The Ocean City Council heard the fist round of fiscal year 2020 departmental budget sessions last week.

(April 12, 2019) The Ocean City Council opened fiscal year 2020 departmental budget sessions last Wednesday with the first of five meetings on each department’s request for a slice of the proposed $138 million operating budget.

City Manager Doug Miller said most of the two-dozen-plus staffing requests for the upcoming fiscal year were denied based on the council’s mandate to tighten the purse strings.

Budget Manager Jennie Knapp said only a pair of requested positions were added in the fiscal 2020 budget.

“We also need to consider each department’s request in the context of the budget as a whole,” she said.

First up last Wednesday was Director of Recreation and Parks Susan Petito, who highlighted the accolades Northside Park has received as the top resort destination.

“We are still identified in TripAdvisor as the number one thing to do,” she said.

The rec department’s fiscal 2020 funding request increased less than one percent over the prior year, Petito said.

“Each year we do defer projects,” she said.

Holding off on some projects, however, doesn’t eliminate the need for them at some point, Petito said, adding that roughly $1.2 million worth of work is under consideration for fiscal 2021.

Among the challenges Petito highlighted were continued infrastructure and deferred maintenance needs, especially considering that most of the resort’s recreation facilities are more than three decades old.

Also on the verge of entering its third decade is Eagle’s Landing Golf Course, where more than a million rounds have been played, PGA Pro Bob Croll told the council.

Even so, course superintendent Joe Perry added that only limited course upgrades — including golf cart bridge renovations and a greens roller — are scheduled for the upcoming fiscal 2020.

Also staying close to the budgetary line is the Special Events Department, with Superintendent Frank Miller reporting that expenses in the new budget would grow by about $9,000 and wages expense would rise by roughly $6,600.

Miller also noted the city’s tent rental contract, budgeted at $275,000 for fiscal 2020, would be rebid in January 2021.

Councilman Matt James asked if buying event tents would be less expensive.

“Only if you want to look at labor to set them up and someplace to store and maintain them,” Miller said.

Miller also said the vendor, Select Event Rentals, is responsible for cleaning and replacing damaged sections.

“When those things rip and get destroyed, and that happens a lot in our environment with wind, they’re replaced by new ones,” he said.

Tourism and Marketing Director Donna Abbott closed last Wednesday’s budget hearing by reporting that her department’s financial requests were cut by $400,000 to offset the city’s cost for producing special events.

Abbott said the tourism department’s proposed advertising budget is $5.7 million, and includes print, radio, television, online and outdoor formats. She also said the “Fun Family,” marketing campaign would return for one more season.

Abbott said the proposed fiscal 2020 budget is roughly $797,000, which includes a $300,000 allotment for the Tourism Advisory Board.

On the revenue said, Abbott said drawing more youth sports competitions to the resort is a priority.

“We are proposing to expand the branding of Ocean City as ‘Maryland’s Amateur Sports Destination,’ in this fiscal year,” she said.

On Thursday, Convention Center Executive Director Larry Noccolino told the council his request for fiscal 2020 is roughly $1.53 million, up a tick from the $1.48 million during the current fiscal year. He also reported that 18 concerts are slated for the Performing Arts Center in the 2019/20 fiscal year.

Discussions next flowed to the Water Department, with Jim Parsons, chief deputy director of Ocean City Public Works, noting the fiscal 2020 budget includes funds for several projects, including $400,000 to paint the water tower on 135th Street and $200,000 for water main upgrades.

Turning to the Wastewater Department, Parsons said capital projects on tap for fiscal 2020 include $700,000 for sewer line repairs and $685,000 to replace associated linings.

Transportation Manager Mark Rickards was up next and reported the proposed fiscal 2020 general fund contribution for his department is $1.4 million.

Rickards estimated bus fare revenues at $2.7 million, while Boardwalk trams are expected to net about $1.3 million. On the flip side, he projected bus-related expenses at $5.3 million and tram costs at roughly $890,000.

Councilman Dennis Dare, who said tram operations traditionally earn sufficient revenue to offset bus losses, proposed examining fare increases to boost revenue.

Last up on Thursday was Ocean City Airport Manager Jamie Giandomenico, who said the proposed operating subsidy for the facility is about $192,000, a decrease of $21,000 from fiscal 2019.

Department presentations resumed on Monday, with further meetings held on Wednesday and Thursday. Fiscal 2020 budget wrap up is scheduled for April 16, with a subsequent meeting held the following day if required.

The first reading for the budget ordinance is set for May 6 with second reading on May 20 before its adoption in June.

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