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OP Budget Committee examines food, fire service

By Greg Ellison

(Jan. 6, 2022) The Ocean Pines Budget and Finance Committee launched discussions of next fiscal year’s budget on Dec. 22 with presentations from representatives of food operations and fire/ems services. The association’s fiscal year begins in May.

Matt Ortt Companies CEO Ralph DeAngelus, who oversees dining and catering services at the Yacht Club, Clubhouse Bar and Grille and Beach Club, said profit margins will probably shrink slightly in the year ahead.

“I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver,” he said.

Sales boomed last spring with the easing of covid-related restrictions, but DeAngelus said he does not expect that same level of market enthusiasm this year.

“I foresee a great year for banquets and good year for food and beverage, but I don’t think it will match last year,” he said.

Aside from the financial aspect of the business, DeAngelus said client response during 2021 was overwhelmingly positive.

DeAngelus said while overall profit levels might dip in 2022, the Clubhouse Bar and Grille is slated for an increase based on more play at the golf course.

“The more business they do, the more people that are going to come into the Clubhouse Grille,” he said.

Turning to fire and ems services, the 2022/23 budget outlook for the Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department was reviewed by President Dave VanGasbeck, Chief Steve Grunewald and Capt. Harvey Booth.

Based on increased call volumes and steadily decreasing volunteer ranks, department officials want to hire two new full-time staff in the year ahead.

“We’ve done a risk analysis to determine that we need the two positions that were asking for,” VanGasbeck said.

Grunewald said the fire department answered approximately 1,700 calls in 2020, of which more than 280 were within 10 minutes apart.

“There’s been several times where we’re running three to four calls within a half-hour time period,” he said.

Booth said the total number of calls in 2021 would likely go higher.

“In 2021, we’re going to run about 1,800 ambulance calls,” he said.

For contrast, Booth compared call numbers from the mid-1980s, when he joined the department, with the current requests for help.

“Back in 1985, we ran 255 calls,” he said.

In addition, Booth said the department’s 12 full-time employees serve dual roles as firefighters and EMTs.

“All are rescue-trained and can drive fire trucks,” he said.

The proposed new hires would continue that practice.

“Part of the reason we want to add a couple full-time EMTs and firefighters is because we really struggle to have a full crew to get out for these fire alarms,” he said.

Bolstering volunteer members has become more difficult as the population ages, Grunewald said. He put the median age of Ocean Pines residents at just under 60.

“Once they join, it takes a year to get onboarded,” he said. “It is getting increasingly difficult to get this equipment out the door.”

Grunewald said the department relies heavily on career staff to compensate for the volunteer shortage.

“Most of the volunteers we get are retired from elsewhere,” VanGasbeck said.

The fire department’s initial proposed budget request from the association includes a roughly $300,000 increase in expenses, going from about $722,000 in FY21/22 to $1.03 million for FY22/23.

VanGasbeck said total expenses are estimated to top $1.7 million in 2022, with Worcester County government expected to contribute about $800,000.

Of that sum, $300,000 is earmarked for fire service, with about $508,000 for payroll, equipment and transport duties.

Budget and Finance Committee Chair Dick Keiling said the group would look for ways to close the gap between expenses and income as the budget process proceeds.