved the purchase for $145,000, contingent upon a favorable environmental assessment.

Councilman Mark Paddack, on May 6, noted the purchase was from a reimbursable funding source, with 90 percent coming from the Federal Aviation Administration, 5 percent from Maryland Aviation, and 5 percent from the mayor and City Council.

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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