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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Run it like a business

Dear Editor,

Last night I attended the Council's capital workshop meeting. The Council and the Administration both deserve credit for having this meeting two months ahead of last year's first capital workshop meeting. Anytime you have public discussion of major ideas/proposals with large dollar amounts is a tribute to the people running the process.

Having said that, I would like to share several observations/suggestions I made during citizen comment.

1. I have previously asked council to pass a resolution that the contract for any expenditure larger than "x" amount be reviewed by our solicitor. Read avoid another Grasmick/ipe wood mishap where there was no solicitor review.

2. Both present and past CFO's have always tried to gradually increase debt service every year -irregular debt service (principal and interest) makes the budget more difficult. True. With the severe economic downturn, as Council President Shepherd mentioned, we are getting very good prices for road repaving. I think this is true for most large expenditures today. Consequently, as opposed to spending $5 million per year for the next 3 years the City should consider accelerating its capital expenditures to take advantage of cost savings. I am not advocating more -just faster. The value proposition to consider is how much can you save by doing $3 million or $4.5 million in roads now, as an example, versus $1.5 million per year. The cost of money for Ocean City is 4.5%. Can you save 20% or 30% now versus historical costs?

3. As I understand it, the new visitor's center will be off the new causeway. This makes no sense to me. Why should you have to leave the island to go to the new visitor center. The present location on 9th street for the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center is ideally located. This building was formerly for sale. Have the NJDOT not build a new building and instead use the funds to purchase the present building on 9th Street. Also, you want as much critical mass in or near downtown to help the downtown.

4. I toured the Police Station with the Chief Callahan several months ago. I believe we do not need a new police station but the following changes should be made. One, the police deserve the right to privacy on the second floor where they office. On this floor is the public records room which the public has access to. This room should be on the first floor where the welfare office is presently located. Move the welfare office elsewhere. Two, the Chief does not like being arrested to come through the same door that the general public enters. A separate entrance should be made on the side facing the street (on the west side), This is a perfect location for the entrance given that is where the jail cells and related areas are for those being held. Lastly, the police station does not have adequate parking. The City should approach the owners of the former Bookers Restaurant property for a 75’ wide slice of land. What developer wants to build in this environment anyway? Do you think the Scarborough property would have been sold to the City in a more robust real estate market? I often wonder whether the entire Booker's site ought to be parking in that it is almost equidistant from the boardwalk and downtown.

5. The employees located in the City Hall Annex should be moved to the 15th and West building after the library moves out. The City Hall building should be razed and replaced with parking on the entire parcel. The most important downtown block would have a lot of needed parking.

6. A novel idea might be to approach the NJDOT who have "taken" the Tackle Direct building (only to knock it down eventually) and move it down 9th street to the parking lot next to the bus station at 9th and Haven. I have long thought this building is extremely attractive and would be a waste to tear down. Just pay NJDOT a dollar (it will save them the demolition costs) and move it. I see wires only crossing 9th street to temporarily bypass. Maybe that should be the new Visitor's Center or relocate the City Hall Annex employees to the Tackle Direct building. In any event, all you have is the cost of the move (2 or 3 short blocks), hook-up of utilities and foundation work. Maybe that is cheaper than a new Visitor Center off the island or the other idea I mentioned above. The building is beautiful and would add a lot to 9th street if more prominently located.

As good as the meeting was last night, I hope Council and the Administration gives consideration to my ideas. Some of ideas I think are not traditional and even outside the box. The common theme is cost effectiveness and stretching our capital dollars -just like businesses are doing now.

Michael Hinchman

Posted by Michael Hinchman at 1:48 AM