Hartzell: 'What We Need Is a Citywide Flood Mitigation Program'
Councilman Keith Hartzell backs off a push for a nonbinding public referendum on a special road-improvement assessment.
In what he's calling "the most transparent thing (City Council) has ever done," Councilman Keith Hartzell is going back to the drawing board with a proposal to fix Ocean City's oft-flooded roads.
Hartzell had proposed a nonbinding public referendum for the the November election: Would voters be willing to pay a special assessment to flood-proof and pave Ocean City streets at a much quicker pace?
But after hearing public feedback — including some passionate voices at a Saturday forum sponsored by the Ocean City Community Association — Hartzell said Tuesday he won't ask voters to pay for something that's not clearly defined.
"Let's get a better handle on what's going to get mitigated," Hartzell said.
He said he will ask City Council President Michael Allegretto to request two things from the city administration: the total cost and end result of a complete overhaul of Ocean City roads. He said he would hope to see the the information delivered in time for City Council's capital budget meetings in September.
Part of what Hartzell hopes to define for Ocean City taxpayers is to what degree re-engineered roads can solve flooding problems.
Hartzell's suggestion of a nonbinding referendum on a time-limited roads assessment was a bold political move designed to address a common and universal complaint of Ocean City taxpayers: the condition of streets that flood not only during storms but during uncommonly high tides even in dry weather. The conditions often require property owners to move vehicles to high ground to save them from saltwater damage.
Mayor Jay Gillian's administration designates about $2.5 million per year for road repairs, and Hartzell's suggestion was to find a way to double the investment and halve the time to complete all road improvements.
But the politically sensitive part of his proposal: to ask voters if they'd be willing to foot the bill.
"It was always non-binding," Hartzell said. "This has always been about the taxpayers."
In his presentation to the Ocean City Community Association on Saturday, Hartzell noted that the city has cut its budget and eliminated full-time positions through attrition, and he said it's not feasible to fund a massive road improvement project within the constraints of the existing city budget.
But he said he's determined to keep the issue on the forefront.
"I want to get the public going forward with this," Hartzell said. "I'm going to stay on this till it's solved."