Staff members who wine and dine clients to promote Ocean City as a tourist destination now have an official expense account and solid guidelines to do their schmoozing.
At a work session Tuesday, City Council members unanimously approved an entertainment policy for select officials to pay for meals and other incidental expenses associated with tourism. City Manager Terry McGean said the vote was essentially a formality, as the city did not have a policy in place and the efforts are becoming more necessary as increased emphasis is placed on promotions and conventions.
“As we have grown our sales staff at the convention center, both for the convention center itself, for special events, for sports marketing, they need to take potential clients out to dinner … that happens a lot of times,” McGean said. “We had no real formal policy for how to handle that. What this policy does is it allows for it.”
The allowances apply to select staff — the director of tourism and business development, convention center director, director of sales, director of special events, sports sales manager and convention sales manager.
“It’s only those people that really, by their specific job function, are supposed to be selling the city,” McGean said.
The policy establishes guidelines that adhere to IRS regulations for business expenses and requires necessary documentation for expenses. It designates specified expenses as “reasonable,” such as food, gratuity, beverages and transportation fees. Alcoholic beverages are allowed as long as their cost is included in the per person amount established in the policy, which is three times the federal per diem rate. In Ocean City, the federal rate is $31 per person, per day. The policy sets the rate at $93.
According to the staff report, the estimated cost for staff members to take advantage of the policy is $7,500 a year. The total is included in the tourism’s fiscal 2023 budget.
“This is essentially to formalize a way for our sales staff really to do their job,” McGean said of the policy before the council’s unanimous vote.