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Commissioners see move as means of control and as generator of revenue

(Aug. 23, 2019) Rental property owners will be required to obtain a Worcester County rental license in the new year, following the Worcester County Commissioners’ passage Tuesday of a taxation and revenue measure.

Rental property owners in Ocean City will not be required to obtain a county license since they are already operating under the Ocean City rental license program. An application and license fee structure for the county program have yet to be developed.

According to Ed Tudor, the county director of review and permitting, rental owners must submit a floor plan and designate which sections of that plan may be rented. The floor plans do not have to be certified as long as they are accurate.

Tudor estimated that the county will need to hire two employees to manage the new rental licensing program. The county would also need to implement a public information campaign to educate renters on the program. Tudor said if the campaign is aggressive enough, thousands of license applications could result.

During the public comment portion of the session, Pocomoke resident and real estate broker Rico diMattia said the license could be an extra burden for some who are licensed by other authorities. He said the license should be waived for rental operators who are Realtors.

“We’re already licensed real estate brokers and operators,” diMattia said. “We’re audited. We have a history with the state.”

Commissioner Bud Church, of the Berlin-West Ocean City District, counted that since the goal of the program is to “level the playing field,” there should be no exceptions, no matter who is already licensed or how much income their rental generates. 

Pocomoke District Commissioner Joshua Nordstom said he thought the county license program would be an improvement for rentals, but that he had reservations about the ambiguity of certain portions.

“I feel very uncomfortable voting moving this forward without a fee structure in place because we’re basically saying ‘We’re going to do something. We just don’t know how much we’re going to charge and we’ll tell you that later,’” Nordstrom said.

Ocean Pines Commissioner Chip Bertino had similar reservations regarding the cost of the program. He advised waiting to see if the program could pay for itself before the county began implementing the program and adding staff.

Ocean City Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic, however, moved to approve the rental license program.

“We can keep pushing this down the road forever,” Mitrecic said. “Sometimes, I think that’s what we try to do instead of standing up and voting on it. We need to have a rental license in effect in the county.”

Church seconded the motion, adding that the county could manage the rental license program with its current staff and hire additional staff if needed.

Mitrecic highlighted that there is still plenty of time to determine the fee structure and other costs following the passage, as it will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2020. The extra time to design the program was still not comforting to all.

“I don’t think that having everything together for the next meeting would be too much,” Bertino said. “I’m very uncomfortable voting without having all the pieces in front of us.”

With Nordstrom abstaining and Bertino voting against, the bill passed, thus requiring all rental properties in Worcester County to obtain a rental license. By 2020, county staff must draw up an application and fee structure, decide if additional employees are needed, determine what software to use and how to track the program.

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