FIT looking to update its image, become value-finding group

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OCEAN CITY — With a mission to serve taxpayers and residents in a fact-finding and advisory capacity, providing both city officials and citizens the resources needed to actively promote effective and efficient government, Fairness in Taxes was formed in 1988. The organization, now known around the city as “naysayers,” needs an image change, its chairman says.

Founded by the late Bill McCarthy, the non-profit grew to 3,000 members, as a city watch-dog in the areas of city budget, school board budget, taxes and any other civic activity that could affect taxpayers.

Somewhere along the way, FIT President Michael Hinchman acknowledged, FIT became known as naysayers. At a March 2 meeting, Hinchman said it was time to update the organization’s reputation. It’s not, he said, all about saying no.

“It’s very important; we have to project ourselves as the organization that is looking for value for the money spent,” he said.

“We are trying to look at this as a value proposition,” he said. “We have scarce resources.”

Using a recent example of the city seeking to replace chain link fencing at the Fifth Street recreation field, Hinchman said City Council President Michael Allegretto told him it needed to be replaced.

“I said ‘what’s wrong with these fences?’” Hinchman said. “You can’t take a truck and run them down.”

Hinchman said the answer – that the fences are “rough” – disappointed him.

“They’re replacing three fences around playgrounds and nets around golf courses and ball fields,” he said.

Hinchman had nothing but praise for invited guests at the meeting, the city’s Chief Financial Officer Frank Donato and tax assessor Joe Elliott.

“Frank does a really, really good job describing the budget,” he said.

“You need a lot of money to run Ocean City,” he said. “The amount is almost irrelevant; it’s how you allocate that money.”

Hinchman said he would continue to seek a “bottom up” analysis, department by department budgetary process.

Mayor Jay Gillian said his administration has been working with department heads to provide just that. He said city employees are being cross trained and moved; services are being consolidated to keep costs down. Each department, he said, is under review.

Hinchman said the perception of the city departments is that the city is “undermanned,” with employees continuing to do more with less.

“I have no idea, overstaffed or understaffed, or just right where we should be,” Hinchman said.

Citing statistics showing the city reduced the work force from 298 to 252; he said he was still unsure if 252 provided value.

He said that he would report back to FIT members after digging into the situation more.

“I don’t know how many we need,” he said. “It’s about value.”

Hinchman said the organization would continue to review the municipal budget.


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