Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian and challenger Ed Price agreed that there was a clear difference between them during their debate Wednesday night at the high school.
With less than a week to go before the May 13 non-partisan
municipal elections, Gillian and Price debated for the final, and first, time.
Fairness in Taxes scheduled a debate between them on April 14, although Gillian
said from the outset he would be unable to appear at that debate.
Their forum on April 21 featured no public questions.
When they finally appeared side-by-side to answer questions publicly Wednesday night, their differences showed, but they also agreed on a number of issues.
They agreed that although there are a large number of districts in Ocean City, each neighborhood has its own personality and identity, which any reevaluation under the Master Plan would have to take into account.
They agreed Comcast is a “monster” and agreed the corporation is difficult to deal with. Gillian clarified Comcast promised an office in a seashore town, but not necessarily Ocean City, while Price said the city can only “offer what they can offer.”
Price pointed to pressure from Comcast as the reason the city doesn’t have city-wide free Internet access, while Gillian said the towers have been helping and the situation is improving.
They disagreed on many other issues, and how to handle some of their common concerns.
They agreed that in 20 years, they want to see Ocean City retain its tradition as “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” and see the beaches replenished, dredging finished and streets paved. They also both want to see boardwalk reconstruction complete, although Gillian said more of the boardwalk was complete than “just the one block” Price was giving the city credit for.
They agreed tradition was important. When it came to the Historic District, Gillian said it was time to go to the people and address their concerns, while Price said the whole city must be behind preservation of the Historic District for any effort to work.
On the topic of enforcing penalties on tourists who disregard the city’s ordinances, Gillian said the city enforces what it can and has a “Be Kind, Be Nice” approach. Price said the city must enforce the ordinances that are aimed at helping year-round residents, but agreed enforcement is difficult.
They spoke about the difficulties of holding utility companies accountable for cleaning up after their work.
“It’s difficult because if you put the hammer down, they disappear,” Gillian said. “We have ideas we’ve been trying to put in place, and it’s something we need to continue to address.”
“It’s a strain on our public employees when residents call in to complain,” said Price, who suggested a system by which resident s could file complaints using their smartphones. “It would save money on enforcing these problems.”
They agreed the police station is in terrible condition. However, while Price said he would like to see a police, fire and court complex at the 15th Street Fire Station, Gillian cautioned that consolidation can cost more money.
“It’s a matter of need vs. want,” Gillian said, adding the city would take advantage of any fiscally appropriate solutions when they presented themselves.
On the subject of the proposed skateboard park, Price said the city should’ve taken the concept to the people first, citing his experience in helping develop the library into a complete community center.
“When I was helping develop the concept for the library, we went out to the public asked people who didn’t use it why they didn’t use it,” Price said. “They said there was no food and you couldn’t get a cup of coffee there, and that’s why the café is in there.”
“The skateboard park should be vetted,” Gillian said, adding the process of securing the grant was a “placeholder” for a project the community has shown interest in. “We need to get out to the public and see what is the best avenue to take.”
Price called the Bayside Center the most underutilized asset in the city.
“It can be used by families who want to go there and have a picnic or anything else, but we don’t use it because it’s in disrepair,” Price said.
He raised the issue in response to the question about providing greater bayside access. Gillian said the city is constantly looking at what funding is available to help increase access, adding that the rights of the private property owners in that area need to be respected.
Price said the city needs to do a better job preventing “avoidable flooding,” and that the Merion Park project is advancing mainly at the insistence of a private citizen.
“We’re not going to have a private citizen with that kind of concern in every area where flooding is a problem,” Price said.
“We have identified the problems and we set aside $5 million in our capital budget for roads and drainage,” Gillian said.
Price spoke of his shop local program and the use of a rebate card to draw businesses to Ocean City and bring in traffic between January and April. Gillian puts pressure on the businessman to do more.
Price supports three-year tax breaks for new businesses as long as the city supports whatever program they’re bring in. Gillian trumpeted up consulting business people, and said tax breaks pass the burden onto the taxpayers.
They agreed employees were the city’s biggest asset, and that the city’s administration and council must be able to work together to accomplish their goals.
Wednesday’s debate was the final debate before voters go to the polls to vote for a mayor and three at-large council seats next Tuesday (May 13).