Interior Announces $6 Million Grant for Blackwater Refuge

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The US Department of the Interior announced yesterday that the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County will receive just shy of $6 million to conserve 2,500 acres of habitat to protect migratory birds.

The funds were approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which allocates funds to the Interior Department to acquire and conserve migratory bird habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The commission meets twice a year to allocate funds and Blackwater Refuge was one of only five projects nationwide to receive grants in the announcement.

The Blackwater grant is aimed at protecting “migrating and wintering American black ducks, mallards, Canada geese and greater snow geese, as well as habitat for black rail, salt-marsh sparrow and other wetland-associated migratory birds. The project will add over 2,600 acres to the refuge’s public hunt program, expanding public opportunities for white-tailed deer, sika deer, turkey, and waterfowl hunting,” according to a press release on June 19.

The funds are made possible from the Duck Stamp program and will go directly to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the project. The stamp program was established in 1934 and 98% of the revenue goes to buy and protect wetlands.

Foster, Fithian Ready to Work Together on Tax Differential

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Chestertown Ward 1 Councilman David Foster appeared before the Kent Commissioners on Tuesday, June 11, striking a more conciliatory tone than at the June 4 meeting over a tax differential he said the county owes Chestertown.

In his remarks, Foster acknowledged the efforts of the commissioners to fund public services.

Chestertown Councilman David Foster 

“I recognize that our county commissioners are working hard for all of us,” he said. “I admire your efforts; I appreciate them; that doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree, but I do admire and respect your work on behalf of all of us.”

Foster insisted that the issue should not be a choice between funding the school system or paying a differential to the town, which was apparent at the June 4 meeting when Commissioner President Tom Mason said a “place holder” of $100,000 originally slated for Chestertown was diverted to the school system for fiscal 2020.

Foster said the commissioners should fund both because it’s “the right thing to do” and represents an “investment in the economic development of our county.” Foster then proposed the commissioners and the town begin work next month on a formula for a tax differential.

The differential is a rebate on property taxes town residents pay the county for services like police, street cleaning and planning & zoning, which the town provides and pays for out of its own budget. The differential exists in the vast majority of counties in the form of a lower county tax rate to town residents or a direct cash payout to the municipality, but not in all cases.

The lack of the differential to Chestertown has been named as a culprit in the town’s decision to raise the town property tax by 5 cents last year and another penny for fiscal 2020.

Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian Photo by Jane Jewell

Chestertown officials have said the lack of a differential to the town amounts to double taxation as town residents are forced to pay the county for services the town already provides.

At the June 4 meeting Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino named towns like Crisfield and Princess Anne in Somerset County that receive differentials to make a case for Chestertown, but Commissioner Ron Fithian questioned whether the examples given in Somerset mirrored the same “structure” of responsibilities as in Kent and asked for “apples to apples” comparisons to see if Chestertown was being shortchanged. He said Kent pays about $1 million to operate eight firehouses – in addition to another $1.7 million for EMTs and paramedics.

In fiscal 2018, Somerset County gave a rebate of $196,000 to Princess Anne, but the town doesn’t actually see the money. Instead, the rebates go directly to the fire department to cover the cost of paramedics, according to an analysis from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services (page 23). However, Kent County pays for these services directly out of the general fund, and in 2018 paid $190,000 to fund emergency services in Chestertown, according to the Kent Office of Finance.

But Queen Anne’s County paid $9.1 million (page 7) to fund its emergency services in 2019 and still paid a $577,000 differential to compensate the Town of Centreville for duplicate services related to roads, police and planning and zoning. (page 22)

Fithian said at the close of the meeting that he would work with Foster in the next budget year if unfairness could be identified.

“I assure you, if you can show me where we’re being unfair after we’ve compiled everything, I’ll work with you to make a difference in the upcoming budget next year,” he said.

But in the DLS analysis, there is no clear-cut way to find an exact apple-to-apple comparison, as Fithian requested. There is no doppelganger county to compare, which could make it hard for towns in Kent County to win any argument on tax relief.

There were many counties in the analysis that provided tax relief for the duplication of police services and planning and zoning. Calvert County provided a differential to Chesapeake Beach that included money for economic development. And four counties provided a differential for parks and recreation.

Future discussions between the town and the county will need to determine where services are truly duplicated in Kent in order to create a formula for a fair tax differential or rebate.

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Schools, Towns Both Unhappy with County Budget

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Kent’s fiscal 2020 school budget has for another year brought a wave of concern from parents and teachers over programming, salaries and staff levels — as an $850,000 budget increase over last year fell short of $1.6 million requested by Kent School Superintendent Karen Couch and the school board.

The county’s fiscal 2020 budget came in $2.2 million over last year at $50 million. A little over $18 million will go to the school system.

Couch acknowledged that the commissioners took “great pains” in drafting the final budget.

“I know you try to do what’s best for the school system,” Couch said shortly after Kent Chief Financial Officer Pat Merritt presented a breakdown of the fiscal 2020 budget at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.

Couch said salary increases are a priority in her new budget, targeted at 3 percent.

The additional $1.6 million funding request was made as enrollment has declined by another 70 students this year.

Kent’s school population began to slide in the 70s, dwindling from 1,350 to 530 just at the high school. The downward trend in enrollment also forced the school district in 2017 to consolidate five elementary schools to three.

The additional $850,000 is 5 percent over last year and translates to $1.1 million over Maintenance of Effort because of declining enrollment. The new funding level can never be decreased because school districts are prohibited under MOE from spending less per student than the previous year.

Commissioners say ‘no’ on Property Tax Hike for School Funding

A point of contention in the budget discussions was whether the commissioners would increase property taxes to meet the additional $1.6 million funding request.

Commissioner President Tom Mason said a property tax increase would add more burdens on residents already struggling to avoid tax sale.

“We just can’t put more burdens on our citizens by raising the property tax.” He said the burdens were evident in Kent’s 247 properties that went to tax sale this year.

Kent’s property tax rate is currently second on the Eastern Shore and seventh in the state.

Mason was hopeful that raising the county’s income tax this year from 2.85 to 3.2 percent would open the door for more state funding. The 3.2 percent increase is the maximum allowed by statute.

Maxing out the county income tax changes the formula for state aid in an upward direction.

Cerino Calls Foul Tying School Budget to Tax Differential

For the past five years the Town of Chestertown has pressed the commissioners for a rebate on property taxes residents pay to the county for services it doesn’t receive, like police, road maintenance and planning and zoning, which the town pays out of its own budget – AKA the tax differential.

Town officials have called the lack of a differential a form of double taxation, since every county on the Shore except Kent returns property tax revenue to incorporated areas that pay for their own public services.

In April the commissioners made a “placeholder” in the budget to return $100,000 to Chestertown but instead diverted that money to schools, Mason said at Tuesday’s meeting.

This drew the ire of Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino, who said the poorest counties on the Shore manage to pay a differential to its municipalities while funding their school systems.

“Counties figured out a way to compensate [their towns] fiscally for the inequities,” Cerino said.

He pointed to Somerset County, the poorest in the state, which sends $196,000 differential back to the town of Crisfield.

Cerino then named a dozen or more towns that get similar compensation.

“We fund our own police department; we fund our own street crews,” he said. “When there’s a call for criminal activity it’s not a sheriff’s officer that shows up at my door, it’s a Chestertown police officer…we are paying for phantom services.”

A 5-cent tax differential to Chestertown would be the lowest in the state.

SOS, Citizens Ask For Efficiency Study to Fully Fund $1.6 Million Request

Francoise Sullivan, a founding member of Save Our Schools, a group in Kent that advocates more program funding and better teacher pay, said the commissioners should find more efficiencies in the general budget.

“I still believe that there is a path for fully funding our schools and that an efficiency study would be the best way to show where adjustments can be made to the budget process,” she told the commissioners. “The county has been dealing with flat revenue for several years and I believe that we have more flat revenue in our future. It is past time to re-evaluate and prioritize the budget.”

Robbi Behr, another founding member of SOS echoed Sullivan that an efficiency study is needed if the commissioners are unwilling to raise taxes.

She said SOS made findings in the general budget where “different departments were allotted more money than they were using.”

“Our solution is to allot the departments money they’ve historically used. That would leave plenty of room to fund the school budget,” she said. “I would actually encourage you to fund an efficiency study.”

David Sobers of Chestertown recommended a blue ribbon commission to study the county budget. He said that Kent’s allocation to schools was under the national average of 40 to 50 percent.

Kent currently funds at 38 percent.

But Commissioner Ron Fithian said after the meeting that Kent was unique with its tiny school system and a growing demographic shift to an older population where money has shifted to pay for emergency services once covered by an all volunteer force.

He said since 1994 the emergency services budget has climbed from almost zero to $1.7 million and noted that the dwindling younger population was making it harder to staff volunteer positions like paramedics.

“We have to take care of our elderly and our youth and we’re trying to make it work for both,” he said.

Op-Ed: Keep Recycling, Increase Property Tax to 47 Cents by Dan Menefee

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Still, nearly a decade after the Chestertown Marina became publicly owned there’s a common complaint among some residents that the marina has become a money pit at the expense of roads and other services, and there’s been an expectation in the last few years that the facility “should be turning a profit by now.”

But the expectation is flawed because it ignores the reason us townies bought the marina in the first place.

We had a choice nine years ago to let the last major parcel of waterfront go to condo development—or entrust it to the public. Thankfully, our elected officials chose the latter. And the annual bond expense of around $145,000 is simply the cost of doing business through 2032, when the last payment is made. We also need to acknowledge that Town Manager Bill Ingersoll has been successful in securing grants and raising private donations—mitigating the costs to taxpayers.

We could find ourselves in perpetual disappointment if we measure the marina’s success as a stand-alone entity based on gas and slip fee revenue. The marina, like our other venues, is simply an integral part of our parks and recreation system that requires tax dollars to maintain.

Wilmer Park and Fountain Park also provide a place for tourists and locals to recreate and do commerce, but no one ever questions whether they’re turning a profit because the ancillary social and economic benefits are obvious.

Currently there is no way to fully quantify the economic spinoff from the marina. But try to imagine the marina still languishing in decay and the negative effects on the local economy. Then try to imagine a monolith of condos eliminating all public access to the Chester, or even a decent view of the water. You could argue that either scenario would cost the town more than $145,000 in economic opportunities.

But a looming bond payment is again at the center of another budget shortfall and is forcing the town to consider cuts to public safety and termination of the recycling program—just a year after a property tax hike of 5 cents.

The news of a budget shortfall this close to a new budget year caught Ward 1 Councilman David Foster by surprise and he blamed himself for not staying on top last year’s budget.

“After passing a 5-cent increase I was shocked to learn just a few weeks ago that we would be facing serious budgetary problems again this year,” Foster said in an email on Saturday. “Having to choose between tax increases and cuts in services is bad enough without having to resolve those problems within just a few short weeks. I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not asking every few months for an update on last year’s budget projections.”

Foster was also adamant that he would not support any measure to eliminate the recycling program. But he did not indicate his position on new taxes.

Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said he too felt like the budget shortfall caught him off guard so close to the new budget year.

“I came into this year’s budget session with the expectation of having extra revenue from the tax increase we passed last year,” Tolliver said. “I was very disappointed and surprised to find out that we were again facing a budget dilemma.”

Ward 4 Councilman Marty Stetson said he would not support a tax increase.

“We have to live within our means, and if we can keep recycling without raising taxes I’ll support it,” Stetson said in a brief call on Friday.

Marina blamed for poor road conditions

Last year’s tax increase was estimated to raise $280,000 in new revenue and $150,000 was budgeted for street paving. Around $90,000 went to the principal on the bond payment. (The town makes two bond payments a year; an interest payment of around $55,000 and principal comes to roughly $90,000; the payments are made May 1 and November 1).

“We started our budget with no capital improvements whatsoever; we have streets that need work; it’s been a main concern of us,” Ingersoll said at the May 21, 2018 meeting. “We have commitments and services that we do not want to diminish…we have $150,000 for the beginning of our street repair program.”

It was a pittance compared to what is needed to restore our roads. Anyone who thought it would have a significant impact on streets is unaware that $150,000 would barely pave a half-mile. Ingersoll reported at the March 4 meeting that a $4.5 million grant he sought to pave 13 miles of roads — a cost per mile of $350,000 — was unsuccessful.

Ingersoll also said that highway user revenue (HUR) would be flowing back to local government, and it will.

In 2018 Gov. Larry Hogan restored the local share of HUR to 85 percent of pre-recession levels for fiscal years 2020-2024. In the early days of the Great Recession the state raided the Transportation Trust Fund to balance a large structural deficit. HUR literally came to half a trickle.

So no real progress on roads for now until the revenue returns. Until then the town will do its best to fill potholes.

New Taxes Are Needed

The 1-cent increase, if passed, may not be enough to avoid another budget shortfall next year. Clearly it’s time to consider an adequate property tax increase to maintain the same service levels and fully fund the marina debt.

Easton and St. Michaels currently pay a municipal tax rate of 52 cents, compared to Chestertown’s current 42 cents. We can certainly nudge the rate up another nickel to meet all of our obligations and still remain competitive on property taxes.

It is certainly the responsibility of town leaders to always evaluate services like recycling and public safety, but the reflex to make these cuts with a pending bond payment piles on to perception that the marina is sacrosanct.

To avoid further discontent and maintain current service levels the town should raise the property tax to 47 cents.

Dan Menefee is a contributor to the Chestertown Spy and the former publisher of the Kent Guardian

School Board, Commissioners Close Book On Millington Elementary

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The Kent County Commissioners have sealed the fate of Millington Elementary School, voting unanimously to take the deed of the facility that was shuttered prior to the 2017/2018 school-year—when five elementary schools were consolidated to three to cover a $2 million budget shortfall and adjust for a trend in declining enrollment.

The vacant facility is now a surplus property of the county and the school system will shed $50,000 in annual maintenance costs.

The vote came after discussions with the Kent County School Board at Tuesday’s weekly Commissioners meeting on May 21. Commissioner Ron Fithian called for the meeting to consider contingencies that would require the facility be reactivated.

Fithian said there was hesitance to take the vacant facility out of the school system’s inventory because there looms a possibility of a $60 million capital project to renovate or replace the Kent County Middle School in Chestertown. The county’s share and other costs would come to $32 million through 2025; the state would pick up the rest.

In that event, a contingency has been considered to reactivate the facility. Sixth graders would be sent to the county’s four elementary schools and seventh and eighth graders would be absorbed by the high school, which once served 1,350 students. Current enrollment is around 530 students.

Fithian conceded that it might not be the best idea, but that it was worth a discussion in light of a substantial capital project facing the county.

“Once we make the decision that that doesn’t work, we’re basically signing on to…a major renovation at the middle school or the idea of a new middle school,” he said at the opening of the meeting. Fithian believes that renovations at Millington could be considerably less than a new middle school.

A $32 million obligation to renovate or repair the middle school would cost an additional $2 million in annual debt service and make property tax increases inevitable. A property tax increase of 10 cents would be needed to meet the debt service.

Kent County Chief Financial Officer Pat Merritt provided a breakdown of the costs and the annual debt service of a new middle school through 2025.

“If that’s the direction we’re going then the taxpayers should be forewarned,” Fithian said.

Kent currently has the second highest property tax rate on the Eastern Shore and is seventh highest in the state.

The county is in the process of raising the income tax (piggyback tax) to the allowable maximum of 3.2 percent to help with school funding in fiscal 2020. A vote is expected soon. But there’s little interest in a property tax increase this year.

Couch and McGee reject Millington contingency

Kent School Superintendent Karen Couch said the school system would lose the efficiencies it gained under consolidation. Students were absorbed into H.H. Garnet in Chestertown, Galena and Rock Hall elementary schools.

“In order to consolidate from five elementary schools to three we were able to significantly reduce our operating budget by eliminating a number of positions that were needed to staff [Millington],” Couch said.”

She said Millington would need capital improvements as well and highlighted immediate needs like a new roof and HVAC system. She also questioned whether the state would help fund any of the repairs for the facility.

“We’re going to have to talk about whether the state is going to participate in any of the capital improvements we would have if we reopened Millington.”

Couch also opined that the commissioners’ decision to increase the piggyback tax would open the door to more state funding, potentially making the county’s share of a new middle school less than the 50/50 split. She did not offer specifics on how cost sharing would work.

KCPS School Board Vice-President Trish McGee implied that the commissioners raised the specter of an expensive middle school to put Millington back in play.

“I almost worry that the $32 million is something to pull everybody up by their bootstraps, like oh my god this is what’s going to happen if we don’t reopen Millington or put the seventh and eighth graders at the high school,” She told the commissioners. “We can only do this collaboratively and we need to stop drawing these lines in the sand…”

Commissioner Bob Jacob challenged McGee on the notion that the commissioners were drawing a line in the sand.

“No one is drawing a line,” he said. “We have to be financially responsible on decisions that were planning five years from now.”

McGee replied that the line was drawn when Millington was recently thrown back “into the mix.”

“We’re two years beyond that,” she said. “It’s like pulling stitches out of a wound.”

Residents in Millington fought hard to keep the school open and the morale of the community suffered.

Jacob responded that the school board has drawn its own line in the sand by taking Millington completely off the table.

“The line in the sand as I hear it is the board of education saying Millington is non-negotiable,” he said.

In a last ditch effort to keep Millington in the school system’s inventory for contingency, Commissioner Tom Mason offered to simply pay the $50,000 in annual upkeep, but McGee objected and said keeping title to the facility prevented the school system from forging ahead.

“It prevents us from being able to move forward with our own plan,” she said. She said it questions the unanimous vote of the school board in 2017.

“You don’t get do-over,” she said. “We’re not thinking about re-opening [Millington].”

Fithian responded, “Then you’ve just satisfied what we asked to talk about. If there’s no second-guessing then we’ll take it over and pay for it.”

Moments later the commissioners voted unanimously to take the deed to Millington Elementary to the applause of audience members.

Fithian said after the meeting that he was glad to have the conversation.

“The county is facing a very costly capital project in a time of declining enrollment… that has gone on for years,” he said. “So it was important to have this conversation in the public record.”

 

MDE to Go on Trial for Septic Pollution at Lake Bonnie?

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After losing her campground business to decades of raw sewage contamination, the Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled 4-3 that Gail Litz of Goldsboro can finally sue Maryland Department of the Environment for not enforcing a consent order that could have saved it.

“This is a major decision as it relates to the duties and liabilities of state and local government to take responsibility for their actions, and their inactions, when they are so obligated by the rule of law,” said a statement from Chestertown attorney, Phil Hoon, who has represented Litz in her six-year struggle to get a jury trial. “Ms. Litz will finally have her day in court. The matter will now proceed to a jury trial in the Caroline County Circuit Court.”

Hoon hopes a victory for his client at trial can set a precedent that mandates MDE to enforce its consent orders.

“How can the State effectively enforce environmental laws and regulation against farmers, industry and other property owners if it cannot diligently and effectively pursue its own enforcement actions against well-known sources of municipal pollution,” Hoon said in statement in 2010 before the case was initially thrown out of Caroline County Circuit Court.bonnielake flier

Litz is seeking $7 million in damages for the loss of her 140-acre campground after MDE and the Town of Goldsboro failed to execute a 1996 consent order to stop failing septic systems in the town from dumping into Lake Bonnie, a 28-acre lake on the campground that was the center of activity, and Litz’s livelihood, since the 1950s.

Lake Bonnie empties into the Choptank River, considered one of the most polluted rivers on the Chesapeake Bay.

The 1996 consent order, 20 years ago, came a year after the Caroline County Health Department closed Lake Bonnie for swimming – and it remains closed today due to the high levels of fecal coliform (human waste).

Under the consent order MDE ordered the
 Town of Goldsboro to approve a plan and start construction of a public sewer system by 1997.
 But no sewer system was built and MDE failed to take any enforcement action against Goldsboro, which included a $100 per day fine for non-compliance. By now fines would have exceeded $700,000, Hoon said in a brief interview with the Spy.

In the 29-page decision on Jan. 22, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in Gail B. Litz v. Maryland Department of the Environment that Litz’s claim of inverse condemnation, the taking of her property by the government without adequate compensation, has merit and can now go to trial in Caroline County Circuit Court on constitutional grounds, which means MDE cannot seek protection under government immunity.

“Maryland Constitution does not provide sovereign immunity to state or local governments for an unconstitutional taking,” the opinion said.

The Town of Goldsboro will also be a defendant in the case.lake bonnie no swimming

Litz put full faith in MDE to enforce the consent order against Goldsboro that would have restored her lake and saved her business, Hoon said. “She trusted the government to do what it said it was going to do [and] she lost everything.”

The campground went to foreclosure in 2010, 14 years after MDE ordered the Town of Goldsboro to take immediate measures to stop the septic runoff.

Since it was initially dismissed by Caroline County Circuit Court in 2010, Litz’s case has been twice before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals (the lower court) and the Maryland Court of Appeals (the higher court) before it was remanded back to Caroline County Circuit Court for trial in the recent ruling. Hoon said it was extremely rare for the Maryland Court of Appeals to hear a case twice.

The case is groundbreaking in Maryland because it challenges the government’s “inaction” rather than the intentional “action” in condemning, or taking, of a property.

Normally inverse condemnation occurs when the government uses an official act or regulatory action that takes (condemns) private property without compensation, giving cause for the property owner to sue. In 2010 MDE successfully argued this in motions before the Caroline Circuit Court that the condemnation of Litz’s property was not from an official or regulatory act by MDE to take her property. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals later sided with the Circuit Court that “discretionary inaction” did not rise to the level of an inverse condemnation claim; the Maryland Court of Appeals struck down this argument in their latest ruling.

In hearing the case for a second time, both the majority and dissenting opinions in the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed that a claim of “taking” of property due to “inaction” is outside the historical lane of inverse condemnation claims. The court looked at cases in California, Florida, and Minnesota for precedent and found cases applicable in Maryland law. The court found that an inverse condemnation claim had merit when a government entity failed to act “in the face of an affirmative duty to act.”

“…It is not frivolous to hypothesize that state, county, and municipal agencies may have duties to step in to protect the public health, as illustrated by the execution of the 1996 Consent Order,” the opinion said.

The Appeals Court found persuasive the history of “inaction” by MDE as a cause of action to sue. The septic pollution had been known to health officials since 1973 and in 1985 Caroline County Health Department said “immediate action was necessary,” the opinion said.

By 1988 the health department reported there were “elevated levels of fecal coliform” in shallow drinking wells.

In 1995 the health department reported that the “use of the stormwater management system in the Town as a sewage system has gotten to crisis proportions.”

That same year MDE acknowledged there were “actual water quality impacts on Lake Bonnie… It now appears that the situation has deteriorated and created environmental concerns that will need to be addressed.”

Nine months later in 1996 MDE signed a consent order with the Town of Goldsboro, requiring the town to draw up plans and begin construction of a sewer system – clearly stating that fines would be assessed for non-compliance.

In 2004, with no sewer system in place, the health department warned against issuing more septic permits in areas with known problems and lamented that MDE and the town were ignoring the consent order.

“The Town has failed to comply with any of the material terms of the Consent Order and MDE has enforced no part of it,” the health department wrote.

Dan Menefee is the publisher of the Kent Guardian

Missing WC Student was Bullied; Asked to Resign from Student Government

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bair2

Washington College President Sheila Bair wants Jacob Marberger home “with the people who love him.”

After two days of wide speculation and rumors about a missing and allegedly armed Washington College student, local police and college officials finally gave details to a story that closed the college indefinitely, possibly through the Thanksgiving holiday.

It turns out that the missing student, sophomore Jacob Marberger, may have been a victim of bullying on campus, said officials in a press conference held on campus at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The campus closed Monday after Marberger’s parents reported to college officials that their son, a respected speaker of the student senate, had gone home to Pennsylvania to retrieve a gun. He has not been seen since but Chestertown Police Chief Adrian Baker believes Marberger is still in Pennsylvania.

In the video below Washington College President Sheila Bair insists Marberger was never a threat to anyone and explains her decision to close the college until further notice.

Still only classified as a missing person, Baker issued a warrant for Marbeger’s arrest, charging him with having a dangerous weapon on school property, possession of a firearm by a minor, and possession of a handgun on his person. Marberger is 19 and the charges are all misdemeanors.

The gun was an unloaded antique .22 rifle revolver, Baker said.

Back on Oct. 7 Marberger was subject to a prank where a bucket of water was placed over the door of his room in a manner to make it douse him when the door swung open.

“He felt very hurt by that,” said the college’s director of public safety, Jerry Roderick at Tuesday’s press conference. “He thought people were [trying] to ridicule him in some way.”

The bullying may have been ongoing.

“Speaking with Jacob, he did feel persecuted by several students on campus,” Roderick said.

Roderick insisted there was never any report of Marberger threatening or retaliating against anyone, nor did any student ever feel threatened.

“Investigators never once found any actions with the weapon that were overt acts of violence or threats,” Roderick said. He said Marberger simply displayed the gun as a kind of showpiece.

Washington College President Sheila Bair, standing with a cadre of law enforcement officials, echoed Roderick that Marberger never threatened anyone.

“I would like to emphasize…that the gun was unloaded, he was not pointing at anybody, he wasn’t threatening anybody [and] it sounds like he was bragging about it as an antique,” Bair said.

It is against school policy to have a gun on campus and it wasn’t reported to college officials until Oct. 23, two weeks after Marberger displayed it.

A search of his room in Cecil Hall revealed no weapon but the investigation remained opened but inactive because reports had been vague, Roderick said.

Roderick said more credible information came to the public safety office on Oct. 27 and by Oct. 29 they were able to recover the antique gun from an off-campus residence, at which time Marberger was placed on temporary suspension and forced to undergo a psychological evaluation.

“This is when we took immediate steps to look at the safety of our campus, the safety of our students and the safety of Mr. Marberger,” Roderick said. “A decision was made that Mr. Marberger had to separate from the campus at the time to allow public safety to continue its investigation and to have Mr. Marberger evaluated professionally.” Roderick said it was needed to determine if Marberger could return to campus.

Marberger returned to campus on Nov. 9 after he had passed his evaluation, Bair said.

Bair said that Marberger still faced possible suspension or expulsion by the college’s honor board after his return and that that process had not yet played out.

On Sunday, Nov. 15 Marberger participated in a local Rail Trail cleanup in Chestertown with other students and local residents and later that evening was asked by a fellow member of student government to resign. Marberger complied.

Marberger returned to his Pennsylvania home in the early morning hours of Nov. 16 where he allegedly retrieved the gun.

He remains missing and is described as 5’4 weighing 135 pounds. He has brown wavy hair.


Dan Menefee is the publisher of the KentGuardian.com.

Driver Responsible for Pomona Cyclist Death in 2013 Arrested for DUI

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Updated: Nov. 30, 9.p.m.–Andrew Grieb, 31, of Chestertown has been charged with two counts of driving under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance.

Grieb was observed on Oct. 23 at around 9:30 a.m. driving over the centerline on Rt. 213 near Browntown Road. Cpl. Sean M. Maloney of the Kent County Sheriff’s Department made the arrest.

Lt. Dennis Hickman of the Kent County Sheriff’s Office said he could not provide any more information while the case was pending prosecution.

Cyclists honoring Armstrong in 2014

Cyclists honoring Terence Armstrong in 2014

Grieb was the driver who struck and killed Terence Armstrong of Chestertown in September of 2013 on Pomona Road. Grieb was later found guilty of “failure to control vehicle speed on highway to avoid collision” and “negligently driving a vehicle in a careless and imprudent manner, endangering property life and person.”

The Spy confirmed in September of 2013 that Grieb was never tested for drugs or alcohol at the scene of Armstrong’s death.

Grieb’s attorney, Mitchell G. Mowell, confirmed today that Grieb had settled out-of-court with Armstrong’s family for an undisclosed amount.

Mowell said he was scheduled to meet with Grieb this week.

Grieb’s traffic history

Not two months after Armstrong’s death, Grieb was found guilty of “failure to stop at a stop sign line” and received probation before judgment.

Grieb’s traffic history prior to Armstrong’s death included two counts of driving while impaired by alcohol in 2010. He had been stopped near the Washington Square Shopping Center. One count was thrown out and the other was put on Stet docket.

As Stet docket is where a “not guilty” “no guilty verdict is entered” but the case can be re-opened by the court.

In May of 2013, four months prior to Armstrong’s death, Grieb was found guilty of throwing refuse on a highway, a moving violation.

In 2007 Grieb was charged with failure to stop after an “unintended property damage accident” and failure to “locate and notify owner of unintended property damage.” Both cases were thrown out.

Also in 2007 Grieb was charged with drug possession. This case too was thrown out.

Correction: An “Andrew Grieb” was charged with four counts of drug possession was not the same Andrew Grieb in this story  Grieb was identified as having received a probation before judgement for possession of paraphernalia in 2012. This was incorrect, the paraphernalia charge was actually from 2007 and this too was never prosecuted. The author and the Spy regrets the error.

Daniel Menefee publishes the Kent Guardian online news site.

Concerns Over Hospital Oil Cleanup Remain Heading into Meeting on Plan

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On April 21 at 7:30 p.m. the Chestertown Council will hear a plan from Shore Regional Health consultants to inject the chemical, Ivey-Sol, into the groundwater at Chester River Hospital — to clean up the remains of a 25-year old heating oil spill that was estimated at over 100,000 gallons. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll has said the spill was closer to 150,000 gallons.

The components in Ivey-Sol remain unknown because of a patent — and the plan is experimental because it has never been done this close to a town’s drinking water supply, said Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes. The Maryland Department of the Environment has called the plan a “Pilot Study.”

Sipes raised concerns last fall that prompted the town council to retain an outside attorney and seek an injunction, which then prompted the Maryland Department of the Environment to have Shore Regional Health delay the injections.

“If you don’t know everything that is in the chemical, you can’t test for it, and we won’t know if it ends up in the drinking water,” Sipes said.

Sipes said the system of pumps and recovery wells in place since the early 90s has successfully kept the oil from migrating off site — 1,500 feet down hill towards the town’s drinking wells.

The injections are designed to liquefy oil trapped in the sand formations so it can be more easily pumped out — but Sipes is concerned that once liquified, the oil and the Ivey-sol could escape quickly beyond the ability of the pumps to keep any contaminants from moving downgrade towards the drinking wells.

He also said a recent meeting with MDE and Shore Health officials on Tuesday, Apr. 15, gave him nothing to allay his concerns from last year and said a promise of cooperation and progress meetings with the hospital was broken. He also said the makers of Ivey-sol reneged on a commitment to disclose the compounds in the chemical — so he could test to see if it ever showed up in the water.

“We pledge to work cooperatively, with open communication with the Town, MDE, and other experts through resolution,” said Kenneth Kozel, CEO of UM Shore Regional Health last October.

In an email to the Spy on Monday, MDE Deputy Director of Communications Jay Apperson contradicted Sipes and said there was never an expectation of meetings or communications with the town on the proposed project.

“The project was not going to go forward until MDE responded to those questions and any other remaining concerns,” Apperson said. “For that reason, MDE did not have an expectation that the hospital would communicate with the town on the proposed project during that time. That said, MDE became aware that the hospital had not provided monthly and quarterly monitoring well sample results to the Town, and in March we again directed the Hospital to do so and otherwise copy the Town on all reports, letters and plans.”

The injections are Shore Regional Health’s attempt to retire a $50,000 annual expense of maintaining the current remediation system.

Mayor Chris Cerino said he wanted to withhold comment until the experts have presented the plan on Apr. 21.

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