A bus driver sits at a stop near the inlet in downtown Ocean City. With a new proposal coming to the mayor and council in November, seasonal employees like bus and tram drivers, police officers and others could see pay increases.

In a vacation resort, where business operations and visitor totals reach full bloom in the summer, seasonal workers are one component that neither the tourism industry nor local government can do without.

That’s why, as worker shortages plague virtually every industry across the country, Ocean City officials are looking for ways to recruit and retain the employees that keep things going during the busiest times.

Ocean City Budget Manager Jennie Knapp said this week that she plans to present a proposal to the Ocean City mayor and Council in November that would raise the minimum pay for the city’s lowest tier employees. The change, which would go into effect Jan. 1 if approved, would mainly raise the wages of the city’s roughly 800 seasonal workers.

The proposal comes on the heels of a summer wrought with seasonal staffing struggles, with the wage details in line with comparable positions in other jurisdictions.

“From my understanding, this summer was a perfect firestorm,” Knapp said. “We did not get the J1 [international] students we normally get. Public works, maintenance, usually relies really heavily on J1 students, as does the transportation division, not for bus drivers but for bus cleaners mainly … There were a number of employees who elected not to come back to work because of covid …. we are still continuing to feel the effects of that.”

Seasonal city jobs include police, public safety officers and Beach Patrol guards, tram drivers, and some public maintenance employees and bus drivers. According to the city’s pay scale, the lowest paid employees, or grade 100s, make the state’s minimum wage, with rates going up from there based on skills and qualifications.

For example, Knapp said bus drivers make more because they are required to have a commercial driver’s license, passenger endorsement and other qualifications. Presently, drivers make $15.60 an hour, which just recently ticked back down after officials temporarily raised summer wages to $19.89. The change was made to help recruit and retain more drivers as dismally low numbers threatened the number of deployments.

Knapp called the bump “an anomaly to the pay table,” as officials are now looking at the bigger picture with the wage increase proposal.

While Knapp did not have exact numbers for the increase, as it has not yet been presented to council, she said it will raise the pay of all seasonal employees by increasing the base.

“If this passes, then it would increase the minimums for the pay grade,” she said. “And then we would review it annually to see where we are with the market and if further adjustments need to be made.”

She said officials are researching comparable wages for key positions in an effort to stay competitive and offer a pay scale that will give individuals a reason not only to work for the city, but to stay.

“We went out and did research where other agencies are paying for certain key positions and we are … trying to make it equitable for those key positions and adhering to our pay table from there,” Knapp said.

Minimum wage in Maryland is currently $11.75 and set to go up to $12.50 Jan. 1. The pay rate for the lowest skilled workers in the state is then set to gradually continue increasing until it reaches $15 in 2025.

Knapp teased the wage proposal during a transportation committee meeting last week, when officials said that the season ended like it began — with a shortage of bus drivers.

Transportation Manager Steve Bartlett said the current number of seasonal drivers on the roster is 47, which is expected to drop to 43 on Nov. 1. The typical driver contingent is between 57 and 60, he said. The division also has five full-time bus driver positions, which Public Works Director Hal Adkins said may increase in the future to meet needs.

Knapp said she also expects that the number of drivers could bump back up at the start of the new year if the new wage proposal passes.

This story appears in the print version of the Ocean City Today on Oct. 22.

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