Petition Against Bond for Ocean City Convention Center Project - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Petition Against Bond for Ocean City Convention Center Project

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OCEAN CITY, Md.- A petition is creating some debate in Ocean City over the construction of a 1,200-seat, two-story theater at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center on Coastal Highway. The Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice is the group which filed the petition. Officials from the group say they are not against the project itself, but are concerned with the decision to borrow approximately $8.5 million to construct it.

The construction will continue as planned, but the petition could mean some significant changes with how it is paid for if the group gets the necessary 1,226 signatures in Ocean City. Currently the project is being paid for by a bond of $8.5 million. Town officials say it will be paid back over the next decade with money from a food and beverage tax which affects tourists more than residents. However if the petition is successful, this money will instead come from the general fund, according to the town solicitor.

Tony Christ is one of the main advocates for the petition and has been leading the charge to get signatures. He said borrowing more money is the last thing the city needs.

"I'm very concerned," he said. "We're eclipsing $100 million in bond debt with this project."

Christ had applied for the petition numerous times, but was denied due to incorrect formatting. After what he said was seven attempts, his petition was accepted by the town of Ocean City. The town said this number was closer to three or four attempts at most.

"There's a very basic right we've had in America," said Christ. "And it's the right to carry a referendum. And that's a time where regular people actually can remind the government who the boss is."

Meanwhile, others who worked hard to plan the project such as Peck Miller said the petition was destructive. He said Christ's thought was in the right place, but that the change would actually mean more of a burden on taxpayers.

"Nothing that Mr. Crist is putting forward makes any sense at all," he said.

He said the center is a crucial part of the town and that the construction project would just make it more essential for residents.

"It's part of our growth," he said referring to the project. It's part of how we're sustained. Every business in town here lives and dies by the convention center during the off-season."

Ocean City Solicitor Guy Ayres accepted the petition on behalf of the town. On a legal basis, he said it was an appropriately formatted petition, but he said it would be destructive if enough signatures were gathered. He said residents would face higher property taxes since the government would be forced to use the general fund to finance the project.

"If you take that out of the bond ordinance," he said referring to the project. "Then the only way for the town to... fulfill their contractual obligations would be to put the burden on our property tax payers, which makes no sense whatsoever."

On top of the $8.5 million paid by the bond, the Maryland Stadium Authority would also contribute to the project. Maryland is paying $5.7 million for the project. Christ has until Nov. 20 to gather the 1,226 signatures.

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