Maybe it was an offhand remark or a subtle political jab, but Berlin Mayor Gee Williams’ comment this week about seeking a county tax differential for the town was one of the waning year’s most surprising endings.
For county residents who haven’t been following Ocean City’s decades-long pursuit of a better tax deal with Worces- ter County government, a tax differential in this instance is a rate that’s adjusted downward to reflect the costs of serv- ices the tax-levying entity provides but the taxpaying entity doesn’t use.
Avoiding specifics — therefore avoiding an argument over whether the example is fair — say the Worcester County gov- ernment keeps and maintains a dozen pogo sticks for use by county residents. The cost of maintenance is paid by every taxpayer in the county. But Berlin has its own pogo stick sup- ply as does Ocean City. With a tax differential, the county’s pogo stick costs would be deducted from the local tax bills.
Breaking down the expenses of duplicate services is com- plicated, because it involves issues of the public good, de- grees of use and other nontangible factors. That makes Williams’ comment a little more startling, since Berlin de- pends on more county services than Ocean City does.
Another intriguing question, however, is what effect Williams’ comment will have on the county commissioners and their prolonged argument with the Town of Ocean City?
The concern that other jurisdictions might follow Berlin’s lead could cause them to become even more entrenched against the whole idea of differentials, as well as any conces- sions they might make to Ocean City to keep the peace.
Maybe Mayor Williams was just tossing out an idea that won’t go any farther than that, or maybe he said it to see what kind of reaction it produced both locally and at the county level. Maybe it was nothing at all.
But one thing is certain, it’s an end-of-the-year cliffhanger that entices the public to stayed tuned for the next episode.