The General Assembly has passed legislation that would let local governments give tax breaks to two Ocean City amusement parks, both of which have been grappling with skyrocketing property tax bills.
The bills, which were sponsored by Del. James N. Mathias Jr., could help keep Trimper Rides and Amusements and the Jolly Roger Amusement Park in business. Both resort mainstays have struggled with escalating property taxes because of the real estate boom.
"They're both very vital to the continued success of Ocean City," said Mayor Richard W. Meehan. "I believe the [City] Council will seriously consider providing some kind of relief so that we will continue to be able to offer those types of amenities in Ocean City."
Meehan could not say whether the relief would come this year or next year, or how much it would be. But he said he expected both businesses would come to the council soon with their requests.
The pleas for relief began about a year ago, when Trimper began talking about selling after its property assessment jumped from $24 million in 2004 to $62 million in 2007. The Trimpers, who have owned the business since 1890, appealed to town and county officials for a tax break.
The local governments sympathized. But under state law, they could not help. So the governments and the family turned to Mathias, a former Ocean City mayor, to craft enabling legislation.
A separate bill was drafted to help Jolly Roger, which is owned by longtime Ocean City businessman Charles "Buddy" Jenkins Jr.
Meehan said the town initially wanted the state to pass a tax credit for amusement parks, but that wasn't feasible. So the two bills were the next best choice, he said.
Virgil Shockley, president of the Worcester County Board of Commissioners, said the Trimpers' original request was to roll their taxes back to 2004 levels, so that would be the starting point of the county's negotiations with the family. He said the county was not sure how much it could swing in tight budgetary times but that any relief likely wouldbe on a year-to-year basis and include stipulations that the property remain with the family.
"This bill says, `Yes, we can talk to you,'" Shockley said. "I don't think you're going to see a deal where we'll say, `We'll give you a tax break from here to eternity.'"