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A conversation on 911 call centers reminds Ocean City leaders of bitter tax battle with Worcester County Commissioners during the Strategic Planning Meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 29. 

Ocean City leaders remain bitter over legal battle with Worcester Commissioners

(Nov. 1, 2019) A discussion on implementing a city-based 911 call center raised the ire of Ocean City officials Tuesday, as they were reminded of their tax gripes against Worcester County government.

“911 calls are funded by phone taxes, that’s why Worcester County wants to hold on [to the call center],” Councilman Dennis Dare said, during Tuesday’s Strategic Planning Update meeting. 

Originally, the concern rested with call response time, which could be reduced by an average of 30 seconds if the call center was located in Ocean City, Fire Chief Richie Bowers said.

However, the subject devolved into a conversation on Worcester County’s lack of financial contributions to Ocean City. The topic previously had been broached during a council meeting on Oct. 1, when Bowers had requested funding approval for additional staff. 

He argued that call volumes in both Ocean City and West Ocean City had increase by 20 and 13 percent, respectively, necessitating a larger staff to maintain quick response times. 

Mention of West Ocean City drew the council’s wrath.

Councilman Tony DeLuca asked whether the county was sufficiently covering the costs of providing fire and emergency services to West Ocean City, which is outside Ocean City’s corporate limits and falls under the county’s governmental purview.

City Budget Manager Jennie Knapp explained the county reimburses the resort $760 per call, but said it did not cover the cost completely. 

She also said about 80 percent of calls in West Ocean City were emergency services related. 

While the county did give the city around $1.2 million in grant funding to help pay for the costs, Councilman Dennis Dare argued 60 percent of the grant comes from Ocean City taxpayers. Essentially, the city has been paying itself $720,000, he said. 

Mayor Rick Meehan said he would write a letter to the county, requesting reimbursement for fire and EMS services provided in West Ocean City in 2018. 

The mayor had previously sent a letter to county officials on June 20, 2018, but never received a response, he said. 

At the strategic planning meeting, Meehan revealed that he was almost finished with the letter, and had suggested to the commissioners to establish medical response districts between the city and the county. 

The mayor said he would add the 911-call center request in the letter as well. 

Taxes have been a constant point of conflict between the city and the county. 

Ocean City has requested a tax differential — tax setoffs or credits for services duplicated by city and county governments — for several years. 

The commissioners, however, have always denied the city’s request, electing to issue grants as compensation instead. The issue eventually escalated into litigation, which also has not turned out in Ocean City’s favor.

Despite these setbacks, the city’s pursuit for tax differential seems to be ongoing. 

DeLuca asked Dare about the status of the “may” to “shall” issue at the strategic planning update meeting on Wednesday, and Dare responded it was unlikely the city would receive support from the General Assembly were it to seek relief from there.

“The state legislature won’t change this,” Dare said.

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