Funding scheme introduced for Ocean City projects

The city is pursuing a multimillion-dollar dredging program for sediment-logged lagoons and canals.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Dredging projects and renovations to several key public buildings in Ocean City top the list of big-ticket items to be funded by a nearly $11 million bond order unanimously introduced Thursday night by City Council.

The projects were included in the city’s Capital Plan – a comprehensive plan to improve infrastructure across the city – approved last year by Council. The bond ordinance puts the money in place to complete these projects and improvements, City Business Administrator George Savastano told the Council.

According to the order, $2.8 million will go toward repairs or renovations to a number of major public buildings and facilities. They include a new roof for the Ocean City Community Center, renovations to the Beach Patrol headquarters, stage lighting for the Music Pier, and a new heating and cooling system for the historical museum.

Separately, $2.3 million will fund the construction and renovation of public facilities and grounds, including city-wide landscaping improvements, irrigation improvements, fence repairs , the installation of artificial turf on an athletic field on Tennessee Avenue, and a new scoreboard and bleachers at Carey High School. Field stadium.

Nearly $1.5 million will be used to purchase new vehicles and equipment. Among other things, the City will acquire a police patrol boat and two new dump trucks for work on the beaches and snow removal.

Additionally, the ordinance includes $2.5 million to continue the city’s multi-year dredging program for back bays and lagoons. The city cleaned up sediment-choked lagoons and canals to improve boating, swimming and bayside marinas.

The bond ordinance will go to a public hearing and final vote at the August 11 Council meeting.

City council unanimously introduces bond ordinance but splits over two council contracts for dredging services.

Although the Bonds Ordinance was introduced unanimously, the Board voted 5 to 2 for two consulting contracts related to the dredging program. The hiring of ACT Engineers Inc. to manage the dredging projects and to secure a five-year dredge permit for the city drew no votes from councilors Bob Barr and Tom Rotondi.

Barr and Rotondi claimed that the two contracts awarded to ACT – one was for $225,790 and the other for $104,306 – should have been put out to tender instead. They said soliciting public bids using the city’s group of pre-approved engineering firms would have likely resulted in lower prices.

“It just provides a level of comfort and protection, in my opinion,” Barr said of the bidding process.

Rotondi argued that it was unfair to ratepayers for the city to award ACT untendered contracts.

“It doesn’t look fair,” he said.

ACT has been an environmental and engineering consultant for Ocean City for several years. Mayor Jay Gillian and his administration have repeatedly praised the company for its expertise in handling the city’s dredging projects during this time.

Savastano, who is Gillian’s top administration official, said the no-tender contracts awarded to ACT on Thursday were based on the company’s qualifications to handle highly specialized dredging works.

“We determined they were best qualified for this particular project,” Savastano said.

Savastano explained that even if the city had solicited competitive bids for the dredging contracts and obtained lower prices, it would not have guaranteed that the work would have been done by a better qualified company than ACT’s.

City Business Administrator George Savastano told council that ACT Engineers Inc. is highly qualified for specialty dredging.

Council members who voted to award the contracts to ACT noted that dredging works are badly needed for lagoons and canals clogged with muddy sediments. Councilman Terry Crowley Jr. said the sediment buildup may be the worst he’s seen in 25 years.

“The rear bays are in very poor condition,” he said.

Referring to ACT, Crowley and councilor Jody Levchuk said they will be watching the company closely to ensure it meets the city’s high expectations for dredging projects.

ACT will not actually do the dredging work for the city. He will serve as the city manager in overseeing dredging projects. A dredging contractor will be hired later once the city decides which lagoons and canals will be included in the next round of the dredging program this fall and next spring.

In other matters Thursday, a handful of residents complained about the city’s decision to end Zoom live streaming for council meetings. Thursday was the first time in over a year that a Council meeting was not rescheduled on Zoom.

In the past, the public had the option to watch meetings on Zoom or attend in person during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least three residents sarcastically told Council they would help pay for the city to resume the Zoom option. One of them, Kathy Hogan, was holding a $5 bill in her hand.

Hogan and other residents said Zoom meetings are convenient for people who can’t attend meetings in person. They also said Zoom meetings made local government more accessible and transparent to the public.

“We want our people to participate in our government and not block them for any reason,” said Rick Bertsch, a local resident who wants Zoom meetings to continue.

Ocean City resident Kathy Hogan urges Council to resume the Zoom option for their meetings.

The city council began livestreaming meetings on Zoom during the pandemic. One resident, Robert Forman, told Council he has an underlying health condition that makes it safer for him to watch meetings on Zoom. Forman appeared at Thursday’s meeting wearing a surgical-style mask to protect against COVID-19.

Another resident, Donna Moore, said she wants the city to livestream city council, planning board and zoning board meetings on Zoom. She asked the Board to approve a resolution formalizing her request for all three boards to have Zoom options.

Council members Levchuk and Karen Bergman have indicated that they would be willing to approve such a resolution.

“I think that would be a really good way for us to continue to be transparent,” said Bergman, who serves as vice chairman of the council.

After the meeting, Council Chairman Peter Madden said the Council had made the decision to end Zoom meetings as the pandemic began to wane.

“There was no reason other than to resume normal activities,” he said in an interview.

Madden indicated that he would be willing to consider reinstating the Zoom option if that’s what the rest of the Council wants to do.

“I’m happy to do what’s best,” he said.

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