Remembering Owen McCoy

Share

Owen McCoy – in June 2018

Owen Stanton McCoy, manager of the Chestertown farmers market, died July 5 after suffering a series of strokes. He was in home hospice, surrounded by family.

Owen was a familiar figure not just at the farmers market, which he had managed since its reorganization in the 1980s, but at the Mainstay in Rock Hall, where he could be found taking tickets for almost every concert. He was a parishioner of Old St. Paul’s church, where he served on the vestry and sang in the choir for more than 25 years. And he was one of the many volunteers with Kent County 4-H, where he was a 4-H leader for more than 20 years, teaching aspiring farmers the ins and outs of raising goats.

Born Nov. 2, 1946, Owen grew up in Primos, Pa., the son of John and Mary McCoy. After graduating from the Haverford School, where he played on the football team, he attended Cornell University. He graduated in 1969 with a degree in horticulture and entered the Peace Corps, spending several years in the village of Hojancha, Costa Rica, where he taught agricultural techniques and took part in a program to collect and hatch sea turtle eggs to help increase the numbers of the endangered turtles.

He returned to Costa Rica many times in later life, visiting friends he made during his Peace Corps service, taking family members to see this country and meet the people that meant so much to him. His daughter said he adopted the Costa Rican slogan, “pura vida,” meaning to live life to its fullest, a “pure life”.  As anyone who knew him will attest, he lived up to this slogan, a life well and fully lived.  His loss leaves a large hole in the community.

Owen began coming to Kent County to visit his married sister, Cindy Bankhead.  Then he bought land here in 1976 and had completely moved to Kent County by the early 1980s. He owned a farm outside Rock Hall, raising goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, chicken, ducks, geese and turkeys — and a horse. He had a large orchard of various fruit trees.  He grew figs and persimmons and was known as “the fig man” to many farmers market patrons where he sold his farm’s produce. He took pride in cooking with ingredients from the farm.  He often brought his special home-made goat-milk fudge to parties and meetings. In addition to farming, he worked as a landscaper.

The McCoy family in October 2016- David Benton (son-in-law), Danya Benton (daughter), Owen McCoy, Josh Tyer (grandson), Grady Dierker (grandson, in arms), Kaia McCoy (daughter), David Dierker (son-in-law)

Friends remember his ready laugh and the twinkle in his eye, as well as his lifelong dedication to Philadelphia sports teams. In the latter capacity, he took his family to countless Phillies games — and was thrilled to see his Phillies win a World Series and the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory.

At a game, Owen, with daughters Kaia & Danya

Owen loved music.  He had a fine tenor voice and enjoyed singing – particularly Irish songs. He had a special fondness for what he called “hanged outlaw ballads,” such as “Roddy McCorley.” He also had a rich stock of Irish jokes, and his Irish heritage inspired him to learn to play the bagpipes.

He was for many years a member of Col. Leonard’s Irregulars, a band named for the road his farm was located on. Owen sang and played guitar in the group which performed regularly at the Chestertown Tea Party, and also appeared at the Mainstay, as well as performing St. Patrick’s Day concerts at Heron Point, Andy’s Bar, the Imperial Hotel, and other venues. It also formed the nucleus for a musical revue, “The Great War and the Lost Generation,” featuring songs of World War I and the Roaring 20s. The show was produced at the Prince Theater, Heron Point, and the Mainstay in the early 2000s.

Owen McCoy singing at the Imperial Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day ca 2014

Owen appeared in several productions at Church Hill Theater, playing the lead in “Damn Yankees” and adding his strong voice to other musicals including “South Pacific,” “Brigadoon,” and “Once Upon This Island.

He was also one of the founders of the “Natural Living Exchange” potluck dinner, which he attended regularly for more than 30 years — including the most recent dinner at the end of April just days before his first stroke, when many of his friends saw him for the last time.

Owen McCoy – Manager of the Chestertown Farmers’ Market since the early 1980s

He is survived by his daughters Danya Benton (David Benton) of Chestertown and Kailee McCoy (David Dierker) of Rock Hall; grandchildren Joshuah Tyer, Grady Dierker, and his sister Celinda Bankhead.  A new baby sister for Grady and first granddaughter for Owen is expected any day now. 

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4 in St. Paul’s. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

Contributions in his memory may be made to Kent County 4-H or to Compass Regional Hospice.

Photo Gallery byFamily and Friends

Owen McCoy in Phillies shirt and crown – June 2018

Can you find young Owen? Answer at bottom of Photo Gallery – Primos, PA Elementary School, 5th grade 1957-58

Peter Heck & Owen McCoy play at Chestertown Tea Party 2015 – photo from Owen’s FaceBook page, photo credit Steve Atkinson

Owen McCoy with his grandson Josh Tyer in 2015

An incredibly young Owen McCoy with baby Danya in early 1980s

Owen McCoy on a visit with fellow musicians to the Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth, PA, several years ago.

Owen McCoy at Chestertown Farmers Market

Owen McCoy at home on his Kent County farm – happy as a pig!

Primos Elementary School picture above – Owen McCoy 2nd row, 3rd from left in a striped shirt between two girls.

 

 

 

 

# # #

DCA Plans Changes in “Crazy Days,” First Friday

Share

Jennifer Laucik Baker, president of the Downtown Chestertown Association, tells the town council about plans for the annual sidewalk sale.    

The Downtown Chestertown Association has decided its annual “Crazy Days” sidewalk sale needs a new look. The answer – add wine and music!

At the July 2 meeting of the Mayor and Council, Jennifer Laucik Baker, president of the DCA, said this year’s sidewalk sale will feature several regional wineries and a distillery offering their wares on Friday evening, July 27. She requested a waiver of the town’s open container ordinance for Friday evening. In addition to the wineries, the evening will feature four or five local music groups performing at various locations throughout the downtown shopping district between 5 and 9 p.m. The name of the event will also be changed from “Crazy Days” to “Chestertown Sidewalk Sale.”

Baker said the idea was to make the annual sidewalk sale, scheduled for July 27 and 28, “a more vibrant event” in hopes of bringing more people into the community. “The event needs to evolve a bit,” she said, and to reflect the changing demographics of the business community. The addition of music and wine tasting should offer “more experiential-based opportunities in addition to retail opportunities during the event itself,” she said, with multiple events to engage a younger crowd. The evening will end at Bad Alfred’s Distillery with events to bring attendees inside.

The DCA also requested that Park Row be closed to traffic for part of the afternoon and evening Friday. An ice cream vendor, some food trucks and live music would be on the block. Baker said there are three new businesses on Park Row, and the idea was to attract attendees to that section of the town, which is separated from the rest of the shopping district by Fountain Park. Other music will be near Figg’s Ordinary, the former J.R.’s bar, and Skippy’s – again, with the intention of drawing people to parts of the shopping district they might not normally visit.

The event will continue on Saturday, but without the vineyards and with no street closing. Baker said there would be some live music Saturday.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll recommended that the council approve the permits, describing the event as “First Friday on steroids.” The council approved the permit without dissent.

Baker also said the DCA is working in conjunction with the Kent County Arts Council and the Arts and Entertainment District to make a few changes in the First Friday format in coming months. She said the goal was to foster “a more arts-based event,” increasing live music and arts. She said First Fridays are already an important occasion for the town’s various galleries and arts-oriented businesses. “The next big First Friday we’re planning is September, which will be ‘Welcome back WAC’ for the Washington College crowd,” she said. The DCA is partnering with the college for events coordinated with orientation for new students, with the goal of making it an annual September experience.

Chestertown Mayor and Council — from left, Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper and Councilman David Foster     

Ingersoll told the council that residents of the Haacke Drive neighborhood have requested traffic calming along the street, in the form of two speed humps. Ingersoll said he thought the best locations for the humps would be near the intersection of Morgnec Road, near Magnolia Hall, and near the actual residential project which borders on Scheeler Road. He said the town has had “varying success” with speed bumps in town, citing the ones in front of the two schools as the most successful. In other neighborhoods, “they come and go,” he said. The broader humps cost $2,000 to $3,000, compared to the “more abrupt” speed bumps seen elsewhere, which cost $700 to $800, he said.

Ingersoll said he had spoken to Cerino about the issue of putting in the humps on a road that leads to the KRM business park now under construction at the north end of Haacke. He said a fair amount of traffic to the park would be using Haacke. He said he thought the town needs to talk to the builder before committing to the humps, but his recommendation would be to install them.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said there had been accidents at the four-way stop at the corner of Haacke and Scheeler. She said she hoped the four-way stop would not be taken out.

Ingersoll said he thought there would eventually be a light at that intersection, but until then the four-way stop is “an absolute necessity.” He said the density of zoning in the area meant that Haacke Drive would be “a little more traveled” than other town streets.

Cerrino said that the neighborhood had done everything the town asked for as far as gathering signatures on petitions and contacting the council. He said expected that the developer of the business campus “isn’t going to like it,” but that the residents of the neighborhood have a legitimate safety concern.

The council voted to authorize the bumps pending consultation with the neighborhood and the developer of the business campus.

Also, Ingersoll requested the council to authorize Mayor Chris Cerino to sign any papers relevant to a federal grant application that could result in the town receiving several million dollars for street repairs. The deadline for the application is July 19. Ingersoll said the grant will be very competitive, but he hopes the town could get $2 million to $2.5 million to repair the streets that have deteriorated the most. The grants, which focus on rural transportation, fall under the American Recovery Act. “This is a tremendous opportunity; it’ll take some work, but I believe it’s worth it,” he said. “We have to try to grab this ring while we can.”

The council approved the appointment of Dinah Hicks and Harold Somerville to the town Recreation Commission, pending completion of background checks.

Kuiper, in her ward report, called attention to the Kent County Historical Society, located in the Bordley Building at the corner of High and Cross Streets. She said the society is dedicated to preserving and commemorating the history and heritage of the county, with exhibits, lectures, and a research collection. She said it should not be confused, as some residents do, with the town’s Historic District Commission, which rules on building and construction in the historic district. She said that the Historical Society gets many phone calls from residents assuming it is responsible for enforcing the historic district regulations, and she wanted to clarify the difference between the two bodies.

At the end of the meeting, Cerino announced that the town hall bocce team had finished in second place in the town bocce tournament, losing the final match 17-13 after leading by as many as five points. He proudly displayed the trophy, promising a stronger finish in the future.

Mayor Chris Cerino displays the trophy for the town hall team’s second-place finish in the town bocce league.    

Chestertown Theater Looks to Open in August

Share

The facade of the former Chester Five movie theater awaits its new sign. The theater is projected to open under new management in August, more than a year after it closed.

Movie fans in Kent County will have to wait at least another month for the Chestertown theater to reopen.

Closed since June 2017, the theater attracted the interest of the Chesapeake Movies group last Fall. The Chestertown theater will be the first for Chesapeake Movies, though the principals have been active with Horizon Cinemas, which operates a number of theaters in the Baltimore area.

After negotiations with Silicato Development, which operates the Washington Square shopping center where the theater is located, the Chesapeake Movies group obtained a $75,000 economic development loan from the Kent County Commissioners. The Chestertown Mayor and Council agreed to repay the loan from proceeds of the town’s entertainment tax, which applies primarily to movie theaters. The town has received no revenues from the tax since the theater closed last year.

While the owners were at one point hoping to open by Memorial Day weekend, Mike Klein, one of the principals of Chesapeake Movies, said in a recent interview with the Spy that the opening is now expected to be in August. The renovation is, he said, is in process.  “We’re still cleaning the building out,” Klein said. “There was a lot left behind by the previous owner.” He said the new owners have taken out four dumpsters of material left behind, with more still to be removed. Among the items removed are the old seats, which Klein said were in poor condition and had to be destroyed. He said he had been contacted by one local theater interested in taking them if they were still usable, but “they were no good for anybody.” The old carpeting is also being replaced.

The theater is being completely rewired, with new digital projectors and sound equipment to be installed. Klein described the new equipment as “2018 technology.” “It’s going to be a nice community theater,” he said.

Among the renovations being planned is a complete upgrade of the theater’s heating and cooling systems, which is being paid for by Silicato Corp., the mall owner. The need to replace these systems was partly responsible for the renovations taking longer than originally planned, Klein said.

Also, the concession area is being completely renovated.  Offerings will depend on the kind of space available for preparation, but typical theater fare (popcorn, candy, etc.) may be expanded to include finger foods such as mini-pizza, chicken fingers or mozzarella sticks. The drinks will all be Coke products, Klein said.

The new owners are retaining the five-theater configuration. Not only does it reduce the amount of construction needed, it keeps the theaters at a reasonable size for the anticipated local audience. In fact, with the installation of higher-quality seats – including three rows of recliners – the overall capacity will be slightly reduced. Klein said the recliners take up twice the space of regular seats, so the three rows at the front of the auditorium will occupy the space of six rows of normal seats.

The film offerings will generally be first-run movies, but Klein said the owners would be open to offering art films or “marathons” of a popular star’s or director’s films. “I’m a movie guy, I love the old movies,” he said, adding that he was willing to “think outside the box” if there was enough community demand for something in addition to currently popular offerings. “Being an independent theater gives us the ability to do that,” he said. One option might be opening the theater for special showings during off-hours, such as before noon.

The owners haven’t settled on a price structure yet, but something in the neighborhood $6 to $8 a ticket is under consideration, Klein said. “We have to see what numbers we need to be profitable. We don’t want to charge what the big theaters charge.” Concession prices will also be in line with the local area, he said.

There will be a slightly higher price – “maybe a $2 upcharge” — for the reclining seats, which customers will be able to reserve in advance, either by phone or on the theater’s website. The rest of the theater will be general admission, Klein said.  There are likely to be lower prices for matinees, along with discounts for children, seniors or Washington College students – again, something like a $2 discount per ticket.

Klein said that Chesapeake Movies is trying, wherever possible, to use local contractors for all the work being done.  Klein said he could not say whether it would be early or late August for the opening but said he would keep us apprised of any progress or delays.

We look forward to the opening of the new theater.  Keep tuned for to the Spy for updates.

###

Chestertown to Get Map of Water System

Share

Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes (R) tells Mayor Chris Cerino about bids for mapping the town’s water system.

Chestertown will be getting a new, state-of-the-art digital map of its water system.

Town Utilities Director Bob Sipes reported the results of a bid opening for creating the map at the July Utilities Commission meeting, at the beginning of the Monday council meeting.

“We got a large number of proposals for the mapping,” Sipes told the council. He said he had looked at the four lowest bidders as possible contractors for the map, which would include a graphic information systems computerized map showing all mains, hydrants, and valves, plus other necessary information to allow workers to maintain and perform repairs on the system. The contractor would also train town employees to edit the map and add features, so it wouldn’t be necessary to call in the contractor if the town added a development or annexation.

The town already has an up-to-date map of the wastewater system, which the new map would supplement. He has said he wants a complete map of the system to be available to any future utilities manager, both on paper and in electronic form. Sipes joked about putting the file on a thumb drive and putting it in a safe so it could be recovered if town hall was destroyed in a hurricane.

Earth Data, Inc., of Centreville, was fourth lowest bidder at $42,000. “I’m thinking because they’re local, they would be better suited to build the system and tend the system,” Sipes said. He recommended them over three lower bidders, all of whose proposals were in some way flawed. He said the prices for the license, at $7,000 for a perpetual license and $3,000 for a term license, were “the same for everybody.” He recommended having the work done all in a single year, to ensure consistency. If the town did it in three installments, “you don’t know if it’s going to be the same guy back, or that he can remember his processes” from one year to the next.

Earth Data is an environmental consulting firm that specializes in groundwater, geospatial, planning, watershed restoration and other environmental projects. The firm has done a number of local projects, including monitoring test wells on the grounds of the Chestertown hospital for oil leakage into the groundwater.

Sipes said the lowest bidder, at $33,500, did not cover the entire system. Another bidder’s proposal “looked good,” but when Sipes called their references, they didn’t recognize the name. He said the bidder told him they were a subcontractor on those bids, which he said should have been noted in the bid. A third bidder came in low, but didn’t include the software – which left them room to “jack up the contract,” Sipes said. He said some of the bidders went as high as $210,000 for the project.

The council unanimously authorized Sipes to accept the Earth Data bid.

Also in Sipes’ report, he said the town had received two bids for maintenance on the water towers. However, he said, he wasn’t satisfied with the responses and would like to rebid the project.

###

A Laugh a Minute at “Short Attention Span Theater” at the Garfield Center

Share

Dan Guidice as Barry and Diane Landskroener as Lois in “Kung Foolery” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

The Garfield Center’s Short Attention Span Theater, or SAST, is an eagerly-awaited feature of Chestertown’s summer arts season.  This year’s SAST – the 14th annual–brings eight 10-minute plays onstage and is a real feast for theater lovers.  As usual, the emphasis is on comedy, and this year’s selection gives some of the area’s best actors plenty of opportunities to get the audience laughing.  This is an evening of pure light-hearted entertainment not to be missed.

David MacGregor’s “Just Desserts,” directed by Diane Landskroener, riffs on a situation almost everyone has experienced – the co-worker who steals everyone else’s food (especially desserts) from the office refrigerator. One worker Joyce (Jennifer Kafka Smith) decides to take things into her own hands, to the consternation of her office mates, played by Zac Ryan, Phebe Wood, and Melissa McGlynn.  Everyone denies being the thief but Joyce has a clever plan to unmask the “pig.”  Zac Ryan, Phebe Wood, and Melissa McGlynn will remind you of all your old officemates as they swing from hot denial to indifference to a chilling desire for revenge followed by sympathy for the thief then back to self-absorption and indifference.  McGlynn’s antics are particularly funny and Phebe Wood is a breath of fresh air as the young, energetic coworker who tries to “understand” the pig and makes you wonder exactly who she is talking about.  A wonderfully absurdist take on the daily office routine.

Jim Landdskroener as Ronald and Brad Chaires as Clarence in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

“All Over But the Shouting,” by local playwright Brent Lewis, takes us to a nursing home where two brothers (Jim Landskroener and Brad Chaires), have been abandoned by the staff which has fled from an impending disaster. Facing apparent doom, the two go over all their old quarrels, then gradually, grudgingly, realize their common bonds. Chaires and Landskroener are both believable and amusing as they hash over every prank, every fight, every perceived slight from the past 70 plus years. A comic delight. Mark Sullivan directs.

Kirby Powell makes his directorial debut with “Misfortune,” by Mark Harvey Levine. A couple in a Chinese restaurant opens their fortune cookies with unexpected results. Who writes a cookie fortune like this? The husband demands a new cookie, then another!  The plot builds as the cookies’ messages become more and more unreal – with a surprise ending I admit I didn’t see coming. Nice jobs by Zac Ryan and Georgia Rickloff as the couple and Beverly Hall Smith as their waitress.

Jim Landskroener directs “Kung Foolery,” by Brett Hursey, which takes the stock situation of an awkward visit by an inlaw to the brink of absurdity and then plunges over. Gretchen Saches plays the loving and patient wife, while Dan Guidice is hilarious as the apparently over-reacting husband. But the payoff arrives with the appearance of Diane Landskroener as the mother of all mother-in-laws! The physical humor in this one is wonderful as Barry leaps about the stage, practicing his “moves” in preparation for the arrival of his dreaded mother-in-law.

“Binged There, Done That” is first up after the intermission, and playwright Ken Preuss takes the audience through the history of a relationship that makes “whirlwind” seem like slow-motion.  The ridiculous time-compression of the relationship is explained by the gimmick that the characters are “binge-watching” their relationship, with all the unlikely twists you might expect from a TV soap opera. Lis Engel, Jennifer Kafka Smith, Bryan Betley, Dan Guidice, Bryan Zachowski and Robbie Spray are all highly amusing as the couple nonchalantly and cheerfully describe their first kiss, first fight, first child.  Robbie Spray capers convincingly as the over-grown child Ron-Jon while Jennifer Kafka-Smith is perfect as the maternal yet coyly flirtatious mother-in-law. Hester Sachse is the director.

Jen Friedman and Brianna Johnson with Xocko (on the arm and hand of Thomas Martinez)  in “The Stand In” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

“The Stand In,” also by Brett Hursey, brings a young actor to an audition for a local theater. Jen Friedman does her usual hilariously over-the-top job as the theater’s ultra-bossy director, while Brianna Johnson plays the increasingly non-plussed actress who finds herself playing second fiddle to Xocko – a sock puppet. As the young actress Mandy at an audition, Johnson is clearly talented, portraying a wide range of emotions from love to anger to grief.   The premise is funny in its own right, and Xocko the puppet (played by Thomas Martinez) definitely hams it up by playing dead, miming vomiting in a bucket, and adding hats to portray different characters. Brad Chaires makes his directorial debut with this delightful spoof on television, Hollywood, and the “thee-ah-tah.”

Theater manager Brian Betley directs “L.A. 8 A.M.,” which shows a brief moment in the lives of two young people as seen by two announcers who know what their future holds. McGlynn and Paul Cambardella act as announcers while Tilly Pelcaar and Kirby Powell play the young couple. Mark Harvey Levine’s script is by a good margin the most serious of this year’s SAST offerings.  The outrageous, campy costumes of the two narrators–flashy fur coats, brightly-colored high heeled shoes, and heavy theatrical make-up–create an almost eerie ambiance and contrast to the ordinary clothes of a young couple getting ready to start their day. This one makes you think – about how we live our everyday lives and how we never know what the future may hold as we casually go through our daily routines.

Lis Engle as Sylvia in “The New Me” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

The evening concludes with local playwright Rich Pauli’s “The New Me,” directed by Melissa McGlynn. A woman tells her husband the scientific fact that after seven years, every cell in a person’s body has changed. Since it is their seventh anniversary, she is a new person who has nothing in common with the woman who married him. Lis Engle is appropriately flamboyant as the woman, and Dan Guidice plays the husband – doing a nice job of tracking his gradual acceptance of the situation – that this is not his wife.  The final dance scene and the “new” wife’s costume change add just the right touch to this comedy.

Under the overall direction of Diane Landskroener and Mark Sullivan, the show runs smoothly, with smooth transitions from one play to the next and enough variety to keep things from settling into a predictable pattern. The simple but effective set — a wall with two doors, varied by different bits of furniture to match the different plays — helps make the necessary scene changes fast and efficient. The clever and often surprisingly appropriate music selections between (and during) the separate shows were chosen by Sullivan with input from the directors. Butch Clark does his usual professional job with the lights — and gets an impromptu bit part during one show. (Wait for it!)

SAST runs through July 8, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Audiences at the evening performance get a bonus – a one-minute play festival directed by Tia Glomb. Immediately before the main performance.

Tickets are $15 for general admission; students’ tickets are $5. For reservations, call the box office at 410-810-2060 or visit Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/short-attention-span-theatre-tickets-41830127036?ref=ebtnebtckt) to buy seats online.

“Binged There, Done That” cast – Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield        Photo by Jane Jewell

Curtain Call for Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jane Jewell

L.A. 8. A.M. – Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield        Photo by Jane Jewell

Jennifer Kafka-Smith as The Mother in “Binged There, Done That” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

Brianna Johnson in “The Stand In” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

Lis Engle as Sylvia and Dan Guidice as Edward in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield     Photo by Jeff Weber

###

Kent County Primary Results : Short, Jacob, Mason Lead Commissioner Race on Republican Side

Share

Primary candidates & supporters hold signs today near the Fire House voting location at the corner of Maple Ave (Rt 213) & Cross St. in Chestertown. Kent County Commissioner incumbent and candidate for re-election Billy Short is on right (in shades and white shirt & shorts)     Photo by Jane Jewell

THIS ARTICLE UPDATED Wed. June 27 to include more election information.

Tuesday, June 26, was the primary election day in Maryland. Kent County primary election results are in, with all 10 of 10 precincts reporting. According to the Kent County Board of Elections,  1,637 Republicans and 1,977 Democrats took part in the primary, both in early voting and on election day, for a total of 3,614. That represents just over 33 percent of the county’s eligible voters in the two parties. Unaffiliated voters are not eligible to vote in the Maryland primary as the purpose of a primary is to select the party nominees thus only registered members of the parties may vote in the primary.

The numbers were probably increased by strong interest in several contests, including the Republican race for county commissioner and the Democratic primary for the District 1 Representative to the US Congress.  The results below include early ballots plus election day votes but not any absentee or provisional ballots.

In the most hotly contested local race, five candidates entered the contest for three Republican ballot slots in the race for Kent County Commissioners. Voters chose incumbent Billy Short and newcomers Bob Jacob and Tom Mason over Aaron Bramble and Jim Luff. However, the final margin was close enough – Bramble trailed by only 16 votes – that absentee and provisional ballots could change the result. The official totals may not be known until as late as next Friday, July 6, when final absentee ballots are counted and the Board of Elections certifies the election results. As of June 25, there were 42 absentee ballot requests from Kent Republicans, of which 23 had been returned. The Board of Elections did not have provisional ballot figures as of press time.

In the Democratic primary, incumbent Kent County Commissioners William Pickrum and Ron Fithian were joined by newcomer Tom Timberman to make up the Democratic slate for November. The three were uncontested for the three November ballot slots.

The other contested race in Kent pitted Andrew Meehan against Bryan DiGregory for the Democratic slot for the position of the State’s Attorney. In a close race, DiGregory was ahead by 130 votes with all 10 wards reporting. The winner will face former State’s Attorney Robert Strong, who ran uncontested on the Republican side, in November. With only 96 Democrats having requested absentee ballots, DiGregory’s lead appears to be safe.

Another closely-watched race was for the Democratic slot for the First District representative to the U.S. Congress. As of midnight on election day, 292 of the 294 precincts in District 1 had reported their totals. At that point, political newcomer Jesse Colvin led a field of six contenders with 38 percent of the vote district-wide and a lead of some 3,500 votes over Allison Galbraith, who finished a respectable second with nearly 10,000 votes, or just under 29 percent. Three candidates shared the remaining 33%–Michael Brown (15%), Michael Pullen (12.8%), Steven Worton (3.9%), and Erik Lane (2.2% ). Colvin’s margins were considerably higher in Kent, where, with all ten precincts reporting, he garnered over 55.2 percent of the votes to second-place Galbraith’s 17.9 percent.

On the Republican side, incumbent Andrew Harris easily won the primary over two rivals, both from the Eastern Shore. Harris received 82.7% of the votes cast by Kent County Republicans and 85.8% of Republican voters throughout the district which includes all of the Eastern Shore counties plus parts of Baltimore, Harford, and Carroll counties.

Look for a fuller election report in the Chestertown Spy soon.  For the complete state, county, and local election results in all races both state-wide and in the individual counties and districts see the list at Maryland Board of Elections websiteFor Kent County totals click here.

###

Council to Pursue Tax Differential Answers

Share

(L-R) Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, and council members Linda Kuiper and David Foster

The Chestertown Council is exploring ways to recover the tax differential the town was at one time granted by Kent County. Councilman David Foster raised the issue at the end of the council’s Monday, June 18 meeting.

A tax differential, a payment or a discounted rate designed to compensate the county’s five towns — Chestertown, Rock Hall, Millington, Galena, and Betterton — for services such as police protection and street repair. With the towns providing those services, the counties are saved much of the cost of providing them. In the case of Chestertown, those services amount to some $3 million in the FY 2019 town budget.

Kent County stopped providing a tax differential in 2014 as a result of the 2008 recession, which led to a decline in tax revenues. At one point, the differential took the form of a “grant in aid” payment that amounted to some $116,000 at its peak – an amount that, as Mayor Chris Cerino noted, would allow the town to repave a couple of streets, at the very least. Cerino and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said they had approached the County Commissioners about a resumption of the tax differential during the county budget deliberations the last couple of years. Ingersoll said the county’s answer was, “You’re on the radar,” but no action was taken to restore the lost payment.

Foster said he had very little idea what tax differential was before being elected to the council last year. “I was embarrassed; I had property in town for over 20 years, and I had never, ever heard of it.” At the annual Maryland Municipal League (ML) meeting in Ocean City earlier this month, Foster asked representatives of other towns in the state whether they were receiving a tax differential. All the ones he asked said they were receiving either a direct payment or a discounted rate on the county property tax; in most cases, they said the amount had grown by 60 percent over the last few years. In contrast, Foster noted that Chestertown’s tax differential has “decreased by 100 percent.” According to Foster’s research, there are only three counties in the state that don’t provide some form of tax relief to their towns. Foster said he asked the county commissioners why they didn’t provide a differential, “and they kind of mumbled, ‘Oh, we don’t have the money.’ How is it all these other counties can do this?” Foster asked.

The commissioners, during a June 5 public hearing on the county budget, said that flat revenues and rising prices have forced them to make difficult choices, including some reductions of staff and trimming budget requests from many county departments. They did not mention the tax differential.

One commissioner was given the opportunity to address the question at a candidates’ forum for Republican candidates for commissioner, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Chestertown Councilwoman Linda Kuiper asked the candidates if they supported restoring the differential. Commissioner Billy Short, who is running for reelection, said the commissioners hope to restore the differential within five years. He said he would support it in the form of a reduced tax rate for the town, “giving the money directly back to the taxpayers.” Short said he didn’t understand why Chestertown needs to budget $1.8 million for police work. He went on to say there is considerable duplication of services between the town and county. “Our officers actually operate within Chestertown as well,” with Sheriff’s deputies frequently patrolling the streets, he said. The county also performs some road work within town, he said.

Recapitulating the exchange at the council meeting, Kuiper said that Short had cited the cost of the county’s high-speed internet project as a benefit the town was receiving. “I’m not seeing the advantages of it yet,” she said. She also noted that the Chestertown police department responds to calls for service beyond town limits, benefitting the county. “It didn’t take me very long to decide which commissioner candidate I was going to vote for,” she said.

The county’s property tax rate remains unchanged at $1.022 per $100 assessed value, and the income tax rate is also unchanged. Chestertown raised its property tax rates, which are in addition to the county taxes, by five cents to $0.42 per $100 assessed value.

Foster said he had spoken to Ryan Spiegel, the president-elect of MML about the problem, and was encouraged to write a request for the organization to consider it as an issue it would lobby for in Annapolis. He said the request might gain more attention with the General Assembly because Ocean City is suing Worcester County over the issue. If there were no objections, Foster said he would like to submit a letter requesting that the MML support a requirement that all counties provide a tax differential. He noted that the state code differentiates between counties that “may” provide such a differential and those that “shall,” with Kent falling into the former category. Nine of the state’s counties–primarily the larger, more urban counties–are required to grant some form of tax differential to the incorporated towns as those residents who are in practically all cases already paying taxes for services which the county therefore does not need to provide. Foster said that one of the questions he wanted to ask MML was how the town might go about changing the county’s status from “may” to “shall.”

Cerino asked if such a change would require the local delegates to the General Assembly to support the measure. “It would certainly help,” said Foster. “I think it’s an uphill battle.”

“I totally agree with you; it’s crazy we don’t get anything,” Cerino said. He noted that Chestertown has one-quarter of the county’s population. “For those of you who live in Chestertown, you’re paying full property tax rates to the county, and you’re basically getting no services in return,” he said. “Technically, you’re getting police protection, but 99 out of 100 calls for service are answered by our police.” He listed other services not being supplied by the county to town residents, including snow removal, trash collection, and recycling–services which are provided to residents who live outside the town limits. “What we’re getting is, we’re underwriting services for everyone else in the county. And that’s why (the county commissioners) don’t want to give us a rebate. They have a great deal, they know it, and they have no impetus to change it.”

Foster noted that the majority of the county’s small businesses are located in the towns, and therefore are subject to the higher property tax rates, whether directly or through higher rent payments. That makes the issue one of economic development as well as of fairness, he said. “It’s worth a shot” to try to push for legislative action, he said. He also noted that the makeup of the county commission may change after the November election.

Foster said he would be happy to draft the letter to MML. “It’s not just for Kent County,” he noted. “There’s already 13 counties that fall under this ‘may provide.’ So we’re not alone in this.”

Councilman Marty Stetson suggested that Foster write the letter and the rest of the council add their signatures. Cerino said he would be glad to sign it, but he said it would be important to get more town residents to support the issue. He noted that most are unaware that there is any problem.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked if it would be worthwhile to mount a public relations campaign to inform residents of the issue. Foster said he hoped the media were listening and that they would report on the council discussion. The other thing the town can try to do is get groups like the League of Women Voters to add it to the list of questions they ask candidates for office, he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson said that council members who get complaints about their votes to increase town taxes can reply that the increase wouldn’t have been necessary if the county were still providing the tax differential.

Ingersoll said he had made that point during budget discussions. “A simple way to understand it is ‘double taxation,’” he said. He said the commissioner’s saying a restoration of the tax differential was “on their radar” was hard to understand in an election year. “On whose radar? Are you going to be in or out?” he asked to wrap up the discussion as the council moved on to other issues.

Look for continuing coverage of this issue as it evolves.  As available, the Spy will post copies of the letters on the tax differential from the town of Chestertown to Kent County and to the Maryland Municipal League or other relevant documents.

###

Sultana Offers to Buy Excess Property from Town

Share

 

Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino (L)  listens as Town Manager Bill Ingersoll describes an offer to purchase excess town property

The town of Chestertown has received an offer to purchase a vacant plot of land near the old railroad station, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said at the June 18 meeting of the Mayor and Council.

The 1.16-acre property, which the town acquired from the Penn Central railroad when it ceased its local train service around 1980, is basically an upland wetland, Ingersoll said. The town offered it to a neighboring property owner for $5,000 at the time, but there was no interest. The town listed the lot as excess property in 2006, and now it has found a prospective buyer in Sultana Educational Foundation.

Sultana’s plan is to combine it with an adjoining 5-acre parcel owned by Washington College, for use as an educational wetland preserve for Sultana’s environmental programs for K-12 students. Architect Miles Barnard has submitted a detailed plan for the project, which will be presented to the town’s planning commission. Sultana has offered $15,000 for the lot.

Ingersoll said the property is not on the tax rolls, and that its location won’t affect the potential development of the college-owned Stepney property. “It looks pretty exciting to me,” he said. He asked the council to authorize him to go ahead with negotiations for the sale. The council voted its approval, conditional on the planning commission’s approval of the proposed use. Mayor Chris Cerino, who is employed by Sultana, recused himself.

Chestertown Recreation Commission Chair Amy Meeks

The council also heard a report from Amy Meeks, chair of the town’s Recreation Commission. Meeks gave a summary of the commission’s recent activities, including a summer film program, participation in festivals, and plans for upgrading Washington Park, for which the commission has received a Community Parks and Playgrounds grant from the state of Maryland. Also, Meeks requested permission to install a swing set in Margo Bailey Park, near the dog park enclosure. The council approved the site and the expenditure of $2,700 for the equipment. Accompanying Meeks to the meeting were new commission member James Bogden and Harold Somerville, whom Meeks asked the council to appoint to the commission.

Also at the meeting, the council approved a resolution to raise the town’s fees for building permits. Ingersoll said the current fees have been in effect since 2008, and he described the increase as “modest.” The fee rate is essentially $0.50 per square foot for new residential projects and $ 0.40 for substantial rehabilitation of an existing property. For properties larger than 3,000 square feet, the per-square-foot rate is reduced to half the usual rate for the additional area. Thus, a 3,000-square-foot new property would cost $1,500 for the permit while refurbishing a similar property would be $1,200. Smaller projects such as fences, roofs siding, or sheds come in at $75.

The complete rate list is available from town hall.

In his Mayor’s report, Cerino gave an update on work at the marina, including the installation of the first floating pier. Next step is to add the finger piers, Cerino said. Work to extend the Cannon Street pier will commence next week, with schooner Sultana out of town on its summer cruise.

Chestertown Police Chief Adrian Baker

Also at the meeting, Police Chief Adrian Baker delivered the departmental report for May, and Main Street Manager Kay MacIntosh gave a brief report on the facade improvement grants to several downtown businesses.

At the end of the meeting, Councilman David Foster reported on his research into a tax differential arrangement between the town and the county, which has been in abeyance for several years following the 2008 recession. Tax differentials, which most Maryland counties provide to their associated municipalities, are meant to compensate the towns for providing services such as police protection and street repair which the county consequently doesn’t need to pay for. The Spy will publish a full account of the discussion in an upcoming story.

###

Early Voting Open through Thursday

Share

Candidates’ signs outside the Kent County Public Library, the polling place for early voting — Photo by Peter Heck

Do you plan to vote in this year’s primary elections? You can avoid lines and that last-minute rush to vote before the polls close by taking part in early voting at the Chestertown branch of the Kent County Public Library. Early voting is open through Thursday, June 21, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polls are in the meeting room near the High Street entrance to the library; voters may enter from High Street or by the side entrance after regular library hours.

Voters can choose their party’s candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General, U. S. Senate and House of Representatives, Maryland state Senate and House of Delegates, and a slate of local offices including County Commissioner and State’s Attorney. For the primary election, voters may only vote for candidates of the party they are registered in. Unaffiliated voters, often called “independent” voters, meaning those who have registered to vote but have chosen not to affiliate themselves as either Democrats or Republicans, cannot vote in the primary, whose purpose is to select party candidates. Other political parties, such as the Libertarian or Green parties, do not currently hold primaries.  These voters can vote in the general election on November 6.

What if you’re not registered to vote at all?  You can do that at early voting, too, and then cast your ballot the same day.  To register to vote, you will need to bring ID and proof of address. According to the Maryland Board of Elections, “To register and vote during early voting, go to an early voting center in the county where you live and bring a document that proves where you live. This document can be your MVA-issued license, ID card, or change of address card, or your paycheck, bank statement, utility bill, or other government document with your name and new address. You will be able to register to vote and vote.”  So your Maryland driver’s license should do it.

US citizens who are residents of Maryland can register to vote as early as age 16 though they must be 18 before they can vote in a general election.  However, seventeen-year-olds may vote in this June primary to help chose their party’s candidate as long as they will be 18 before November 6 and thus eligible to vote in the General Election.

The date for regular voting in the primary election is Tuesday, June 26, when polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You must be registered before June 26 in order to vote in the Primary Election on June 26. For a complete list of polling places and other information, see the Maryland Board of Elections website.

The general election takes place Nov. 6. The Chestertown Spy will bring you more election news and analysis throughout the election season.