Council Hears Reports on Meter Bags, Car Show, Police Recruit

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At the Chestertown Council meeting, July 15, Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown showed council members samples of bags to be placed on parking meters for streets that need to be closed for special events.

Kay MacIntosh

MacIntosh said the bags would be an “easier and more positive” way to inform the public of street closings, not just saying “you can’t park here,” but turning it into “don’t park here because there’s a great event coming.”

The bags would take a burden off the police department, which currently posts paper signs on trees, utility poles, or other fixtures for the purpose. Those signs can be damaged by rain or wind, which requires that they be replaced. The weatherproof bags, designed by Barbara Slocum, are made of bluish-purple canvas,  and they would have a slot with a clear plastic window for insertion of a paper sign specific to the event. The signs would be placed in the bags at police headquarters before they were deployed. The bags can also be used for the Saturday Farmers Market, where they would stay up full-time, MacIntosh said. 

A $2,464 grant from the Maryland State Arts Council will pay for almost all of the bags, MacIntosh said. The Tea Party Festival is the only regular event that would require placing bags on all the downtown meters, which are primarily on High and Cross Streets and Park Row. If the cost exceeds the grant amount, she said, the balance can be covered from donated funds visitors put in the parking meters.

MacIntosh said she would consult with the town police before placing a final order for the bags.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll asked MacIntosh about plans for a classic car show to be held downtown in September.

MacIntosh said the organizers had not yet received permits for the event, but she believed they had filed the application. The show is scheduled for Sept. 14, at 2 p.m., after the Farmers Market closes. Cars would be exhibited on High Street next to Fountain Park, and on Park Row and Memorial Plaza. There would be a couple of food trucks, and beer and wine vendors. Half a dozen especially interesting cars would be displayed in the park itself, she said. She said the organizers would take special care to avoid damaging the grass in the park.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper expressed concern about giving Farmers Market vendors enough time to break down their displays and leave the park before the cars need to set up. Barbara Slocum, one of the organizers, said she had been at Farmers Market and timed the vendors as they left. The park was “almost empty” by 12:40, she said, leaving enough time for everyone if setup for the car show begins at 1 p.m. and the show itself at 2.

Ingersoll said the possibility of damage to the park grass should be minimal. He also said it should be put in the context of a plan by the Chestertown Garden Club to aerate and reseed the park later in September. He joked that “the biggest rain of the season” would probably fall on Sept. 13, making the park too muddy to show cars there.

Chestertown Police Chief Ardian Baker

After Chief Adrian Baker presented the monthly police report for June, Ingersoll asked if there was any update on the “purloined” police recruit who completed training under Chestertown auspices and then resigned to take a job with another Shore town.

Baker said the police department had received a personal check from the recruit reimbursing the town for his salary. The department also expects a check from the town with which he is now working for the cost of training, Baker said. He said the other recruit hired at the same time is “doing great,” with field training expected to be completed by August. He said he would bring the new officer in to introduce him to the council at the next meeting.

Councilman David Foster, in his ward report, asked if the town was considering kayak and bike rentals in the marina.

Ingersoll said there had been some discussion of the idea. He said said that any rentals would need to be “non-commercial,” so as not to expose the town to tax liability for the property. Also, he said, there is currently dredging being done at the marina, which makes it less safe for kayakers to launch there. The two kayak launches at the marina were not getting a great deal of use, he said.

Ingersoll also said there is an issue with slip fees for visiting boaters who want to eat at the 98 Cannon restaurant. He said the restaurant only maintains two slips. “We’re working out details,” he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson reported that playground equipment in Margo Bailey Park was recently vandalized. He said the equipment is underused, and its location makes it an easy target for mischief. “It’s a question if it’s the right place for it,” he said. Stetson also reported that the town street crew had pruned and trimmed about 100 trees in the park. “It’s really beautiful,” he said.

Public Service Commission Can Overrule Local Government, Court Says

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The Maryland Court of Appeals reaffirmed on Tuesday that the Maryland Public Service Commission is the final arbiter on the location and approval of solar projects larger than two megawatts—and can preempt local jurisdictions after giving “due consideration” to local zoning ordinances and comprehensive plans.

The ruling cites the historical “intent” of the Maryland General Assembly in passing public utilities law as well as recent amendments enacted in 2017 that reinforced the PSC’s  “decision-making” authority.

The court affirmed that it has always upheld the broad powers of the PSC given to it in statute by the legislature “to execute its principal duty of assuring adequate electrical service statewide.”

And while the court recognized local government as a partner in the decision process, “the ultimate decision-maker is the PSC, not the local government or local zoning board.”

The court did, however, note the PSC’s obligation to consider local land use laws when approving applications for solar projects that require a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.

Local zoning laws are “nevertheless a statutory factor requiring due consideration by the PSC in rendering its ultimate decision,” the ruling said.

The recent court ruling comes from a case in Washington County where local residents fought Perennial Solar, LLC ‘s application in late 2015 for a variance to build an 86-acre solar farm near the village of Cearfoss.

The Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals approved the application, ruling that the project conformed to the comprehensive plan.  Residents soon petitioned the Washington County Circuit Court to kill the project because it would blight the rural landscape.

But Perennial filed a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the circuit court on the grounds that state law gave the PSC final authority under the state’s Public Utilities Article, passed by the Maryland General Assembly, to approve the placement of solar energy generating systems. The circuit court agreed.

The Washington County Commissioners and a group of citizens appealed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which sided with the circuit court in affirming the state’s preemptive authority.

The Washington Commissioners brought the case to Maryland Court of Appeals in late 2018 on the grounds that the General Assembly had “prescribed a role for local government” through local planning and zoning that was not preempted by the PSC.

But the appeals court sided with Perennial, citing case law, the 2017 amendments to public utilities article, and bills that failed in the General Assembly to allow for greater local control.

“Our holding that the General Assembly’s intent to preempt local comprehensive planning and zoning on matters related to the ultimate siting and construction of generating stations is bolstered by the recent amendments to the statute, as well as our consideration of the proposed bills, which were rejected,” the court said.

“If the General Assembly intended to change the existing law, it certainly had the opportunity to do so,” the court said.

The recent ruling received a cool response from Queen Anne’s Conservation Association Executive Director Jay Falstad, who highlighted the PCS’s obligation to local jurisdictions in the ruling.

“Given everything we’ve heard about the great importance of allowing land-use decisions to be made by the Counties rather than by the State, we’re somewhat surprised that the Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously that it’s the State, not the Counties, that will decide where in a County any big solar project is to be located,” Falstad wrote in an email to the Spy. ”But the Court is very careful to emphasize many times over that the PSC is legally required to listen to the County’s views and to give “due consideration” to how the County treats solar projects in its comprehensive plan and zoning regulations.  So, as an environmental organization that strongly supports solar projects when they are built in the right places, we at QACA will go on working at both levels, state and local, for good decision-making about solar in Queen Anne’s County and its neighbors.”

Though disappointed with the ruling, the Kent Conservation Alliance, through its attorney Chris Drummond, said the PSC over the past few years has actually been more proactive in working with local communities on renewable energy projects.

“The Kent and Queen Anne’s County Commissioners are surely disappointed with the Court of Appeals decision,” Drummond wrote in an email to the Spy. “However, the attitude among state agencies regarding local land use and zoning concerns seems to have changed in the past few years. Now, the state agencies that provide information and recommendations to the Public Service Commission actively seek local input and include those concerns in reports to the PSC. Recently, solar applications have been approved by the PSC with conditions that require compliance with local site plan and landscaping requirements. We will work to make sure that the state agencies continue to take local concerns and land use regulations seriously.”

Drummond filed an amicus brief in support of the Washington County Commissioners.

Maryland Association of Counties said the decision was a disappointment but said the organization would “continue to advocate for a county voice in the decision-making process” and that the 2017 legislation did not sideline local governments in the approval process.

“The court’s decision reiterated important parts of state law that require the Commission to give due consideration to the position of a local government on an energy generation projects,” said Les Knapp, chief policy counsel for MACo in an email to the Spy.

But the attorney representing the Washington County citizens group, William Wantz, was not as optimistic and said Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore would soon feel the encroachment of solar farms.

“The availability of farmland at reasonable cost will periodically result in a disproportionate concentration of solar farms displacing agriculture in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, where rural land prices are cheap.”

 

Crazy Days Ahead! July 25 Through July 27

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Downtown Chestertown’s annual shopping bonanza, Crazy Days, is right around the corner. The sidewalk sale begins on Thursday, July 25 and runs through Saturday, July 27, with many stores carrying the specials into Sunday.  This mid summer tradition is sponsored by the Downtown Chestertown Association.

Great deals can be found on everything from men’s and women’s designer fashions, children’s clothing and toys, jewelry, home décor, kitchen must-haves, wine and cheese, books, art supplies, and even musical instruments.  There is plenty for the younger ones:  free face painting Thursday 10 am to noon, Friday 10 am – 1pm and Saturday 11 am to 2 pm.  Kent County Parks and Rec will be offering games in Fountain Park during the day on Friday.  The Lockbriar Ice Cream Cart will be in town Friday and Saturday.

Shops will be open Friday night until 7 pm. For those who wish to grab something to eat while perusing the bargains, downtown restaurants will be offering “Crazy” food and drink specials. Oyster lovers – Scott Budden of Oyster Point Farms will be in town Friday from 5 -7 pm with his ‘buck a shuck.“ Check out the Downtown Chestertown Facebook page for more deals https://www.facebook.com/pg/downtownchestertown/events/

Bring the whole family to Downtown Chestertown for a fun filled day – or weekend!

The parking is always free.

Council Discusses Ways to Restore July 4 Fireworks Display Next Year

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Chestertown council members, at the July 15 meeting, responded to numerous complaints from the public about the lack of a July 4 fireworks display this year.

Fireworks were dropped from the FY2019 budget during deliberations last Spring, in response to tightened fiscal circumstances that also led to an increase in the town’s property tax rate. However, since a 2018 fireworks show had been already included in the previous budget and was already under contract, the town went ahead with the display last summer on July 4, 2018. The town website did not mention that there would be no display in 2019, and many residents evidently assumed it would take place “as usual.” Some online search engines, including Google, made the same assumption and erroneously listed Chestertown as one of the Shore towns with a July 4 fireworks show.

Chestertown Councilwoman Linda Kuiper and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll described the reaction as “a lot of flak,” adding that one complaint that “went overboard” was turned over to the police. “If everyone out there who’s angry wants to donate, this is a good time,” Ingersoll said. He said the town could put up “an unbelievable show in the space that we have” for $7,500. He said the town could start accepting donations for next year right away.

“A lot of people should have known,” said Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, who presided over the meeting while Mayor Chris Cerino was on vacation. She noted that the decision to eliminate the fireworks display was made more than a year ago. “Maybe they just weren’t paying attention,” she said. She asked how far in advance of a proposed fireworks show would the town need to start obtaining the necessary permits.

Ingersoll said permits from the U.S. Coast Guard and “the bomb squad” need to be obtained three months before a proposed display, “so we usually start in February.” He said the town has staged the display on the same small site near Wilmer Park for several years now. “It’s very visible from the river,” he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson said the town should try to find some community organization that would take on the fireworks display. He said he felt it was unfair to taxpayers to fund the display out of public money when not all of them are interested in fireworks. He said after the meeting that he knows of very few residents of Ward 4, which he represents, who go to the show. He said that Rock Hall, which finances its fireworks from donations, actually has money left over after the show, which he said costs about $20,000.

“I know the boating community was upset,” said Stetson. He said he asked people who complained to him how much money they would be willing to contribute for a show. “I think it would be great if some other organization heads it up,” he said. “The government doesn’t do well raising funds.”

Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown said there had been discussions last year about her organization possibly taking over the fireworks, but she would have to talk to her board before she could make any commitment. She said the organizers of a Fall Car Show scheduled for September told her that if the show made any money they could donate it to the cause. MacIntosh said she had gone on vacation to a little town in Pennsylvania where the local businesses sponsored the display, and there were signs all along the road acknowledging the sponsors.

Councilman David Foster said he had talked to members of the town’s fire department who had a booth at the Farmers Market last Saturday. He said they appeared willing to consider the idea, although they made no commitment. He said he had written them a letter proposing the idea for them to discuss at the next department meeting, which he couldn’t attend because it took place at the same time as the council meeting. He pointed out that the fire department is in need of more volunteers, and that they have “fundraising challenges of their own.” As a result, it would probably require another organization to work with them to do some of the fundraising and advertising. Also, he said, the firefighters would probably want to touch base with the Rock Hall Fire Department to see what was involved. “I was pleased that they would be willing to discuss this on short notice,” he said. He said he would report what he heard back from them.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said there are several community organizations “that want to contribute and make it happen,” and that working with the fire department could be a good way to bring all the resources together.

Also at the meeting, the council heard the monthly police report; a report on proposed “no parking” bags to place on downtown meters when a festival or other event requiring street closings is scheduled; and a short preview of the September car show. Look for a full account of these and other town council matters in an upcoming issue of the Chestertown Spy.

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“Lights for Liberty” Vigil Protests Treatment of Immigrant Children

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A “Lights for Liberty” vigil in Chestertown’s Memorial Park Friday, July 12, drew some 125 residents to protest the incarceration of immigrant children in what are being called concentration camps located both near the US border with Mexico and in other states. The vigil featured speakers, music, and prayers for the children in the camps, which have drawn widespread criticism for crowding and inhumane conditions.

Heather Mizeur, organizer of the vigil  — Photo by Jane Jewell

Soul Force Politics, a political action group created by former Maryland Delegate and gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, organized the event. Mizeur opened the proceedings, noting that the candlelight vigil on Friday was one of hundreds being held around the nation and internationally, with some sources estimating over 1,000 such events world-wide. She said the purpose of the vigils was to call attention to the presence of the camps and the conditions of the children “in a nice way.” She then called out, “(Rep.) Andy Harris, are you here? We’re trying to send you a message.” As the Stam Hall clock tolled 9 p.m., she said the attendees were there “to toll the bell for a different way” of treating the refugees in the camps. “This isn’t going to stand any longer,” she said.  It was important, she stressed, that we bring both intention and attention to the situation.

Fredy Granillo then took the microphone for a song in Spanish, which he dedicated to all Latino people. He asked the crowd to make an effort to see that Latino people they meet in the community are comfortable and feel welcomed. As he sang, the crowd joined in on the chorus, “Sobreviviendo” (“surviving”).

Alana Watson of Students Talking About Racism (STAR)   — Photo by Peter Heck

The next speaker was Alana Watson, of the Students Talking About Racism (STAR) group at the Kent County public schools. She said it was shameful that children are being imprisoned, and noted the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, “liberty and justice for all.” She said that while the damage of the camps is not being done “in our backyard,” it’s necessary to shine a light on it to make everyone aware. She characterized the children in the camps as “people without someone to bring them justice… We need to be those people.” She ended by recalling the July 4th celebrations in Rock Hall, with the song “Proud to Be an American” playing, while the children in the camps were cold and alone. “I hope they know that we care,” she said.

Bob and Pam Ortiz and Ford Schumann then joined Granillo for more music. Bob Ortiz said that his own family was part of the first wave of Latino immigrants to the U.S. that arrived between the end of the Spanish American War in 1898 and World War II. Granillo joined in on the song, “Vaya con Norte,” (“Go North”) with the audience singing along with the chorus. Ortiz said he had only recently learned that Puerto Ricans are only “provisional” citizens.

Fredy Granillo, Pam Ortiz, Ford Schumann, and Bob Ortiz perform a Puerto Rican song   — Photo by Jane Jewell

Mizeur invited several members of the clergy who were in attendance to say a joint prayer. She expressed hope that the incarcerated children and their parents know that people are “standing with them,” and that Americans understand that they are here because of the threat of violence in their home countries. With the threat of raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) police beginning Sunday, “it’s up to us to provide a safe harbor,” and directed attendees to the Soul Force Politics website for resources to help refugees. Mizeur also suggested that attendees support Latino-owned businesses such as the Mexican grocery store near Chestertown. She concluded by saying that Chestertown was “the most beautiful I have ever seen you” that night at the vigil, and told the attendees, “Your heart, your soul, your dedication matter.”

Members of the clergy attending the vigil  — Photo by Jane Jewell

Caitlan Gartland, the associate pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown, said that the vigil showed that “the spirit is moving upon the people,” and expressed hope that the protests would help turn around the administration’s immigration policies.

Rev. Tom Sinnott, who serves the Spanish-speaking congregation at Shrewsbury Church, said he had picked up a candle at the local convenience store and saw that it was labeled “born to shine.” He said that was equally true of people of faith, and that he was here to make sure they said, “No more” to those maintaining the camps.

Granillo and the Ortizes then came together for a final song, “Dale,” from Granillo’s native El Salvador. Granillo said that the song has a happy rhythm, but the words are “in the opposite direction” from the rhythm. He dedicated the song to all Latin American people.

Mizeur closed the evening by asking each audience member to hug five people before they left. “Love each other real good,” she said. “It’s love that’s going to bring about change.”

Photos by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell

Lights for Liberty Vigil – Friday, July 12, 2019 – Photo by Peter Heck

Lights for Liberty Vigil – Friday, July 12, 2019 – Photo by Peter Heck

Photo by Jane Jewell

Legacy Day to Celebrate African-American Churches in Kent County

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Sunday school students from the Still Pond/Colemans charge, including Mt. Zion, Fountain, Union, and St. George United Methodist churches

At the center of this year’s Legacy Day celebration, scheduled for August 17, is a recognition of the role of African-American churches in the history and culture of Kent County. A joint project of the Kent County Historical Society and Sumner Hall, Legacy Day is in its sixth year of celebrating the role of African-Americans in the community. Drawing attendees from a wide area, Legacy Day has become an important part of Chestertown’s cultural landscape.

Asbury United Methodist Church, Georgetown

While the most visible part of the festivities, for many attendees, is the parade and block party Saturday evening, Legacy Day incorporates a lot more, including a great deal of research into the history of Kent County. This year’s research was even more extensive than usual, documenting the history of all the African American churches that were founded more than 125 years ago, a total of 24, of which 16 are still actively holding services.

As lead researcher Bill Leary notes in an article summarizing the research, the historic African American churches were all of the Methodist denomination. This is because, as Leary says, “No other religious group treated African Americans better. Early Methodists worked hard to make black converts and spoke out clearly against slavery.” Also, with the church’s emphasis on conversion rather than the formal study of church doctrine, Methodism made itself accessible to the poor and uneducated of all races.

Eleven of the historic churches were founded in the years before the end of slavery, and another eight in the years immediately following the Civil War, when hopes for reconstruction and racial equality were high.

Leary notes that despite welcoming black worshipers, the early Methodist churches were not free of discrimination. African Americans were required to sit in the back of the church, or in the gallery, and at camp meetings, they were not allowed to sit in front of the speakers’ platforms. Because of this, a movement arose to establish independent churches for black Methodists. In 1813, Peter Spencer, born a slave in Kent County, founded the Union Church of Africans in Wilmington, Delaware. Three years later, the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church was founded by Absalom Jones and Richard Allen. Other black Methodists, including many of those in Kent County, remained within the main body of the church. However, by 1864, they were seeking more control over the governance of their own churches, leading to the foundation of the Delaware Annual Conference. This group, including churches in New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and the Delmarva peninsula, remained independent of the United Methodist Church as a whole until 1965.

Janes United Methodist Church, Chestertown

Probably the earliest African-American church in Kent County was Zion Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in Chestertown before 1828 when a property transfer document refers to it as already standing on a plot on Princess (now Queen) Street. Moved and rebuilt several times, the church was renamed in 1867 to honor Bishop Edmund Janes, whose name it bears today. The present structure at the corner of Cross and Cannon Streets was built in 1914 after a fire destroyed much of downtown Chestertown. In its long history, it has been the spiritual home of many prominent citizens, including 19th-century businessmen William Perkins and James Jones, both trustees of the church.

Chestertown’s other historic black church is Bethel A.M.E. Church, founded sometime before 1872. The church trustees bought land at the corner of Kent and Calvert Streets in 1878, where the congregation met until 1910 when a new church was built on College Avenue. The church has been a center for the fight for equal rights, with its pastor Rev. Frederick Jones Sr. among the founders of the local NAACP chapter. Rev. Jones also welcomed the Freedom Riders to Kent County in 1962. More recently, Bethel has hosted the monthly meetings of the Diversity Dialogue Group.

Other Kent County churches still holding services are Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Pomona, founded in 1849; Asbury-John Wesley United Methodist Church in Millington, from before 1855; Graves Chapel Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, Millington, reportedly founded by and named for a veteran of the U.S. Colored Infantry in the Civil War; and Wesley Chapel of Love United Methodist Church in Sassafras, incorporated in 1893 and merged with two other congregations in 2004.

Also active in the modern era are Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church of Melitota, founded before 1860, when it appears on a map of the county; the New Christian Chapel of Love in Big Woods, founded sometime before 1888 as Fountain United Methodist Church; Mt. Olive A.M.E. Church of Butlertown, built in 1898 but likely founded much earlier; and St. George United Methodist Church of Worton Point, which is adjacent to the historic African American schoolhouse, built in 1890 and purchased by the church in 1958.

Union United Methodist Church, Coleman’s Corner

Union United Methodist Church in Coleman’s Corner was probably built in 1865 or 1866, shortly after Emancipation. Asbury United Methodist Church of Georgetown traces its origins to 1863 when local black residents began holding services in the local school. It is named for its first pastor, Rev. Asbury Grinnage. Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church, located on the north side of Fairlee, purchased land for a church in 1885. Its present building dates to 1908.

Emmanuel United Methodist Church, Pomona

Aaron Chapel United Methodist Church of Rock Hall originated when the local white church donated its chapel, which it no longer needed, to the free black community in 1854. Holy Trinity A.M.E. Church of Edesville erected its first church building in 1885, but there is evidence that the local African-American community was holding church services at least 20 years earlier when it built a school for black children shortly after Emancipation.

Another nine churches built more than 125 years ago are no longer holding services, and in many cases, the buildings are in ruins. Leary’s history, which will be available at the Historical Society during the month of August, gives details on all 24 of the churches, including the names of their pastors, prominent members of their congregations, and other historical information. There will also be an exhibit including artifacts from several of the churches, first at the Historical Society and later at Sumner Hall.

Members of the existing churches have been invited to take part in the Legacy Day celebrations, including a concert of old-time gospel music Aug. 10 at Bethel Church, and the parade Aug. 17.

The full Legacy Day schedule:

Saturday, August 10:

2:00 pm, at Bethel AME Church – Old Time Gospel Music presented by local churches and Reception for Honorees

Saturday, August 17:

10:00 am, at Chestertown Public Library – Genealogy Workshop

11:00 am – 4:00 pm, at Sumner Hall – Stories and Snacks for the Young and Young at Heart

12:00 pm – 6:00 pm, at Chestertown RiverArts – Special Legacy Day Exhibit

2:00 pm, at Bethel AME Church – Gospel Concert by Rev. Dr. Anthony Brown

5:00 pm – Parade Down High Street, with MC Yvette Hynson (Lady Praise)

6:00 pm – 10:00 pm – Block Party on High Street featuring Music by Jasper Hackett with Quiet Fire — the band that played the first Legacy Day in 2014

The evening festivities include food and drinks booths and a dance contest.

Photos courtesy of Kent County Historical Society.

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Staff Shortage at Kent Center Blamed on Low Wages and Stress

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Kent Center President Randy Cooper takes a moment with a Kent Center client, June 28, 2019

As Maryland’s minimum wage rises to $15 by 2025 so do concerns that direct support staff serving Maryland’s developmentally disabled will make a career change to McDonald’s, where working the drive-thru pays almost the same.

“Support staff wear many hats” and the work is stressful,  said Kent Center’s Executive Director Karine Ireland at a legislative breakfast on June 28 to commemorate nearly 50 years of serving clients in Kent County. “The staff needs increased training and increased pay.”

Low wages continue to plague recruitment and retention, which caregiver organizations in Maryland have called a “crisis.” They say starting wages must exceed the minimum wage by a wider margin than currently exists to recruit and retain a workforce.

There are over 200 organizations in Maryland like Kent Center that serve 25,000 developmentally disabled; they rely almost exclusively on Medicaid and state dollars that flow through the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration to pay support staff.

A third of new DDA support staff in the state quit after six months and nearly half resign after one year. The attrition is the result of high stress and low wages, according to the Maryland Association of Community Services, a group that advocates for caregiver organizations. Courtney Williams, administration director for Kent Center, said their retention rate was close to the state average.

Ireland said all support staff require emergency medical training and certification to administer medications. They also undergo extensive training in conflict resolution and mentoring — in order to provide the job coaching and life skills clients need to integrate into the community.

The breakfast included a tour of the facility on Scheeler Road where job readiness and mentoring programs are run. There are currently 12 clients employed in the community with the help of the center’s Supported Employment Services.

Delegates. Jay Jacobs, R-Kent, and Steve Arentz, R-Queen Anne’s, attended the breakfast and blamed the rising minimum wage on the chronic staff shortages in DDA funded facilities.

“A $15 minimum wage actually hurt this place, it didn’t help it at all,” Jacobs said. “That $15 may sound good in the outside world but it actually harmed the workers in the pay scales.”

Arentz and Jacobs voted against the $15 wage hike that passed in Annapolis this year.

But caregiver organizations lobbied in Annapolis for “the fight for $15” and asked for a 7% bump in DDA’s budget. The legislature cut the request back to 3.5% for 2020 and 4% for years 2021-2026.

As the minimum wage rises, entry-level workers in 2025 will make about 60 cents more than new hires at McDonald’s, the difference could be even less if the burger chain is paying more than the minimum wage by then. See figure 1.

The average starting wage in DDA facilities is $10.50 to 11.00. The Kent Center’s starting wage is $10.66 —  just 56 cents above the current minimum wage, a gap of just 5%.

The staff turnover over at the Kent Center is 22%, which is slightly lower than the state average of 25%. The center needs 50 more recruits by February to run programs at the facility and staff 14 full-time residences in the community. The center currently has 150 support staff for roughly 80 clients.

In 2006 the reimbursement rate was 69% above the state minimum wage; this year the gap has narrowed to 19%. But new employees are actually paid much closer to the minimum wage because providers, mostly community nonprofits, must reward employees with tenure at a higher wage to maintain retention.

The state tried to address the gap in the Minimum Wage Act of 2014 and tied the reimbursement rate to the minimum wage. The Act came with a mandate that set the reimbursement rate to a level above the state’s minimum wage in order to attract and maintain the workforce.

“The current rate is not enough when you can [start] at Giant earning $12.35,” said Laura Howell, executive director of Maryland Association of Community Services in brief phone interview. She said the vacancy rate was compromising the safety of staff and clients in facilities like the Kent Center.

Figure 1. Maryland Association of Community Services

Ireland spoke of one success story at the center where a client landed a better paying job than the support staff who trained him. Williams said there were other instances where staffers quit after learning they could earn more where their former clients had found work.

The workforce shortage has also raised concerns among aging parents whose children rely on the Kent Center.

“If I’m not there or my husband is not there, someone has to be,” said Linda Cades, whose 40-year-old son has relied on the Kent Center for 20 years. “We need to get good people to do this. We need to know that our kids are safe because they are extremely vulnerable.”

She said the center provided the socialization her son needed to know people with and without disabilities. Her son was also able to perform work, participating in the contract mailing and shredding services the center offers.

In their 70s, Cades said she and her husband worry about their son’s care after they pass on.

“I need to know that when I’m not here to run interference he’s going to be OK, in a place where people care about him,” she said. “Wages have been so low over the years that it extremely difficult to recruit, train and retain people.” She said the staff vacancies were putting greater burdens on the existing staff doing “very difficult work” for as low as $21,000 a year.

The Kent Center receives 99% of its revenue from DDA. Only 1% comes from private donations, said Kent Center Chairman Randy Cooper. He is also the founder of Radcliffe Corporate Services in Chestertown.

Cooper said a $500 donation earns a $250 tax credit on the Maryland tax return.

Environmental Committee Asks Chestertown to Endorse Federal Carbon Dividend Act

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Hope Clark speaks to the Chestertown Council for the town’s Environmental Committee

The Chestertown Council, at its meeting July 1, heard a presentation by the town’s Environmental Committee about H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act currently before the U.S. Congress. Hope Clark of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Chestertown chapter, made the presentation, outlining the possible benefits of the act and asking if the council wanted to endorse the proposed legislation.

Clark began by showing the council maps created by the Army Corps of Engineers to delineate areas of the town projected to be subject to tidal flooding over the next five to 10 years. After viewing the maps, Mayor Chris Cerino asked what the surge would be in the event of a major hurricane or tropical storm. He said the town experienced a surge 8 feet above high tide during Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. Clark explained the color scheme, which showed a surge of more than 3 feet in purple. She asked what plans the town has for dealing with flooding.

Cerino said the town raised the parking lot of the marina between 1.5 and 3 feet in response to chronic flooding. The marina store and office were moved to the higher end of the parking lot to minimize their exposure to possible flooding. The dock at the foot of High Street is county property, and not in the town’s purview, Cerino said. Also, Wilmer Park is subject to “a lot of overwash,” and in need of attention. He said the town was working on a proposal in conjunction with Washington College to install a waterfront walkway along property extending from Wilmer Park to the Armory. He said one option might be to eliminate bulkheads and install living shorelines, as in the section of Wilmer Park near the pavilion. The challenge, he said, is that the project would be “crazy expensive,” but on the other hand, there is no critical infrastructure exposed along the riverfront in those areas.

Cerino and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll also noted that the town has made a major commitment to renewable energy by installing a 3-megawatt solar array at the town’s wastewater plant, providing essentially 100 percent of the town government’s usage. Ingersoll said the town has also contracted to buy power in 3-year blocks, with a plan to shift entirely to solar in its next contract. He said the contracts had saved the town more than $100,000 in power bills.

Clark said the Environmental Committee was asking the town to look at the bigger picture, and possibly endorse H.R. 763. She said the bill proposes a fee on the production of carbon dioxide, beginning at $15 a ton and increasing by $10 each year, as a way to encourage businesses and manufacturers to switch to renewable energy sources. The money raised would be returned directly to taxpayers, instead of going to governmental agencies. In addition, the law is expected to create in excess of 2.1 million local jobs in renewable energy and other areas. And the removal of fossil fuels from the energy mix will create a healthy environment, saving numerous lives.

The Chestertown Mayor and Council in session, July 1 — (L-R) Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, town clerk Jen Mulligan, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, and Councilman David Foster

Councilman David Foster, who sits with the Environmental Committee, said that the latter provision makes the proposed law “close to being bipartisan” in its appeal. He said it would cost the town nothing to endorse it, and that our children and grandchildren would applaud the effort to slow climate change.

Cerino asked who, if anyone, opposes the proposed law.

Foster said that climate change deniers would be the primary opponents. He said there are “not too many” of those in Chestertown.

Clark said the proposed law has more than 50 co-sponsors in the House, and that more than 100,000 citizens have endorsed it. Also, a number of large cities have expressed their support for the measure.

Cerino said he is definitely convinced of the reality of global warming. However, he said he would need to study the proposed law more carefully. “It’s not necessarily the town’s job to endorse federal legislation,” he said. He said he was also concerned about a possible precedent, encouraging groups with all kinds of agendas – he mentioned abortion and gun rights – to lobby the town to support their positions.

Ingersoll said he worried about the funds actually reaching ordinary citizens – “Money to Washington touches too many hands to expect the same amount that goes in to come out,” he said.

Cora Dickson of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby said the town’s endorsement would be an important symbolic gesture, and that she hoped the council would do so.

Ingersoll said there was no inherent problem with the council as a whole or individual members making such an endorsement. He suggested that the committee draft a statement for the council to consider at a future meeting. Clark said she would be happy to do so.

Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes

Town Utilities Director Bob Sipes, in his monthly report, outlined several items of equipment upkeep and maintenance the department has recently had to make. He said that many pieces of equipment at the 13-year-old wastewater plant are near or past their expected lifetime. He began replacing or upgrading equipment seven years ago, he said.

Foster said he had made a note to himself to ask Sipes “what keeps you up at nights” as far as possible problems with the water and sewer systems.

Sipes said the water mains are the oldest part of the system, with some of them more than a century old. The oldest are made of rolled steel, which can’t be repaired beyond patching small holes. He said the pipes along Maple Avenue from the bridge and along Washington Avenue past the college are especially worrisome – he cited a break in one pipe 11 years ago, which crews had to dig through a foot of concrete to reach.

Also, Sipes said, the town water plant is between 80 and 90 years old, and some buildings are beginning to lean. He said they will need to be replaced within the next 20 years. He said he also needs to upgrade the restroom at the plant, which has no shower. “I’ll try to budget for that,” he said.

During ward reports, Foster said he had met with County Commissioner Ron Fithian about the possible resumption of the tax differential the county formerly paid the town for services such as police protection and street repair that the town performs out of its own budget. He said that Fithian has agreed to some kind of audit by a neutral party to determine how much the town is saving the county for such services, and that Commissioners Tom Mason and Bob Jacob have reportedly agreed as well.

Cerino said the cost savings the town supplies to the county are considerable. “It won’t be a small number,” he said.

Ingersoll said he has annual budget figures available and can supply them to whoever performs an audit.

The council also voted to appoint Rob Busler to fill a vacancy on the town’s Planning Commission, and the Rev. Charles L. Barton to a vacancy on the Historic District Commission. Both votes were unanimous.

ShoreRivers Receives Restoration Grant to Help the Upper Chester

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ShoreRivers recently received $370,000 from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to mitigate nutrient runoff into the upper Chester River at the Jones Family Farm, the largest dairy farm in Maryland.

The wetland restoration project is scheduled for completion by the fall of 2020, said Isabel Hardesty, deputy director of ShoreRivers, a nonprofit that advocates a science-based approach to a healthier Bay watershed.

The project calls for the construction of a 5-acre wetland and a stream to prevent runoff from 400 acres of crop land.

“These practices will filter nutrients and sediment before they reach the headwaters of the upper Chester River and increase natural habitat,” Hardesty said.

“We value working with our agricultural partners to implement innovative projects on farms to reduce pollution,” She said. “This project is one of a series on the Jones Family Farm as part of a comprehensive, “full-farm” approach. We are installing practices that will increase habitat for birds and pollinators, leading to healthier water quality.”

DNR awarded 96 grants worth $31 million to help local stewards in the state improve water quality, according to a June 25 press release.

“We are pleased to support these innovative projects that will help us achieve our environmental goals,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio said. “In addition to improving the resilience of our communities, these projects will protect our local streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay in measurable ways.”

The grants were made possible with funding from EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coastal Resiliency Program.

 

Feature image: Sunset at the Jones Family Farm

 

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