Cerino to Ask Commissioners for Tax Differential

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 18, Mayor Chris Cerino reported that he will represent the town at the Kent County Commissioners budget hearings April 23. He will be advocating for a tax differential or tax rebate for the town, on grounds that town residents’ property taxes are paying for services the county does not provide within town limits, such as police protection, road repairs, and trash disposal. “We’re essentially paying to underwrite services for everyone else,” he said. Cerino said that Kent is one of only three counties in the state that does not provide such a differential for its towns.

The town has regularly requested a tax differential since the county discontinued offering one in 2014, due to reduced revenues during the Great Recession. In 2012, five towns received tax rebates amounting to some $193,000 overall. Partially as a response to the discontinuation of the rebate, Chestertown raised its own tax rate from $0.37 to $0.42 per $100 assessed value. It was the first increase in town taxes since 1991.

Cerino said he had written to the commissioners about a month ago to request a slot in the budget hearings, and received a formal invitation to present the request at the hearing.  He said he will be requesting that the commissioners lower the rate for town residents by $0.05, or alternatively granting a rebate of $250,000. He said the commissioners asked him to bring documentation of the cost of services the town is providing, and he asked Ingersoll and Clerk Jen Mulligan to supply him with copies of the town’s annual audit. Ingersoll said he had the material available “at my fingertips.”

“I’ve pleaded the case on this every year since I’ve been elected,” Cerino said. “Supposedly, we were very close to having a tax differential last year, and then it kind of got swallowed up in the school funding debate and it didn’t happen.” He invited council members to help him make the case.

Also at the meeting, Wanda Gorman, manager of the Chestertown artisans’ market, reported on the upcoming market season, which begins March 30. She said the annual meeting of vendors on March 16 drew 27 attendees, including some spouses and children of vendors. The market currently has 24 vendors, 18 of whom were at the meeting. “We had a breakfast meeting – that really attracts a lot,” she said.

Wanda Gorman, artisans’ market manager

Gorman asked the council to designate the two High Street parking spaces closest to the Cross Street intersection for no parking during the market. She said the vendors need them to unload and reload their wares, but often out-of-town shoppers park in the spaces and leave their vehicles there after the market is over at noon, when the vendors need the spaces to reload. She said vendors are usually finished removing their wares between 12:30 and 1 p.m.

Councilman Marty Stetson said, “It would only take a couple of tickets to convince them.” Police Chief Adrian Baker suggested using orange “no parking” signs the town already has. He said his department could put a couple of them in the spaces and see if it does the job.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he thought the orange signs would be a good solution to the parking problem. He said he liked the fact that the signs are removable once the market is finished.

Gorman also announced that she is planning to retire to Florida and that her daughter Sarah Sezawich will co-chair the market during her absence over the summer. She said Sezawich has been helping her before, and the vendors are familiar with her. “I think she’ll do a great job,” she said. “She handles paperwork fantastically.”

“We’re going to miss you when you go,” said Ingersoll.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper reported that the State Highway Administration has approved lowering the speed limit on Quaker Neck Road between Wilmer Park and the Radcliffe Creek bridge from 40 to 25 miles per hour. Washington College, which owns several properties along that stretch of the road, including the new boathouse and an environmental science center currently under construction, and several residents of the Chester River Landing development had requested the reduction on account of pedestrian safety along the road. Pedestrian traffic is expected to increase when the college’s new science center opens. The signs advising of “reduced speed ahead” will be moved to the town limits, just beyond Chester River Landing.

The Chestertown Council : (L-R) Councilmen Ellsworth Tollliver and Marty Stetson, Town Clerk Jen Mulligan, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, and Councilman David Foster.

Kuiper also announced that farmers’ market manager Sabine Harvey has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Maryland Farmers Market Association to set up a program to allow vendors at the market to take payments for SNAP and WIC programs, along with a new program called Senior Farmers Market. Individual vendors would have to sign up for the program. “This will help to increase food-insecure households’ ability to afford quality nutritious foods; to generate additional revenue for local agricultural producers; and to make farmers markets accessible to residents of all income levels,” she said. She said the paperwork was still being processed, but she wanted to give the council a heads-up on the program. The council approved a motion authorizing Cerino to sign the MOU for the town.

Also, Kuiper read from a letter to the mayor in which she asked to be excluded from the process of hiring a new marina manager because her son is applying for the position. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, she said she would not take part in interviews or any verbal, written or electronic discussions of the hiring process unless her son withdraws his application.

Ingersoll reported that a group of Washington College students is planning a Rail Trail cleanup on Sunday, April 7, from noon to 3 p.m. Students have performed similar cleanups the last few years. The cleanup would focus on the area from Royal Farms to the split in the trail near Lynchburg Street. He said the town would provide bags and gloves for the project.

At the end of the meeting, Washington College President Kurt Landgraf gave an update on the report that the college plans to sell six surplus properties. He said the college has reached an agreement with prospective buyers for three of the properties. He did not specify which properties were involved, pending the final settlement. The six properties to be sold include the large tract at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Morgnec Road, a house at 301 Washington Ave., and four properties on Prospect Street.

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Council Approves Update to Critical Areas Ordinance

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The Chestertown Council at its March 4 meeting: (L-R) Councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, and Councilman David Foster.

The Chestertown council, at its meeting March 4, unanimously adopted an ordinance updating the 2007-08 Critical Areas section of the town’s zoning ordinance. Regular revision of the ordinance is a requirement of the state’s Critical Areas Commission. The new ordinance becomes effective March 25; a complete copy is available at the town office.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll explained that the ordinance is designed to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. He said the update has no effect on the vast majority of property owners. The 2019 map, he said, differs from earlier versions primarily in having greater accuracy and detail for things like wetlands delineation, thanks to computer-aided mapping. No property has its designation changed by the new map, he said.  According to Maryland.gov “A Critical Area includes all land within 1, 000 feet of tidal waters and wetlands in Maryland – as well as the waters of Maryland s Chesapeake Bay and coastal bay area.”

Ingersoll also gave some history on the Critical Areas ordinance, noting that most of the town is considered an “intensely developed area,” within an official Critical Area because most of the town lies within 1,000 feet of the Chester River or Radcliffe Creek. He said that several parts of town were developed after the initial ordinance, including the property that is now occupied by Heron Point and Stepney farm. Both were specifically approved for “intense development” under the county’s growth allocation in 1987. “A lot of the town was built before 1900, so those things don’t change,” he said.

The town is not likely to see much additional waterfront development unless it annexes new territory, said Ingersoll. He cited the Chestertown Armory as “probably the last example.” For most property owners, the only time they would need to consider the Critical Area rules would be for trimming or removing trees within the buffer zone – primarily dead or diseased trees, or those considered dangerous. He said the property owners should contact him for the forms necessary.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked whether any additional waterfront property could be annexed by the town. Ingersoll said it was theoretically possible that areas along the river to the north could be annexed, but that the town has no intention of doing so in the foreseeable future. Stetson said property owners south of town near the country club might request annexation. Ingersoll said the town made overtures in that direction in the past, but the property owners were not interested.

The council voted to submit letters of support for three projects applying for grants from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, the deadline for which was midnight of the day of the meeting. One, by Sultana Education Foundation, would convert an 8.5-acre tract of the Stepney property to a wetlands preserve for educational purposes; Cerino recused himself from that vote, as he is employed by Sultana. The letter will be signed by the other four council members.

In addition, the council sent letters of support for the Chesapeake Heartland Project, a collaboration between the Starr Center at Washington College and the National Museum of African American History to create a digital archive of African-American history and culture in Kent County. Part of the project would be a specially equipped truck to go to rural areas to record the memories of residents who lack transportation. In addition to the MHAA, a letter of support went to the Mellon Foundation. Councilman David Foster recused himself because his wife is on the board of Sumner Hall, one of the supporting organizations.

The council also sent a letter of support for an application by the Historical Society of Kent County for approximately $23,000 as a capital grant for repairs to its headquarters in the Bordley Center. Barbara Jorgenson, a board member of the society, told the council that the back of the building is starting to come apart due to deteriorating basement supports. Quoting from the letter of support, Cerino called the Bordley Center “crucial to Chestertown’s continuing success.”

Also at the meeting, Queen Street resident Mary Celeste Alexander complained about the condition of the road surface on the 100 block, between High Street and Maple Avenue. She said the street is getting worse on a daily basis. She said she’s been asking for repairs for five years, with no results. “Could we have a date, please?” she asked. She added that residents have taken to calling one large area that regularly floods “Ingersoll’s Pond.”

Foster said the block is one of the first priorities for repair work when the town has funds available. Mayor Chris Cerino said the block is in the budget for paving this spring.

Alexander said the problem is not as much paving as that previous repairs have raised the street level to the point that the curbs are too low to keep water off the sidewalk. She said the curb at her house is about 1.5 inches above the road surface. “I know it’s going to be expensive, and I know you’re going to hear a lot of complaints” about being unable to park on the street during repairs, she said. But residents are willing to put up with the inconvenience if it results in repairs, she said.

Ingersoll said the town would replace the curbs when the work is done. He said the town attempted last year to get federal grants for general street repairs, but the funding went to larger projects on the western shore. “I guarantee that your block will be the first block done,” he said. “You deserve it, you really do.” He said the town could begin work as soon as the asphalt plant opens for the season.

Funding from the Maryland Highway User Fund, which had been taken away by the General Assembly for several years, is being returned to local municipalities, Ingersoll said. He said it could make significant street repairs possible. That the town’s recent tax increase could also help generate funding for the work, he added.

In a bid opening for upgrades at Louisa Carpenter Park in the Washington Park subdivision, David A. Bramble was the low bidder at $136,700 and was awarded the bid. Unity Landscape submitted the only other bid on the project, at $166,538. Ingersoll said the town was very happy with the bids, and that the grant funding for the project would be sufficient to cover the work.

At the end of the meeting, Laura Johnson, Washington College’s Vice President of Finance, announced that the college is planning to sell several properties that have become surplus. Among the properties is the large vacant lot at the junction of Washington Ave. and the Morgnec Road bypass, popularly known as the Lamotte property. The property is zoned “Professional office,” and covers some 13 acres. The college purchased it for $1.5 million in 2006, from Kent County government.

Also for sale are a large dwelling at 301 Washington Ave., which the college also acquired in 2006, for $530,000, and several residential properties on Prospect Street, near the campus just off College Avenue. She said the college “is not liquidating,” but that it has identified the properties being sold as not contributory to its strategic plan.

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Discussion of Council Vote on Pride Event Continues

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Jonathan Chace (at podium) addresses the Chestertown council — (L-R) Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper and Councilman David Foster

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 4, the main topic of interest was the continuing discussion of the council’s vote on a permit for an LGBTQ Pride event. The vote, at the Feb. 19 meeting, granted the permit by a 3-2 vote, with councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson in dissent. The two opposing votes resulted in considerable adverse comment and controversy following the meeting.

Tolliver, in his regular ward report, said he had reached out to members of the LGBTQ community, including some of the organizers of the festival, after the meeting. “We have sat down, discussed our differences, and made some headway as to how we move forward together, understanding that we all have different opinions about how things should be,” he said.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Kingstown resident Jonathan Chace spoke on the controversy. Chace began by thanking Tolliver for his willingness to open dialogue with the festival organizers. “I think that’s important to the town, and I think we need more of it,” he said. He then turned to the council as a whole. He asked them to imagine that they had permit requests from several different groups to hold events in Fountain Park. The groups supported causes including clean rivers, farming, Make America Great, Black Lives Matter, and reproductive rights. “Which one of these do you like?” he asked. “Which ones will you approve? Which ones will you disapprove?”

Jonathan Chace

He then stepped back – “I’ll take you off the hook. You don’t have to decide,” he said. “That’s because the town council, I believe, should not be in the business of approving or disapproving any event based on its content or subject.” Instead, Chace said, the council’s responsibility is “to review each permit in the same way that thousands of towns and cities across America review their permits.” That would mean asking questions about safe and orderly movement of traffic; use of emergency services such as police, fire, and ambulances; whether the event is likely to cause property damage, injuries or disorder; and availability of sanitary facilities, garbage cans, stages, and barricades. “If you on the town council think these questions, not the subject of the event, have been resolved, then you can vote to approve the permit. If not, disapprove it, that’s it.”
Chace concluded that if the council conducts its approval process along those lines, the town “can take great pride in celebrating its First Amendment to the Constitution, the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly.”
No-one else on the council or in the audience addressed the issues raised by the Feb. 19 vote. However, before the meeting, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll sent an email message to council members, which he copied to the Spy, outlining the basis in the town’s charter for approving events. The relevant passages are found in the Streets and Sidewalks ordinance, which he attached along with the form for the permit and the Parades ordinance, which he noted does not apply to the Pride event, which is not planning a parade. The full ordinance can be reached from the town’s website

The most pertinent sections are 145-13 A, 145-14, and 145-17. Section 145-13 states “It shall be unlawful for any individual, association, corporation, or organization to use the streets, sidewalks, public rights-of-way, or town-owned property for any event or activity without first obtaining a permit from the town as provided in this article;” Section 145-14 states what information applicants must provide to receive a permit. Section 145-17 says “Whenever the town finds that an activity requested under §145-14 is not in the public interest or represents a threat to public safety or is not an historically accepted event or activity, it shall deny the permit application.” Ingersoll noted that “historically accepted event” simply means one that has been conducted regularly over the years and is therefore considered traditional.

Ingersoll added, “You may recall that your own precedent for a permit to come before the Council on a mandatory basis, a month before an event, is the closing of any street. This last one (the Pride Day) came before you because of the requests being made for the stage, for banner, etc. That is also a precedent that we have.

“I sign many perfunctory permits that don’t require the use of Town streets or do not ask for Town help with stages, police, or street department preparation or cleanup.”

In short, as Ingersoll said in an interview before the meeting, the criterion for a council vote is the use of town resources such as the stage, which requires the town crew to set it up, or police presence, both of which require the town to pay for staff hours, often at the overtime rate. Also relevant is the need to avoid scheduling two events for the same time and place. The Pride event is to take place in Fountain Park directly after Farmer’s Market on Saturday, May 4.

At the meeting, the council also approved an update to the Critical Areas portion of the zoning ordinance and heard complaints from a Queen Street resident about the condition of the street. The council was also advised that Washington College is planning to sell some surplus property, including a house on Washington Avenue and the large vacant lot at the corner of Route 213 and the bypass. Look for additional town council reports in future editions of the Chestertown Spy.

Main Street Looking to Buy Portable Stage for Town

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Stage Line 75 portable stage, for which Main Street Chestertown is raising funds to purchase for the town. The stage is made in Canada and can be installed by two workers in 30 minutes.

At the Chestertown Council meeting, Feb. 19, Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown told the council about plans to acquire a portable stage for town events. The stage, which can be hauled by a pickup truck and set up by two people in about 30 minutes, would replace the town’s current stage.

The stage, from Stage Line, a Canadian firm, offers a 16-by-20-foot covered performance surface, with mounting brackets for lights. It folds into a road-legal trailer, which means it can easily be moved to and from the sites where it is needed, and it could be stored in the town yard between uses.

MacIntosh said that Main Street plans to apply for a matching grant from the Maryland Heritage Authority to fund the purchase, which she said would total about $103,000. She said the idea came up because of the time and manpower the town street crew needs to set up the town’s current plywood stage every time it’s needed for an event. She said she had looked into several suppliers, and the Stage Line model appeared to have the best quality. “It should last 20 years,” she said. The stage also has removable back and side panels which can be put up or left off depending on weather.

Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown

She asked the town for a $5,000 commitment toward the purchase. She said the pledge would show the granting foundations that the town supported the project. Main Street would donate the stage to the town. She said that because of the timing of the grant process, the funds for the stage might not be available until the end of the summer. The price quoted includes all the accessories for the stage, plus two days of training to ensure that the local crew can set it up efficiently.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said, “I think it’s a wonderful idea. I think we could probably sell off our old stage, which someone might want for a more permanent installation.” He said the sale would possibly recoup the town’s investment in the new stage. He said it takes four men about four hours and requires the use of heavy equipment to move the stage from storage and set it up. Last summer, the stage was left standing in Fountain Park for the entire season so it wouldn’t have to be taken down and set up every two weeks for the Music in the Park concerts. Ingersoll also commented that the stage would cause much less damage to the park, since it could be wheeled into place. He also noted that the stage has a plug to allow amplifiers or other sound equipment to be attached directly.

Mayor Chris Cerino said it would be a good idea to sell the current stage. Ingersoll said he would advertise it as soon as the new one arrives.

Councilman Marty Stetson said he remembered when the town purchased its current stage, which he said had been a real improvement over the “cement blocks and plywood” that were used before the purchase. “I certainly would be in favor of something newer,” he said. He said it could also be taken to Wilmer Park for events there.

MacIntosh said the stage’s portability would allow the town to set it up for a morning event and take it down and move it for another event later in the day. “I think it’ll help every nonprofit and civic group that has events.” She said it might also increase the number of town events because it would make hosting them easier. She said she wanted to talk to Farmers Market manager Sabine Harvey about using it in the park.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, a member of the Tea Party Festival committee, said the group would be interested in using the town’s stage for this year’s festival.

The council voted to set aside $5,000 contingent upon Main Street Chestertown obtaining the grants, and authorized Cerino to send a letter of support for the grant applications.
MacIntosh also reported that Main Street Chestertown is sponsoring a “bluegrass block party” from noon to 3 p.m. April 20, which is also the date for the town’s Earth Day celebration. The concert, rescheduled from the fall, features the Baltimore-based Dirty Grass Players. Beer and barbecue will be available.

The stage will be set up on High Street between Cross St. and Lawyer’s Row, and there will be no parking on that block. McIntosh said that between the Earth Day festivities and an Easter egg hunt in Wilmer Park, it should be a “great day for Chestertown.” The council approved permits for the event.

In response to a question by Councilman David Foster, Ingersoll said the “MVA on Wheels” bus has been having trouble getting wi-fi service for its computers at the Fountain Park site where it normally sets up. The bus personnel will be visiting town to explore alternate locations with better service. Possible sites include the uptown shopping centers, which have adequate parking and power hookups. He said he would know within a week or so what site has been chosen for March.

Cerino said that Verizon will be installing a new antenna on its cell tower near Dixon Valve’s High Street headquarters, which is expected to improve service in the downtown area. Ingersoll said installation is tentatively scheduled for April.

Also at the meeting, the council approved setting aside funding for a consultation with a marina management company, Coastal Properties Inc., to explore operational procedures and marketing plans for the town-owned marina with the mayor, Ingersoll, and other town staff who work with the marina. Cerino said a half-day consultation would cost $550. The council approved the funds, which would come from the marina operating account.

Harvey Is New Farmers’ Market Manager

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Sabine Harvey, Chestertown Farmers’ Market manager

Sabine Harvey is the new Chestertown Farmers’ Market manager.

At the Chestertown Council meeting, Feb. 4, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper announced that Harvey will take over as manager effective immediately. Harvey’s appointment was unanimously approved by the council. Councilman Marty Stetson praised Harvey’s “abundant energy,” saying that she would be a wonderful addition to the Saturday morning market.

Harvey, a Maryland Master Gardener, is an Extension Program Assistant at the Kent County extension office of the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She coordinates the school gardens at Kent County Middle School, has run plant clinics at the farmers’ market, and coordinates the extension office’s winter seed exchange. She has also been chairman of the Chestertown Tea Party for the last several years.

The position of farmers’ market manager became vacant last June with the death of Owen McCoy, who had run the market on behalf of the town since its revival in the 1980s. The position was filled on an interim basis by McCoy’s daughters until Harvey’s appointment.

Harvey said that among her first projects would be to update the farmers’ market website. She said she would ask Francoise Sullivan of Moo Productions, who manages the websites for the town and the Tea Party Festival, to take it over and bring it up to date. The website was previously run by one of the artisans’ market vendors. She said it takes a good deal of technical expertise to get an attractive website. She said the upgrade would be good for the market and its vendors. “Francoise does good work,” she said.

Kuiper said that she and Harvey would meet with Jamie Williams, Kent County Director of Economic Development, about other ways to advertise and develop the market. She said the website could be paid for from the membership fees paid by vendors in the market.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll suggested that Harvey ask the vendors to contribute photos of their farms and other information to help make the website useful. He said he would contact Sullivan to help set up the upgrade.

Harvey agreed that it would be good to get everybody involved in keeping the website up to date and appealing. She also mentioned that many of the vendors have undergone training and obtained equipment to let them accept SNAP and WIC debit cards at the market. However, customers aren’t aware of this possibility, so nobody uses them – potentially leading to lost sales. She said the market needs to publicize that capability.

Kuiper said there is a meeting for market vendors scheduled for March 5 in Town Hall. Representatives of the Chestertown Garden Club, which maintains Fountain Park, and representatives of the county health department will be there. She said she and Harvey will also be talking to Bill Drazga of Music Life about having live music in the park during farmers market hours, from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

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Cerino Reports on State of Town and Marina

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino

Mayor Chris Cerino delivered the 2018 Report of Municipal Affairs at the Jan. 22 meeting of the Chestertown Council. It was an animated performance, enlivened by a slide show of street scenes, new construction, and crowds at local festivals.

The full report is online at the town website.

Cerino said the town is in a “strong financial condition,” with $15,621,447 in total assets over liabilities. The increase in net assets comes from a major increase in capital grants, most of which were applied to upgrades at the marina. Grants almost tripled, going from $1,089,532 in 2017 to $2,981,663 in 2018.

This increase in total assets is despite, at the same time, the fact that the town’s revenues from property taxes, income taxes and shared revenue from the state of Maryland decreased. The major reason, Cerino said, was the continuing effects of the Great Recession, which depressed the local tax base beginning in 2008. In response, the town took “the difficult step or raising taxes for the first time since 1991.” He said the council hopes that the raise from $0.37 to $0.42 per $100 assessed value, along with improving property values, will provide sufficient revenues to cover expenses for “a meaningful period of time.”

The town will also continue to ask Kent County for a tax differential to recognize services, such as police protection, road maintenance, and planning, that town residents are charged for in county taxes even though the town provides them within its jurisdiction. “Our taxpayers pay taxes for these services twice,” Cerino said. The county formerly provided a lump sum payment in recognition of this discrepancy, but it stopped payment in 2014.

In addition, Cerino asked the county to apply its hotel tax to Air B-and-Bs and other informal room rentals that do not currently pay the tax. In addition to depriving the county and town of tax revenues, these businesses adversely affect the tax-paying hotels and B-and-Bs in the community.

Among achievements for the year, Cerino listed extensive improvements and repairs to the town-owned marina, including new bulkheads and piers, a new marina building, and raising the grade of the parking lot by up to two feet to combat periodic flooding. Along with Washington College’s capital improvements on its waterfront property, these efforts significantly upgrade the town’s riverside presence, which could lead to an increase in tourist revenue, an important ingredient in the town’s economy.

Cerino also noted new business investments in the town, including the Dixon Valve business campus north of town, expanded facilities at LaMotte and Shore Distributors, and the reopening of the local movie theater by Chesapeake Movies. In addition, he listed improvements to the Margo Bailey and Luisa Carpenter parks, and state approval of Phase IV of the Rail Trail, which would extend it to Foxley Manor.

The town negotiated a new set of rules for the farmers’ market, following the death of long-time market manager Owen McCoy. Cerino also noted the importance of the local hospital and the council’s concern over its status and continued service to the community.

Among goals for the coming year, Cerino listed keeping taxes at their current level; completing improvements at the marina and developing a management structure to operate it; protecting the town’s drinking wells “at all costs;” repairing and repaving streets; improving and expanding recreational programs; and working to retain services at the hospital.

Cerino also gave a detailed update on funding for the marina, particularly private donations to augment the state and federal grants that have provided most of the funding to date. “There’s been some really great news actually on the marina fundraising front,” he said. After a recent visit to the marina with him, representatives of the Chesapeake Bank and Trust donated $5,000 to the rebuilding project, with the possibility of another $5,000 in a year’s time to get the organization’s name on one of the nine pillars at the front of the marina building. Another $50,000 came from the Ingersoll-Stevens family, in exchange for naming the plaza next to Scott’s point for a loved one.

Chestertown marina with new docks

And “best of all,” Cerino said, an anonymous donor pledged $250,000 to name the marina building. “So this is to be,” Councilman Marty Stetson joked, “the Anonymous Building?”  “This a little bit embarrassing for me; this is really not my style,” Cerino said. He said the donor made it a condition of the pledge that the building be named for the Cerino family. “It’s going to be kind of weird to be alive and walking around with my name on somewhere…” he said.

As a result, all work to date – including another layer of paving to be installed in the spring – is paid for. While the work was ongoing, the town had dug into a line of credit to keep contractors paid, but the donations allowed the town to pay the credit “almost down to zero,” Cerino said. “I can’t thank those private donors enough,” he said. In addition to paying down the line of credit, they allowed the town to put up one-to-one matches for several state grants that required the matches to activate them. “Without those donors, we would have like one dock out there,” he said.

Remaining work includes repairing a contractor’s error on the boat ramp that leaves its lower end above the water at extreme low tide. As a result, launching boats in low tide is very difficult and can damage boat trailers. “It’s not cheap to fix,” Cerino said. He said a new contractor has been lined up to do the job, for about $120,000. The work is scheduled for March, and if it’s not completed at that point, it may have to wait until the end of the busy season. In that case, Cerino said the town might have to erect a sign advising boaters not to use the ramp at low tide.

Also, fuel lines need to be extended to the end of the fuel dock. Additional paving needs to be laid, and the large metal shed on the property needs to be removed. Cerino said a local farmer had agreed to take away the building at no cost to the town. “His machinery’s already down there,” he said. And setting up the office for the marina remains to be done. Total cost for all those projects is estimated at $200,000, Cerino said.

After some discussion of alternatives to finance the remaining work, including the possibility of adding onto the USDA loan and using the town’s line of credit, Cerino turned to the question of how the marina should be managed. He said that Matt Tobriner, who was a key figure in the waterfront study committee that led to the town’s purchase of the marina, had put together an informal group to study the marina and its management. Cerino said the group, which he described as having “some really good brainpower,” was willing to continue its work as long as the town felt its advice was beneficial.

Cerino said the group suggested looking into working with a management company that specializes in marinas. He said the town had talked to representatives of three marina management groups, two of which weren’t interested because the marina was too small for their business models. The third company charges $4,000 monthly, plus a percentage of the marina revenues, to bring in their own manager to run the facility. The advantage of employing that company is their ability to advertise widely and provide experienced salesmanship, potentially increasing the business at the marina. “I see how they make money. I don’t really see how we make any money, other than to get it off our hands,” Cerino said.

The other approach is to hire one year-round fulltime manager, who could bring on seasonal workers, possibly high school or college students, in the months of greatest demand. “That’s basically what the town has always done,” Cerino said. He said the study group agreed that was probably the path that made the most sense for the town. “I think we need to maximize our revenues. The key to me is finding that person to take pressure off (the town’s financial officer) when it comes to doing the books,” he added.

Cerino summarized the study group’s other recommendations, including a program to market the marina. He noted that several of the town’s regular festivals, including Tea Party, Downrigging and the Jazz Festival, already bring good business to the marina. “The challenge will be marketing the marina for, say, July 13, when there isn’t a big event.” The group also suggested naming the facility “The Port of Chestertown,” to distinguish it from other marinas offering repairs and other services the town doesn’t plan to provide. An active website was also suggested. Cerino said the town’s webmaster would be involved. A particular advantage would be the ability of boaters to reserve docking slips online – he mentioned an online company specializing in that service. Also, a closer relationship to Main Street Chestertown would be beneficial in marketing the marina. A christening event, possibly around Labor Day, to honor the donors and launch the facility was also suggested.

On a more practical level, prospective visitors need to be aware of the services available: electricity and water at the docks, refueling facilities and waste pump out, winter storage and launching facilities, security arrangements, and a travel lift. He said it’s especially important to make available basic information about the town in the marina office, with rack cards for all local businesses and a street map showing them. “We need to basically get all this out there,” he said. He said he’d be willing to work with the website manager to provide photographs and other information. “We can set something up in a week that gives the image that this is a place people want to come to.”

Ingersoll said he had put together a preliminary budget, and that the figures suggested that paying some $50,000 to an outside firm to manage the marina was not in the town’s best interests. He also noted that leasing the facility to an outside management firm might expose the town to taxes that it doesn’t currently pay. “It would be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. He also noted that the town would not be able to give discounted slip rates to organizations like Shore Rivers and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources that use the facility to do important work on the upper river. He said the town should be able to find an experienced long-term manager if it advertises the position. “There’s a lot of talent around that could do a really good job for somebody.”

“We’re getting a lot of great free press,” Cerino said. He noted that Chestertown will have one of a handful of essentially new marinas nationwide. He also mentioned a possible festival on “one of those random weekends I was talking about” that he said would bring in “the kind of people you want to bring into your marina.”

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Hospital Seeks to End Oil Cleanup, Cerino Tells Council

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Mayor Chris Cerino (center) reports on a meeting with hospital officials proposing an end to an oil cleanup program. Also present (from left) are councilmen Marty Stetson and Ellsworth Tolliver, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, and council members Linda Kuiper and David Foster.

Representatives of the Town of Chestertown met with CEO Ken Kozel and other officials of Shore Regional Health on Jan. 10 to discuss the status of the remediation of an oil spill on the grounds of the Chestertown hospital. Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Utilities manager Bob Sipes, Councilman David Foster, and Michael Forlini, an environmental attorney working with the town, attended the meeting.

Cerino reported on the meeting at the Jan. 22 council meeting. He first summarized the history of the oil spill, which was first detected some 30 years ago under the hospital’s previous ownership. Some tens of thousands of gallons leaked from a heating fuel tank into the ground under the hospital. With the town’s wells and water works less than a mile downhill from the site of the spill, the cleanup has been a significant ongoing issue for both the town and the hospital.

The initial cleanup, begun in 1991, involved pumping water into and out of wells on the hospital grounds to bring out the oil. This program ran for some 20 years, recovering an estimated 85,000 gallons of oil. Beginning in 2015, the pumps were recovering oil only in trace amounts. To try to get to the remainder, the hospital initiated a new cleanup program using Ivey-Sol, a proprietary mix of chemicals pumped into the wells to capture the remaining oil adhering to the soil. After complicated negotiations, the hospital reached an agreement with the Maryland Department of Environment to begin the program. The town negotiated a separate agreement with the hospital the same year, with the help of the Maryland state hospital administration. Among the terms was an agreement that the hospital would take financial responsibility for any contamination of the town’s drinking water supply from the hospital oil.

A major bone of contention for many years was a history of secrecy on the part of the hospital. The town didn’t learn of the oil leak for nearly three years after its discovery in 1988. In 2011, the hospital injected oxygen into the wells, and in 2012 it shut off an extraction pump for several months, both without advance notice to the town. And when the plan to break up the oil with Ivey-Sol was first announced, the hospital balked at telling the town the ingredients of the mix. However, both Cerino and Ingersoll praised the hospital’s “spirit of transparency” in the Jan. 10 meeting.

Cerino said the hospital informed the town that it will ask the MDE for permission to conclude the pumping program. He said the water being recovered from wells on hospital grounds now contains only one or two parts per million of oil. “You could probably put that in a glass and drink it and not have any adverse effects – not that I would recommend that you do that,” said Cerino. “At some point, we have to honor the data, and what the data is showing is that the levels are really, really low.”

University of Maryland Shore Medical Center – Chestertown

The hospital is to continue monitoring the groundwater for oil contamination or any other reason for concern for a minimum of two years, he said. If there is no contaminant detected at that point, Cerino said, the hospital may apply to MDE to shut down the program entirely. In response, the town asked the hospital to extend the monitoring program to three years from the conclusion of pumping, and the hospital agreed.

“I was really surprised at how well the meeting went,” Cerino said. He said it was one of the first times the hospital has initiated a discussion of the oil spill and its remediation and informed the town of its intentions before taking action. He said Sipes, who has been highly vigilant on behalf of the town’s water supply, “was not super-stressed” during the meeting, which Cerino took as a good sign.

Foster, who worked for a number of years for the Environmental Protection Agency, has been a consistent critic of the hospital’s handling of the oil spill and its cleanup efforts. He said that one reason for continued concern is that nobody knows how much was spilled in the first place. The EPA guidelines estimate that recovery programs like those the hospital has used can recover no more than 50% of oil that has leaked into the ground. So there may be 85,000 gallons or more still under the hospital, he said, although natural processes may have reduced the danger it could pose. “All we know is, we never recover everything that is spilled.” For that reason, the town needs to continue monitoring for as long as it can, he said.

Ingersoll said the hospital had installed four monitoring wells on the south side of Campus Avenue as part of the program. However, he said, he considers the group of test wells just south of Brown Street, at the edge of the hospital property, “the Maginot line,” referring to a defensive line on the French border at the beginning of World War II. While it is up to the MDE to determine whether to allow the hospital to discontinue the pumping program, the agreement with the town remains in force, and the town will continue to monitor the wells for any sign of oil. The town will also continue to receive reports from the MDE on the testing program.

Ingersoll also said that the presence of the town’s attorney, Michael Forlini, was reassuring. “He’s an environmental attorney, he’s very good at what he does. Everybody was calm, and I think it was the best meeting that we could have had,” he said. “All the right people were there.”

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Also at the council meeting, Police Chief Adrian Baker delivered his department’s annual report for 2018, along with the monthly report for December. In the annual report, he said his department would request additional funding for surveillance cameras. Baker noted that he has hired two new officers, who are currently undergoing training at the police academy. They are expected to graduate in June, at which point they will take a month of field training before going on duty. Both are Chestertown residents, Baker said, a factor that he feels will make it easier to retain them long-term.

Daniel Menefee and Robert Miller, who own property on Cannon Street, asked the council to approve parking on both sides of the street in the 400 to 600 blocks of Cannon Street. The town crew recently erected signs prohibiting parking on one side of the street. While the signs had been there a number of years ago, they were removed for sidewalk repair about ten years ago and not replaced until a short time ago, surprising many residents who had moved there since the signs were originally removed.

Menefee said that many residents don’t have driveways, and with several new homes recently built in the neighborhood, parking has become scarce. Also, he said, parking on both sides will serve to reduce speeds of the cars using the street, improving safety. He noted that the intersection of Radcliffe Road needs to be kept clear so cars exiting that street have an unobstructed vision of traffic on Cannon. The council unanimously approved the request on a trial basis.

In other actions, the council approved permits for the Chester Gras festival, March 2, and the Earth Day festival, April 20.

The Jan. 22 meeting also included the mayor’s annual Report of Municipal Affairs, an update on the status of the town’s marina, and a presentation on the “Good Seeds Project,” a plan to install a garden on the Calvert Street side of Garnet Elementary School. Fuller reports on those items will appear in the Chestertown Spy in the near future.

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Town and County Move to Oppose Morgnec Solar Field

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Mayor Chris Cerino gestures as council members Marty Stetson, and Ellsworth Tolliver, clerk Jen Mulligan, and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll listen during discussion of a proposed solar array on Morgnec Road at the Jan. 7 Chestertown Council meeting

The Chestertown Council, at its Jan. 7 meeting, heard from residents opposed to a proposed commercial solar energy array on the outskirts of town. After discussion, the council voted to sign on as an intervening party in the Maryland Public Service Commission’s hearing on the application by Morgnec Road Solar LLC to erect the solar field on the Clark Farm on Morgnec Road.

Elizabeth Watson and Janet Christensen-Lewis of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, and Frank Rhodes, who owns a furniture business across Morgnec Road from the site under consideration, spoke to the council.

Watson said she was offering herself as a resource to the council for background on the issue of the solar field. She said she first became aware of the site some 10 years ago when the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy was involved in a project to develop the Clark Farm as a mixed-use residential area. That project, which included some solar energy for the homes and businesses, was widely praised for its attention to environmental issues, but it was abandoned when the Great Recession of 2008 made it unrealistic to continue. The site is in a designated growth area for Chestertown, according to the town’s comprehensive plan.

The immediate situation, Watson said, depended on the Kent County Commissioners’ decision on a request by Morgnec Road Solar for a zoning text amendment for the property, which is under county jurisdiction. With two newly-elected commissioners, that decision may not be made before a pre-hearing on the case by the Public Service Commission, scheduled for Jan. 23. If the town enlists as an intervening party in the case, it can request a postponement of the preliminary hearing, allowing the county time to decide on the developer’s request for a text amendment to allow solar fields in residential and commercial districts throughout the county. It would also allow the town, through its attorney, to negotiate conditions with the state. “It’ll give you a say, in the worst case,” Watson said.

“I believe in renewable energy, big-time,” Watson said. “I just believe it’s the wrong place.” The county’s zoning has set aside several areas where commercial solar power generation is permitted, many of them near the Route 301 corridor between Galena and Millington. Watson said the county was one of the first in the nation to look at zoning for solar installations, and it remains “ahead of the game” in providing for it and welcoming it. But there need to be places for people to live and work, and the Clark farm is far better suited for that use, she said, especially considering its location on one of the main entrances to town.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked why the developer was insistent on using this site, when the county zoning has set aside others for the purpose.

Watson said the proximity of an electrical substation and a major loop of power lines was a major factor, allowing the developer to sell their power directly to the grid. She said it’s typical for developers to find a piece of land they think will work, then try to get the zoning changed to accommodate their projects. She noted that the substation would need to be enlarged to handle the new load.

Elizabeth Watson (left) and Janet Christensen-Lewis of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance

The developer has an option for a 35-year lease on the property, said Christensen-Lewis. The lease depends on county approval for the project.

Councilman Marty Stetson said that when the proposal first came before the council, a couple of years ago, he asked how many employees the project would have once it was completed. He said the developer tried to shift the answer to the number who would be employed during construction, but when pressed admitted there might not be even one full-time employee once the array was up. “I just think there’s a better use for the property than what they’re proposing,” he said. “Why don’t they go down to the landfill?”

Mayor Chris Cerino said the council appeared to be in agreement that the project was “not a great idea.” He asked whether the council was willing to incur more legal expense to oppose it if it wasn’t necessary at this stage. He asked if the council could simply refer to its previous letter of opposition.

Watson said the developer has opened a new case, so the town needs to submit a new letter to be listed as an intervening party. It could incorporate the previous letter with an updated cover letter and wait for further developments before taking any more action, she said.

Frank Rhodes

Rhodes said he supports solar energy if it is managed correctly. He handed around a set of images that he had presented to the county’s planning commission, including a map of the proposed installation and simulated before-and-after views of the field as it would appear from the roadside – although he said he wasn’t aware until Watson mentioned it that the panels would be 20 feet high, so his depiction was actually less intrusive-appearing than the actual proposal. He noted other businesses and government installations along the route – including Bramble Construction, Atlantic Tractor, the State Highway Administration and the Kent County Public works building. The KRM business campus adjoins the property at its northwest corner, and there are several homes in the vicinity.

Rhodes said he had asked the planning commission that the proposed solar field be kept a minimum of three miles from any town in the county. He also asked that the developers provide enough money up front to decommission the facility, adjusted if necessary for inflation. In addition, he asked that the principals agree not to sell the facility to any overseas company. Summing up, he said it would be “nice to have something better” on the property. “I don’t like the idea of having this as a gateway to Chestertown. It’s just too close,” he said.

After Rhodes’ presentation, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll summarized the issues, noting that the last time the project was turned down, the developers approached the town to ask about annexation. He read the letter previously sent, which asked the Public Service Commission to postpone action pending the appeal of a Washington County court case challenging the doctrine under which the Public Service Commission can overrule local zoning to preemptively issue a certificate of public necessity for power plants. Kent and Queen Anne’s counties are parties to that case. He said that it would be appropriate for the town to contact its representatives in Congress to address the federal law allowing preemption of local zoning, which he said is being applied wrongly today. He recommended that the council adopt a motion to add itself as an intervening party.

Tolliver said that he was initially reluctant to take a position on the case, but he had studied the issue since the last council meeting and felt that the town should intervene. He so moved, and the motion carried unanimously.

Tuesday night, in her departmental report at the County Commissioners’ meeting, Amy Moredock, county director of planning and zoning listed the Morgnec Road project among several text amendment requests to be heard by the commissioners. She reported that the county planning commission, in its December 2018 meeting, unanimously recommended that the request be denied. The planning commission’s letter to the commissioners cited the following reasons for the unfavorable recommendation:

• The County identified and designated locations suitable for larger utility-scale renewable resource facilities through the Renewable Energy Task Force (RETF) recommendations made in 2011. The RETF reconvened in 2015 to review the existing Ordinance provisions in this regard. At that time, the Planning Commission and County Commissioners found that the standing renewable energy provisions served the needs of the public and remained consistent with the Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan.

• Therefore, the Commission does not find that a public need now exists for the proposed text amendment.

• Further, the County has designed zoning districts in which the proposed use is already permitted.

• Many parcels zoned RR [Rural – Residencial] and CR [Commercial – Residencial]are located within mapped designated growth areas, as well as within Tier 1, 2, and 3 Areas. Therefore, this proposal is inconsistent with municipal growth areas.

• The purposes of the RR and CR Districts are to provide for residential development, as well as commercial uses which support the communities and provide economic development opportunities.

• The amendment has been put forward solely for the interest of the applicant, as it is compatible with the developer’s business model with no economic development potential for the County.

• The proposed amendment deviates from the Comprehensive Plan, as the scale of the proposal is neither consistent with the Comprehensive Plan nor the Intent of the Zoning Districts to which this proposal applies.

The full letter from the County Planning Commission to the Kent County Commissioners and Morgnec Road Solar’s application for the text amendment are available as attachments to the commissioners’ Jan. 8 agenda.

The county commissioners will schedule and advertise a public hearing at which both the applicants and opponents can present their cases before deciding whether to grant the text amendment. In response to a question by the commissioners, Moredock said that the planning commission’s attorney has filed to intervene in the Morgnec Solar case. The Town of Chestertown and the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance were also requesting intervening party status in the case before the Public Service Commission.

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Solar Farm Looking at Site Near Town

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Mayor Chris Cerino listens as Town Manager Bill Ingersoll makes a point

Should there be a large solar energy farm directly outside Chestertown? That question arose at the Dec. 17 council meeting, as Mayor Chris Cerino brought the council a request by the Kent County Commissioners for a letter of opposition to such an installation on a large tract on Morgnec Road.

Cerino said the proposal, by the Morgnec Road Solar group, was previously submitted about two years ago, at which point the commissioners and the council made their opposition known. At that point, the developer dropped the proposal, but it has now resubmitted it.

The Clark farm, as the tract in question is known, lies in Chestertown’s designated growth area, just outside town limits on the north side of Morgnec Road. It was being considered for annexation about 10 years ago, before a group seeking to develop it as a residential community withdrew their proposal in light of the real estate market collapse that accompanied the Great Recession of 2008. Morgnec Road Solar proposes to build an array on about 255 acres.

The county’s objection to developing the tract as a solar facility is on grounds that the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances have designated other areas as suitable for solar energy. Cerino said that the project is also opposed by the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, a group that came together in response to proposals to put large wind turbines on farmland within the county.

Councilman Marty Stetson said the site “makes no sense.” He said there are plenty of other areas in the county that are suitable, and “the sun shines everywhere.”

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked why that particular site was being promoted, in view of the county’s previous opposition and the dictates of the comprehensive plan. He said he would like time to study the issue, which originally came up before his election to the council.

Cerino said the developer claimed that other areas of the county “aren’t as prime” for solar generation.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the location of an electrical substation “across the street” was probably an important factor. He said the council probably doesn’t need to act at once. “We just need to put our names on the list,” he said.

Councilman David Foster asked if the County Commission, which now has two new members, may have changed its mind since the proposal was first submitted.

“I think they feel the same, but we may want to find out” before action, Ingersoll said. Morgnec Solar is asking the county for a zoning text amendment to allow the project, he said. That would have to be approved by the commissioners.

Cerino said there is a possibility that Morgnec Solar would ask the town to annex the Clark farm, which would “put the ball in our court.” The council deferred action until the new members have had a chance to study the issue.

The developer’s application to the Maryland Public Service C0mmission for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the 45-megawatt facility is available online as an attachment to the Kent County Commissioners Dec. 18 agenda.

In his monthly report, Police Chief Adrian Baker said he has made offers of employment to two candidates, to fill vacancies on the force, but as of the council meeting they had not accepted. He said the candidates would need to pass psychological tests and a polygraph session before qualifying to attend the police academy for six months. Upon graduation, they could be certified and begin work.

Baker also said that a suspect in a series of burglaries, about 40 in all, has waived extradition and is to be brought back to Maryland to face charges. A vehicle stolen by the suspect is also to be returned to the county.

The council unanimously approved a resolution to support a tax credit for Zelda’s, a “speakeasy” bar being built on the second floor of the building of Play It Again Sam’s coffee shop by Jeff Maguire, who owns the building. The building is in the town’s Arts and Entertainment District as well as the county’s Enterprise Zone, making it eligible for 10 years’ of tax credits. Ingersoll said the business will create several new jobs as well as bringing business to town.

Stetson asked if the credits apply to the whole building or just the upstairs. Ingersoll said only the upstairs is eligible.

Tolliver asked if other new businesses in town are eligible for the credit. Ingersoll said they would be if they apply, which he said is “something of a process.” He said that Jamie Williams, the county’s economic development director, and Kay MacIntosh, who holds an equivalent position with the town, are helping promote the benefits for new businesses in the Enterprise Zone, which has some 1,200 acres in the county, mostly in and around Chestertown.

Ingersoll reported that the town’s application for $4.5 million in U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grants was not approved. The town had applied for the grants to repave town streets, many of which are in serious need of the repair. He said that most of the grants available in Maryland had gone to larger projects such as bridges on the western shore. He said it is more difficult for rural areas to get the same benefits as urban areas because of the sparser population. The thanked Dixon Valve and Chesapeake Charities for their help in getting the town’s application in order before the grant deadline.

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