Town Considering Tax Hike, End to Recycling

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll explain the council’s decisions on the 2020 budget

A property tax increase and a suspension of curbside recycling are being considered by the Chestertown council in its draft budget for Fiscal Year 2020, introduced at the May 20 council meeting.

The draft, produced in two workshop sessions, proposes a $0.01 increase per $100 assessed value in the town’s property tax rate, resulting in roughly $57,000 of additional revenue. This would keep the revenue from property taxes level in response to a decrease in assessed value in the commercial sector. The town raised taxes $0.05 last year, from $0.37 to $0.42 per $100. This year’s raise is consistent with the state’s Constant Yield Tax Rate standard.

Mayor Chris Cerino said the suspension of recycling could be avoided if Kent County decides to restore the tax rebate it provided to the local towns until 2014. That year, it provided the five towns a total of $193,000 to cover services such as police protection, planning and zoning, water and sewer, and street repairs that the county provides in rural areas but not in the towns.

Curbside recycling, provided by Infinity Recycling, had an estimated cost of $68,000 for the fiscal year. The town has offered curbside recycling since 2010, when Kent County dropped its similar program. The two-stream program asked customers to separate containers (glass and plastic bottles and metal cans) from paper and cardboard. According to Ford Schumann, founder and president of Infinity Recycling, this provides a cleaner and more marketable product than the cheaper single-stream recycling, which some municipalities offer. Town residents will still be able to take their recycling to the county recycling centers, the closest of which is on Worton Road across from Worton Park. There is no charge for recycling dropoff.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, introducing the budget bill, said there will be a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 3, preceding the regular council meeting. Copies of the draft budget are available at Town Hall. The two biggest components of the budget, public safety ($1.7 million) and public works ($1.2 million), remain essentially flat; general government, including salaries and office expenses, is up by approximately $25,000 at $556,020.

The single largest decrease in expenses is in capital outlays, which at $228,000 is some $3 million below FY 2019. This is primarily due to completion of renovations to the marina, and is matched by a decrease in revenues representing the state and federal grants used for that project. The remaining capital projects, primarily renovations to the Washington Park playground, are also funded by grants and do not add to the town’s tax burden.

The decisions to increase the tax rate and to discontinue recycling were made at a May 14 workshop meeting, in response to a projected shortfall of about $65,000. The suggestion to cut recycling was made by Councilman Marty Stetson, who observed that the town’s recycling program is included in figures provided by the county to meet its state-mandated target of 15% recycling. He said the loss of the town’s contribution to that mandate could put pressure on the county to restore the tax differential so it could continue recycling.

At that workshop meeting, Ingersoll expressed a reluctance to end the recycling program, saying he preferred going to a twice-monthly pickup from another contractor for a smaller savings, roughly $17,000. However, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper agreed with Stetson that it was more important to balance the budget. Cerino said he did not like cutting recycling, but he would rather do that than lay off any employees.

Other issues addressed at the May 14 workshop included overtime pay for employees working Saturdays and special events.  It was suggested that employees assigned to weekends or special events take time off during the week to avoid overtime. Ingersoll said he felt that not giving raises was placing enough of a burden on employees without further changes in pay policy.

Town Financial Director Amanda Miller said the town might already face the possible loss of some employees because of the lack of raises.

Stetson said at the end of the May 20 meeting that the council had taken its budget responsibilities very seriously. “Nobody wanted to cut anything, but we have to live within our means,” he said; “Hopefully better days are coming.” Stetson said he spoke to the county commissioners at a recent Council of Government meeting, asking them to restore a tax differential for the towns, but received a noncommittal answer.

Summarizing the overall budget, Ingersoll said, “We do not have any raises, we do not have any capital improvements in this budget.” He added, “We’ve looked at everything, really,” including the possibility of staff cuts. “I know it’s been painful for all involved, but that’s what we know now.” He said the budget remains subject to revision up until it is enacted at the June 3 meeting.

Mayor Chris Cerino presents John Hanley a proclamation recognizing his work on the town’s environmental committee

Also at the May 20 meeting, Cerino read a proclamation recognizing John Hanley for 10 years as chairman of the Environmental Committee. He designated May 16 retroactively as John Hanley Day in Chestertown.

Hanley said he had enjoyed his time on the committee, and thanked the Mayor and council for their support. He said the committee was “blessed” to have enthusiastic and hard-working team members, and promised they would continue their efforts on behalf of the town. He said he is continuing to seek ways to provide power stations for recharging electric cars, which he said would attract additional tourists from out of town.

Cerino announced that students from Kent School will be installing a nesting box for wood ducks in Gateway Park, which is adjacent to Radcliffe Creek as it crosses High Street. The installation is part of a project sponsored by Sultana Education Foundation in which 7th-grade students in all schools studied the Radcliffe Creek watershed and its ecology.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Bill Anderson says

    I really wonder about the operational and fiscal impact of the discontinuance of curbside recycling service, while advocating private transportation of recyclable materials to a receptacle at Worton. It is my expectation that many residents, and all businesses, would be disinterested in hauling recyclable materials to Worton. I perceive that it is likely that the quantity of trash removed by the town’s contractor will increase significantly and the cost for that service will escalate in a corresponding manner as well.

    • Carol Schroeder says

      I doubt that I would drive to Worton more than every 2 weeks, if that. And it would be to recycle cardboard only since cat food cans would smell too much by then even when rinsed out.
      If the larger quantity of regular trash means a higher fee why not offer recycling every two weeks and divide the town in half?
      Also, I have always separated glass, metal and plastic. The article said we have 2 stream recycling so why are we separating out anything other than cardboard?

    • Margo Bailey says

      Everyone who would like to have the recycling program continued , even if it is every other week, please attend the Town budget meeting on Monday June3 at 7pm. Please please make your voices heard.

  2. Vic Pfeiffer says

    I’d hate to see recycling discontinued. Isn’t recycling the right thing to do – especially if we think of ourselves as a “green” town?

    How about raising the property tax rate in a progressive manner? Instead of an across the board increase, put a higher increase on higher valued properties. I’m not sure where the cutoffs should be, but perhaps all properties valued at say $250,00 and above ( that would me mine) should bear a greater tax burden.

  3. Carol Mylander says

    Let’s have just one trash pick-up a week. Why do we have two? It would encourage recycling. Shouldn’t the
    businesses who sell the plastic,cardboard and bottles pay for the recycling? Why are we paying their bill?
    Let’s tax fast food for their plastic containers and straws, or simply not allow it. We need to set a
    precedent here.

    • Daniel Menefee says

      I agree,

      There was life before plastic. When I was a little boy in Baltimore every Saturday my mother gave me a rucksack and some money and sent me off to the Lexington Market with a shopping list. Everything was wrapped in paper, the bags were paper if you needed one and cardboard boxes from the previous day’s shipments were also available. The straw and cup for the soda were paper. Milk and OJ came in paper cartons or bottles. I remember lugging just one trash bag every week to the curb for a family of four. By the time the 80s came it was three bags of trash.

      I’ve always thought environmental benefits of recycling plastic were sometimes dubious because it still remains in circulation and doesn’t always make it back to the recycling bin. Instead it ends up in the intestines of sea turtles and other marine life.

      We have to make plastic cost prohibitive for wholesalers and retailers; our national government is too busy right now with the polluter-in-chief, so policy must gain momentum at the local level. Plastic needs to be taken out of circulation. Period.

      On the issue of trash pickup, remember that could put some people already low on the income scale out of work. I suggest Wallace Henry could do the trash one day a week and the recycling on the other. This could prevent the loss of some jobs.

  4. Chris McDonald says

    Troubles every small town has, but people are not seeing the large picture and put the blame on their recycling. This is just a screen to what the big picture is. Less people in the county because your youth are moving away to the jobs and better schools and housing. The Eastern shore and Chestertown are beautiful, but is turning into a place to drive through on your way to something bigger and better.

  5. HC Jones says

    Bill Anderson’s reply is “right on”. Would a drop-off here in town help? Lot closer than Worton.

  6. Carl M. Gallegos says

    As a resident of Kent County and a former resident of Chestertown, I maintain that “suspension of curbside recycling” being contemplated by the Chestertown Town Council marks us as a “backwards community”. For visitors and prospective home buyers, it is a clear sign that we are actively going backwards; and for those of us who live here, it is a sign that the Town is not creative at problem solving, and that we default to the “old ways” when we are stressed. Returning to the 1950’s is probably a “death nell” for economic development, environmental progress, and social equity and justice.
    As a longtime member of the Chestertown Environmental Committee, we have suggested several measures to the Town Council to make up Town budget shortfalls (projected to be $65,000 in FY 2020). These measures include:
    . reducing waste ( and possibly yard waste) collection to once per week;
    . increasing recycling collection to ALL Town residents; and
    . establishing a solid waste enterprise fund that will raise more revenues.
    (The first measure mentioned above alone could make up the projected FY 2020 Town budget shortfall!)
    I strongly encourage all interested residents of Chestertown and Kent County to attend the June 3, 2019, Town Council meeting to learn more about the above mentioned recommended measures; and to assure that Chestertown remains a forward looking community intent on promoting economic development, environmental progress, and social equity and justice.

  7. Ross Benincasa says

    Out-of-towner, so take my opinion for what it’s worth, but not having a tax rebate or differential from the county is ridiculous. No town should have to consider cutting beneficial services, staff, or both while the county collects money for phantom services they fail to provide within that same town.

    • Keith Thompson says

      As a point of comparison from a Middletown resident who has been working in Chestertown for the last decade; Middletown residents get a tax differential from New Castle County. New Castle County concentrates most of their services north of the C&D Canal (especially around Wilmington and Newark) with a dearth of county services south of the canal such as police, paramedics, parks and libraries much to the frustration of county residents south of the canal. Middletown’s municipal government has to pick up quite a bit of this slack, especially police. Despite this, during the last Fiscal Year, the town of Middletown ran a 6 and a half percent surplus while the county just raised property taxes 15%.

  8. Dan Menefee says

    I believe every legal address in Chestertown, including commercial properties, should be charged a recycling fee on their utility bill for MANDATORY recycling as a percentage of the water and sewer usage, and a minimum and a maximum should be established. In passing such a law it should be codified that the town is prohibited from using funds from the fee for any other purpose than recycling, any surplus funds should be credited back to the property owner. The law should require mandatory recycling with fines for not separating trash from recycling. I was running along the river a few weeks ago and saw a heap of plastic bags from a dollar store. I got all scraped up navigating the thickets to retrieve them. Really p*ssed me off. So the law should include the banning of all plastic bags in town limits. One dollar store is already using paper bags so there’s your proof that retailers can still earn a profit without plastic. The partial plastic bag ban is like cutting back on cigarettes, you still have a dirty filthy habit.

    • William Ruckelshaus says

      Take your plastic bags to Walmart They recycle them into trash bags that use in their outside garbage cans

      • Dan Menefee says

        Plastic needs to be taken out of circulation altogether because not all of it gets recycled, much of it still finds its way onto beaches and in the digestive systems of wildlife. So we need to make it cost prohibitive in favor of alternatives like paper and glass.

    • Carol Schroeder says

      Plastic bags were banned in Chestertown when Margo Bailey was mayor. I heard that Dollar General was allowed to keep using their heavier yellow plastic bags because they were reusable. Since most plastic bags are reusable I do not understand this exception. I agree with Ms Mylander’s suggestion to cut back household waste pick up to once a week and maybe offer recycling every 2 weeks and see what the budget looks like then. Hard to suggest solutions without knowing the numbers.

      • Dan Menefee says

        The Dollar General bags are not so reusable because I never see people bring them back to shop there, and I’ve see them along the river and the rail trail, I pick as many up as I can. We need to finish what Mayor Bailey started and ban all plastic bags. They are horrible for the environment and Dollar General can live without them. Family Dollar and Dollar General have gone to paper bags, so it has not a financial hardship on the big chains to switch to paper.

  9. Twice a week trash pick up, is actually trash pick up 4 days a week in Chestertown, as each trash pick up is scheduled over two days. So, tiny Chestertown has trash on it’s curbs four days a week, which is pretty unsightly, probably unhealthy, and unnecessary for a town this size. Changing to once a week pick-up makes sense. Someone said the savings would be negligible, but would it? when you add fuel, and labor to two extra days, the hauler would have to charge less for two days than four. Also, if people know they can only put our their trash once a week, they might be compelled to recycle more. ESPECIALLY College Students, who after Friday and Saturday nights have the biggest trash piles of all, full of beer cans and bottles.

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