Hartzell, Residents Discuss Roads Referendum at Public Forum
The forum was held at the Ocean City Public Library on Saturday morning.
Councilman Keith Hartzell presented a proposed roads referendum and hosted a forum on the topic at Saturday morning's Ocean City Community Association meeting at the Ocean City Public Library.
Hartzell has suggested a nonbinding referendum that would ask voters if they would be willing to pay a special assessment, currently estimated at $125 per home, which would be used to address flooding, drainage and road problems.
Flooding, drainage and roads, according to many residents, have been problems the city has faced for decades.
"I'll do it any way people want to do it," Hartzell said. "I'll take all the criticisms and complaints...but, damn it, I just want to get it done."
The councilman explained that the forum is an attempt to make the process more transparent to residents following criticisms of a recently passed marina proposal.
"We're at the concept stage," Hartzell said. "Anything I put up here can be changed and altered in any way...this will be a long, long process...it will take many, many meetings and planning for the design element of this."
Hartzell's presentation, and the discussion that ensued, focused on where the funds that would be used to speed up flooding, drainage and road projects would come from.
Using an estimate of $50 million for the project over the course of 10 years, Hartzell presented a scenario in which half of the funds would come from the city's capital plan, leaving $25 million more that would need to be raised elsewhere.
The $50 million is not an official number, and Hartzell said he is waiting for the city's administration to get back to him with more concrete figures.
"We are asking the administration to get the number," he said. "We won't run the question without it...I'm asking, if we get that information, would you spend the money?"
One idea that was discussed was a $125 fee for Ocean City property owners. Hartzell said he believes this fee, which would total $1,250 for 10 years, would be a worthwhile investment because property values would improve, using a realtor's term, "curb appeal," to describe the effect improved roads have on a property's value.
Some residents who spoke at the meeting disagreed with parts of the presentation.
"I won't give you one penny for a concept," said David McGettigan. "Here's the problem...everything looks good on paper. It looks good, conceptually it makes sense, and then you do it and it doesn't work."
McGettigan said that at a recent fourth ward meeting, residents discussed how some city projects left them in more dire straits with regard to flooding than they had been in before.
"I would council that you consider not having this referendum this early," he said. "It's not the number. It's what's behind the number. It's the projects...projects that have made things worse. Here's my problem: I am not convinced that we have the personnel in this town to evaluate contracts and plans for flooding and drainage."
Hartzell responded, saying that "If it takes a citizen review board with all engineers on it, I'm all for that."
Hartzell said that, of the projects that have been completed, a high percentage have worked.
Another resident, Stan Duzy, expressed concerns about the economy.
"I just do not believe this is the right time to do it," he said. "I would support it in three to four years when the economy recovers and people can afford to pay an increased fee or assessment."
Michael Hinchman, who Hartzell called a successful businessman that he would be remiss not to listen to, said that a weak economy is precisely when work like this should be done.
"I'm more of an advocate for doing the job now," he said. "Because Ocean City is strong financially, and will always be strong financially, but the cost of doing work now is cheaper because of the recession."
Hinchman also suggested that the city has too many police officers, especially during the fall, winter and early spring months.
"I'm not talking about gutting the police department. I'm talking about slow attrition," he said.
Another resident, Mary Ann McCloskey, told the story of how her 82-year-old father struggles to get into his house because of flooding. She said that, despite getting no raises at her job, she would be willing to pay $1,250 to fix the issue.
"My father won't be here then," she said. "But I will."
The deadline to put the referendum on this November's ballot is August 9.
"We're up against a tight schedule as far as getting the question," Hartzell said.
If the question does not make it on to the ballot, Hartzell said the referendum will have to wait for another year.