John Gehrig

Councilman John Gehrig said during a work session this week that work, such as clearing storm drains and paving streets, that were proposed as capital improvement projects should come out of the city’s operating budget.

(Feb. 26, 2021) Nearly a month after Ocean City Council members were asked to rank a list of capital improvement projects, more council comment is needed before they can determine what projects are more important than others.

During a Tuesday work session, Ocean City Council members met for a second round of discussions of possible capital improvement projects, including the possibility of burying utility lines on Baltimore Avenue between Division Street and 15th Street at a cost of $20.5 million.

According to a presentation given by City Engineer Terry McGean, the Baltimore Avenue project would include widening the sidewalks, improving landscaping to take advantage of an existing 75-foot right of way, and burying the utility lines.

The report stated that sections of Baltimore Avenue north of 15th Street and south of Division were completed in the 1990s, and this would help bring the sidewalks up to ADA compliance.

But because of the amount of planning the project will take, McGean suggested the funding would not be necessary until 2024.

He added that the city will need to put down a deposit of $200,000 to Delmarva Power to begin planning the project, while  the total cost of the planning phase, McGean said, would be close to $1 million.

When City Council members rated the projects, they were placed into one of five buckets: Critical, very important, important, less important, and future consideration.

The Baltimore Avenue project was ranked as critical, as were other projects like paving the streets that were built between the 1970s and 1980s, re-decking the entire Boardwalk over the course of two years, dredging canals within the city limits to an average depth of four feet, cleaning out the storm drains that build up sand and debris and cause flooding, and expanding the City Watch surveillance system to Baltimore Avenue and other locations as identified by police officials.

Street paving would cost $12.5 million, $10 million of which could come from state grants, and $2.5 million from the general fund. The money would not only go toward paving the streets, but also to replacing storm drains and upgrading sidewalks as needed.

Re-decking the Boardwalk would cost $2.26 million. The Boardwalk was last rebuilt in 2012 and 2013, and funded by bonds in 2012 for a cost of $6.1 million. While the structure under the decking is expected to hold up for 20 years, the decking has a life expectancy of 10 years.

Canal dredging will cost $2 million, $1.6 million of which will come from the general fund, storm drain cleaning is expected to cost $500,000, and expanding the City Watch surveillance system will cost $286,000.

Other notable projects that were ranked as “very important” include replacing the Chicago Avenue bulkhead, replacing storm drain outfalls in places like Fifth Street and Worcester Street, building a sports complex, adding an elevator to the fire headquarters, and making improvements to the downtown recreational facility.

Councilman John Gehrig said he did not believe routine maintenance like street paving and storm drain cleaning needed to be part of the capital improvement project budget, but instead should come out of the operating budget.

“They’re just things that need to happen,” he said.

While McGean agreed that storm drain cleaning needed to be part of the operating budget, street paving fits under the definition of capital improvements.

Gehrig also said if funding is an issue for some projects, like the Baltimore Avenue project, then the council should place a higher priority on projects like the sports complex that would generate revenue.

Councilman Lloyd Martin agreed with Gehrig, saying the money generated from a sports complex would help generate income needed to get some of the bigger projects done.

What Martin did not want to see is the City go $20 million into debt to cover the costs of burying the utility lines along Baltimore Avenue.

“Baltimore Avenue is going to have to be repaved,” McGean said. “The repaving has to happen.”

He added that there were several projects he and his team thought were far more important than others  –  like replacing a leaky roof at City Hall and replacing and fixing faulty storm drain outfalls. But it was not up to his team to rank the projects; it was up to the city council.

Councilman Tony DeLuca asked McGean to get the opinions of staff and others involved.

“I think that we need that information before we as a team decide what we need to do,” he said.

The rest of council agreed to table the discussion until that additional information is received.

Once the feedback from the staff and stakeholders is submitted, the council will approve the plan, choose which projects to setup as “Pay-as-you-go,” and then have McGean’s staff prepare a document for the capital improvement plan. Whatever plan is recorded on paper, will be adopted in March, followed by the adoption of the fiscal year 2022 pay-as-you-go projects in May, and select projects that will require bonds in the fall.

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