OCEAN CITY – Although the city’s local municipal budget decreased from $71.9 million last year to a proposed $69.7 million this year, taxpayers will see an increase in their real estate property tax bills for 2014 if City Council approves the spending plan next month.
A budget with an increase of $1.12 million in the tax levy was presented to council during its Thursday night meeting at the Ocean City Free Public Library. A second reading will be held April 24.
The increase, which represents 1.46 cents for every $100 of assessed home value, means the owner of the average $500,000 home will pay $73 more in local taxes this year. Coupled with a proposed 1.5 percent increase in the tax levy for the 2014-15 school budget that was introduced by the Board of Education on Wednesday, representing an increase of $14.51 to the average homeowner, plus debt service of $3.38, Ocean City taxpayers are facing close to $100 in higher taxes this year.
Frank Donato, the city’s chief financial officer, said the loss of $135 million in tax ratables in 2013 was largely to blame for the tax increase. Because that amount is significantly lower than the $800 million in ratables that Ocean City lost in both 2011 and 2012 due to tax appeals, Donato said the city’s implementation of a three-year compliance plan to bring properties to market value is working. As proof, he pointed out that appeals have slowed from highs of 800 in those years to 35 this year.
Half of the audience of 40, many of them youths, left the meeting before the budget discussion, having shown up solely in support of a new skate park proposed for the 500 block of Asbury Avenue.
Steve Besaris, librarian at Ocean City Intermediate School and a resident of the 3500 block of Bay Avenue, was one of three adults who spoke in favor of the location next to the Sixth Street fire house. Gregory Whalen, a resident of the 3100 block of Bayland Drive, introduced himself as an attorney and 50-year-old who still skates.
“Skateboarding is about the only thing I can do to get them off the iPad without complaining,” he said of his children. “I think it would be good because it would get them outside to get some exercise.”
As a result of the public showing, 1st Ward Councilman Mike DeVlieger requested that council use its next workshop to further explore the topic. DeVlieger also said he and Business Administrator Mike Dattilo had met earlier in the day with county officials to pursue funding for the skate park.
After much discussion about the soaring heights of new homes being built in the city’s Ocean City Homes section in the south end of town, with some of the newest construction reaching 41 feet, council agreed to convene a focus group to learn what neighbors in that area want. Dattilo will meet with 4th Ward Councilman Pete Guinosso, in whose ward the towering homes are being built, and at-large Councilman Keith Hartzell, who encouraged council to open participation to everyone affected by the situation, to devise a plan that will produce maximum input on the subject.