printed 01/10/2020

The best way to describe the contest between the governments of Worcester County and Ocean City for ownership of a major sports complex is that it’s complicated.

Common sense would seem to dictate that the chances of landing such a facility would be greater if they worked together. But that simplistic viewpoint fails to acknowledge the great divide between the city and county governments.

It is, in short, all about the money.

With elected officials in both governments loathe to raise property tax rates, they must find another way to generate income if they are to keep their taxpaying constituents happy.

That’s why Ocean City has been seeking a county tax differential (lower tax rate) all these years. A break on the county taxes for resort property owners would give municipal officials more flexibility with the city’s levies, at least at some point.

The county, on the other hand, can’t afford to give up the millions of dollars it receives from Ocean City, and would have no choice but to transfer that burden to mainland taxpayers.

Although the county commissioners have resisted the resort’s push for that tax break so far, they may not be able to do that forever. That makes major economic development on their turf and increased tax revenues more critical. A sports complex somewhere in Worcester would be a huge boost.

Ocean City, meanwhile, continues to chafe over the exodus of commercial operations to West Ocean City, ostensibly to escape a county property tax city officials contend is too high.

That, of course, is not the only reason for their departure. Other causes are the higher cost of resort land, an upside down zoning code that supplants commercial properties with high-value residential redevelopment, and a shift in the market as families pursue less expensive single-family housing.

To counter these losses, the resort needs its own economic development, which translates into a sports complex in town, or as close to it as possible.

Regardless, a sports complex at this juncture is just an idea. Maybe it will work, and maybe not. When that answer arrives, the matter of what goes where will become a more serious question.

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