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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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.

Council Will Not Replace Resigning Police Recruit

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Chestertown Police Chief Adrian Baker

At the Chestertown Council meeting Monday, June 17, Police Chief Adrian Baker reported that one of two recruits recently hired by the town has resigned to take a position with another nearby town.

Baker, who said he was “disappointed” by the resignation, said the town invested a good deal of time and money in training the recruit, and it was unclear how much the town could recoup, although the recruit had signed a contract. He said it appeared unlikely the town could recoup the recruit’s salary to date, although the expense of his academy training, including uniforms, equipment, and ammunition used in training was probably recoverable. He said the contract required the recruit to pay the town “a certain amount of money” within 30 days if he left the department early.

Baker said that other chiefs in the area told him there was strong competition for qualified recruits. He said there used to be a “gentleman’s agreement” that towns wouldn’t “steal the guy next door,” but that no longer held true. One agency on the Shore is paying a $10,000 bonus to officers who will sign on, Baker said. He said he would try to find ways to prevent such an occurrence in the future, but it was by no means unique to his department.

He said had been very pleased with the council’s decision several months ago to fund hiring two new officers to bring the force up to a total of 14. He asked whether the council wanted to authorize him to hire another certified officer to return the force to 14, or to stay at the current total of 13.

My inclination is to stay with 13,” said Mayor Chris Cerino. “I feel like we’ve been operating at 12, actually, for several months now.” He added, “We’ve basically paid for this guy to take a job with another department.” Cerino noted that the police department is a very large fraction of the town’s budget and that the town is facing a very tight budget year.

Councilman Marty Stetson, a former town police chief, said that when times get better, the additional officer could be restored to the force’s budget. He said that the town would probably have to make the same decision not to replace someone who left the street department, “under the restraints we have now.”

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said that the town should not reduce the police department’s budget in case they found they need another officer.

Cerino said that in view of the fact that the budget was so tight, “I would rather look at this as a cost savings,” giving the town a $50,000 cushion. He said that if one of the town’s revenue projections falls short, or if an unexpected expense arises, the money could be critical in balancing the books. He noted that none of the town staff is receiving a raise this budget year.

Kuiper then asked that the money budgeted for the new officer be put in a restricted fund, to be expended only by an explicit council vote.

Councilman David Foster said that if he had known the state of the town’s finances when he voted to send two recruits to the academy, he might well have voted to send only one. He said the town should postpone any decision on whether to replace the recruit until it had a better idea whether it was above or below its projected expenses.

Stetson said that if the town had a surplus at the end of the year, he would like to see the employees get “a decent raise,” especially the ones who have stayed with the town over a period of years. He said he would recommend that the town freeze hiring except if it needed to replace an essential employee such as the police chief.

Baker said that he understood the financial constraints. However, he asked that if another officer leaves, that the town consider maintaining the force at 13.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he considered 13 “an ideal compromise.” He said it has been hard for the town to retain 12 officers consistently. Ingersoll said it was important for the town to have “a little cushion” for contingencies. The amount saved by not replacing the officer is “a payday and a half” in terms of the overall budget, he said. He said the town should be angry at a neighboring town “poaching” its recruits. He compared it to “heading up to the maternity ward and taking somebody’s baby right after they’ve delivered.” He said the town had paid the recruit’s salary and benefits for four months “when they’re really absolutely not doing anything for the police department other than going to school.” He said the recruit had only been available for the Tea Party festival.

Baker said the town could have lost still more money if the recruit had stayed to complete field training, which he said is very labor intensive. He said he appreciated the council’s consideration of his query whether to remain at 13 officers or seek another recruit.

Kuiper made a motion to put the officer’s $42,000 plus the $5,000 academy costs that would be refunded into a restricted fund so it isn’t expended without an explicit council vote. She said it would be equivalent to the $200,000 paid for the armory by Washington College, which was placed in a restricted fund to be used only for waterfront infrastructure projects.

Cerino said he didn’t think the funds needed to be restricted. He said they should be available in case of an unanticipated shortfall of revenue or expense, such as needing to purchase a truck. “It’s there in case we have unexpected costs,” he said.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said he worried that the money might be spent piecemeal over a period of time without being specifically accounted for. “It’s gone, and we don’t know where it went,” he said. He seconded Kuiper’s motion.

Stetson said that if anyone exceeded their budget they already need to come to the council for additional funds.

After some discussion about what the restriction would apply to, the council voted 3-2 against the motion to restrict the funds, with Kuiper and Tolliver voting in favor.

Also at the meeting, the council approved three resolutions supporting local businesses applying for Enterprise Zone income tax credits for creating new full-time jobs. Dixon Valve plans to add 10 jobs at its four locations; Dixon Valve Group plans to add one new job at each of two different locations; and Kent Athletic and Wellness Club plans to add one new job at each of two locations. The resolutions were approved unanimously.

Cerino, in his mayor’s report, nominated Rob Busler to fill a vacancy on the Planning Commission and the Rev. Charles Barton to fill a vacancy on the Historic District Commission. The council will vote on the nominations at its next meeting, July 1.

Chestertown Council Passes Budget, Saves Recycling

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Mayor Chris Cerino (right) presents the town’s FY2020 budget in a public hearing at Town Hall, June 3

Chestertown’s curbside recycling program will continue.

Some 70 residents – described by Mayor Chris Cerino as an “unprecedented” crowd – filled the second floor of Town Hall for a public hearing on the town’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget, Monday, June 3. Following the hearing, the council voted unanimously to pass a budget with a $0.01 increase in the property tax, to $0.43 per $100 assessed value. The $4,038,364 budget includes no raises for town staff, but does not cut any positions. A draft presented at the public hearing showed an excess of revenues over expenditures of $57,491 – though surplus that will probably change during final adjustments.

The recycling program, which was on the chopping block in the draft budget, will be retained after an offer by Ford Schumann of Infinity Recycling to hold down costs and a proposal by Town Manager Bill Ingersoll to move money from an underused insurance pool to cover the remaining costs. The council authorized Ingersoll to make the adjustment so recycling could continue.

Ford Schumann of Infinity Recycling

I met with our management and we tried to figure out some way we could save some money,” Schumann said. “It’s not a great year for recycling – it hasn’t been for probably five years, but it’s gotten really bad this last couple of years. So it’s hard for us to take any hit.” He said that Chestertown represents about a quarter of the company’s revenue. He offered the town a plan by which instead of charging for each household taking part in the program, Infinity would charge a flat rate for the town as a whole, as it does for a few smaller towns. He said it would save the town about $6,000. He also offered not to charge set-up fees for one year. “That’s a nice part of our revenue,” he said. “I think this proposal is as fair as it could be,” he said.

Darren Tilghman of the Environmental Committee spoke at the meeting, saying the committee’s concern for the town’s future as a sustainable community would be endangered if recycling is discontinued. She put forward the committee’s proposal to collect trash once a week instead of twice, as well as a proposal to set up a dedicated solid waste enterprise fund to cover recycling. She said the environmental committee would be willing to do some of the footwork needed to set up such a fund. She noted that reducing recycling would lead to higher volumes of regular trash, increasing the town’s payments for tipping fees. Infinity employs special needs workers from Kent Center and the Benedictine School, providing an additional benefit to the community, Tilghman said.

Tilghman urged residents to attend the Kent County Commissioners’ meeting the following evening to support the town’s request for a tax rebate to compensate for services the county doesn’t provide within town limits, such as police protection, street repair, and planning/zoning. She recommended asking the commissioners for an efficiency study of county government, suggesting that there is “a tremendous amount of unspent and mis-spent money in our county budget,” which could go to fully fund the county schools’ budget in addition to compensating the towns for duplicate services.

Darren Tilghman of the Chestertown Environmental Committee asks for a show of hands of residents at the town’s budget public hearing

Robert Ortiz asked whether the council could implement the Environmental Committee’s proposal to reduce trash collection to once a week to finance recycling. Cerino said he had asked the town’s trash collecting service about the option, as well as asking Schumann whether recycling could be done every other week. He said the contractors told him it wouldn’t lead to a significant saving: “It’s basically the same amount of work for us, it’s just in a different time frame,” they said. The trucks would still be running the same amount and picking up the same volume, Cerino said they told him. “The $25,000 to $50,000 saving that’s been thrown about, that was not verified by our provider,” he said. “That would have been a great solution that I would have gotten behind.”

Ortiz then said that the Pam Ortiz Band, in which he and his wife play, had given a number of fundraising concerts last year, raising some $18,000 for several different causes. He said he would be happy to repeat the concerts this year, donating the proceeds to continuing the recycling program. The next morning, after learning that the program would be continued, he sent an email saying he would explore ways to support it, possibly by raising funds to underwrite Infinity’s employment of workers from Kent Center and the Benedictine School.

Cerino began the public hearing by offering a summary of the forces that have affected the town’s budget to the point where last year’s tax raise and this year’s decision to cut recycling became necessary. He cited seven factors: a rise in expenses combined with flat revenues; the purchase of the marina; the loss of a grant in aid from Kent County to cover tipping fees for trash; the purchase of the new police station; the deferral of taxes as part of the Enterprise Zone; a $20 million drop in the tax base over the last year; and the lack of a tax differential or payment for duplicate services from the county. Cerino went into detail on each of the issues, noting that the purchases of the marina and police station and the establishment of the Enterprise Zone were both necessary and beneficial to the town in the long run. As for the loss of payments from the county, he said, “I’m not blaming our budget problems on Kent County, but they could really help.”

Cerino also broke down the individual categories of the budget. Public safety accounts for 43%; public works 29%; general government 14%; debt service and capital expenditures 4% each; and the visitor center/tourism, economic development and parks and recreation 2% each. “There’s very little fat in the budget,” he said.

As far as the recycling program, which almost the entire audience indicated by show of hands that they had come to the meeting to protest the end of, Cerino began by lifting up a green recycling bin, noting that it said on the side, “Kent County Recycles.” He gave a history of the program, pointing out that the town contracted with Infinity for curbside pickup 9 years ago, when the county discontinued its curbside program due to a budget crisis. “I love recycling, I don’t want to cut it,” he said. But with the town’s budget strictures, he said, it had become necessary to “find a line item that’s not a salary and cut it.”

After his budget summary, Cerino opened the floor to questions and comments from the audience. Several residents spoke in addition to Schumann, Tilghman and Ortiz, all in favor of retaining the recycling program. Clerk of the Court Mark Mumford praised Schumann’s 30 years of work to bring recycling to the county, beginning with a fight against a proposal to set up an incinerator near Millington. He asked what it would cost individual households to have recycling picked up on a private basis. Schumann said it would cost $8 to $10 per month for weekly pickup.

The budget hearing closed after one hour, and all but a handful of the audience left before the regular council meeting, at which the council adopted the budget.

Also at the regular meeting, the council heard a presentation by the Recreation Committee for a playground at Wilmer Park, along with a bid opening for street repairs to Queen Street between Maple Avenue and High Street. A full report on those and other issues discussed at the meeting will be published later this week.

The Chestertown Council (from right): David Foster, Linda Kuiper, Mayor Chris Cerino, Rev. Ellsworth Tolliver, Marty Stetson

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Town Considering Tax Hike, End to Recycling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Action Committee Invites Chestertown Council to “Undoing Racism” Workshops

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Annie Squire Southworth of Students Talking About Racism addresses the Chestertown Council, as other members of S.T.A.R. and the Social Action Committee listen

Members of the Kent County Social Action Committee for Racial Justice and of S.T.A.R. – Students Talking About Race – came to the Chestertown Council meeting May 6. After explaining their mission, they invited council members to take part in a workshop on undoing racism, being presented in September.

Ileana Lindstrom, of the Political Action and Education affinity groups, gave a brief summary of the Social Action Committee’s origins and mission. Formed in 2017, the SAC was the offshoot of Undoing Racism workshops given in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties – an experience Lindstrom described as creating a “life-changing” awareness of the place of racism in society. She said the workshops defined racism as the combination of race-based prejudice and institutional power.

Ileana Lindstrom of the Kent County Social Action Committee for Racial Justice

Members of the SAC are committed to taking action, such as analyzing data, tracking the records of elected officials and holding them accountable for their decisions, and offering the organization as ally an and resource to institutions in the community, Lindstrom said. The group “was born to end the oppression of persons of color in Kent County,” beginning with a focus on the political, educational, and criminal justice systems. The groups are also focused on bringing an awareness of the contributions of persons of color to the county’s festivals and other public celebrations.

Lindstrom noted that the SAC recognizes the significant responsibilities that the mayor and council members hold, citing the clause of the town charter that states their mission of protecting and serving the town’s residents and visitors. “We also recognize that you cannot be expected to fulfill these responsibilities alone, individually, or as a sitting mayor and town council,” she said, noting that racism can be traced back to the first interactions of Europeans and Native Americans, along with the long history of slavery, with the first recorded arrival of enslaved Africans in Virginia 400 years ago this August. Observing the difficulty of fighting such a long-established and deeply embedded institution, she said, “We can be effective in dismantling racism in Chestertown and throughout Kent County when we work together with that as our goal.”

Announcing that the People’s Institute of Survival and Beyond will be conducting an Undoing Racism workshop in Kent County Sept. 20-22, she asked for a show of hands of council members willing to participate. Mayor Chris Cerino said he was willing, but that he may have a conflict on those dates. Councilman Marty Stetson said he could not commit to the date so far in advance. Stetson later wrote in an email to the council, which he copied to the press, “My failure to say I was willing to attend had nothing to do with the group or subject but with the fact that I was sure I would not attend. I just didn’t want to say I would attend when I knew I would not be willing to give up another evening.” He added, “It would have been easy for me to raise my hand and just not show up – but dishonest.”

Following up, Lindstrom asked council members if they would receive the Social Action Committee as “a skilled and knowledgeable ally and resource.” All members agreed, though Councilwoman Linda Kuiper asked for examples of “blantant, visible racism that exists in Chestertown.” She said she serves everybody in her ward, regardless of political affiliation or color of skin.

Lindstrom said the students’ presentation that would follow would point to some instances of racism they had experienced. Also, she said, participation in the Undoing Racism workshop would help clarify some of the issues. And she said that members of the Social Action Committee were willing to meet one-on-one with council members to help them understand the issues facing people of color in the community.

Finally, Lindstrom asked council members if they were willing to take part in the SAC’s regular meetings, which are the second and third Tuesdays of the month in Sumner Hall. All said they would be willing, with Councilman David Foster adding that he had already attended meetings.

Paul Tue introduces members of Students Talking About Race at the May 6 Council meeting

Lindstrom then introduced Paul Tue, who with Barbie Glenn was a co-founder of S.T.A.R. Tue briefly outlined S.T.A.R.’s program. Tue then introduced three student S.T.A.R. members who addressed the council.

Riley Glenn summarized the group’s accomplishments since its founding a little over a year ago, beginning with “encouraging uncomfortable conversations,” forming partnerships and taking action to address inequities. The group spoke at and helped organize the March for Our Lives in Chestertown, assisted the Social Action Committee in interviewing candidates in the 2016 local elections, and attended a number of events addressing the issue of racism in the community. She said the students had come to understand that racism has “shaped all of us, and none of us are exempt from its forces.”

Tykee Bryant was the second of the students to speak. He said he sees racism on a daily basis in the school and the community. Black students are punished more harshly for identical offenses. He said he hears racial slurs and comments from fellow students and teachers. Also, Latino students are told not to speak Spanish, even though others are praised for knowing a foreign language when they do so.

The third student to speak was Annie Squire Southworth, who spoke to misconceptions regarding racism. She listed as examples of racism housing discrimination, inequities in pay, mortgage lending, and rates of policing and incarceration in minority communities. “If you refuse to acknowledge that racism is a problem in Kent County, that is racism,” she said. “We are all responsible for ending racism.” She ended by extending her invitation to local leaders to join S.T.A.R. in combatting racism, and to attend the Undoing Racism workshops this fall.

Kuiper asked if the students received training in multicultural competency and diversity as part of their mission. Southworth said that their anti-racism training encompasses all of those issues.

In closing, Lindstrom thanked the council for the opportunity to introduce the Social Action Committee and S.T.A.R. to the council and to explain their programs.

At the conclusion of the meeting, several members of the Social Action Committee spoke from the audience to reinforce the group’s appeal to council members to take positive steps to address racism in the community and to attend the workshops.

Environmental Committee Reports to Council

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Darren Tilghman of the Chestertown Environmental Committee

The Chestertown council, at its April 15 meeting, heard an update from the town’s Environmental Committee. Several committee members helped deliver the report, which covered a wide range of activities. Committee member David Sobers handed the agenda to the council and introduced several members for specific sections of the report.

Chester Riverkeeper Tim Trumbauer

Tim Trumbauer, the Chester Riverkeeper, reported on activities in the town’s Third Ward, including plans to renovate Louisa Carpenter Park in the Washington Park neighborhood. He said Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, in whose ward the park is located, had been working with the committee on the project. Trumbauer said the town had issued a Request for Proposals and accepted a bid from David A. Bramble to perform the renovations. He said the contractor had agreed to meet with Tolliver at the park to update him on the project and to address any concerns.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he believed there was a storm drain at the park buried under more recent construction. He asked if Trumbauer had any information on that. Trumbauer said he had heard there might be such a drain from some 30 years ago, but that it was apparently no longer working. He said the main issue with the park right now was that the contractor had agreed to a specific scope of services, which the committee would talk to them about to see whether it could include working on the drainage. He said there was also a rain garden installed a number of years ago that received water draining from the road, but it was no longer functional.

Also, Trumbauer said that Tolliver had agreed to help the committee find a representative of the Third Ward, so the committee has representatives from each of the town’s four wards. Finally, he said, the committee has adopted membership rules to put itself on a more formal basis than heretofore.

Donald Small, of the Washington College Center for Environment and Society, reported on plans to address compacting issues in the soil at Fountain Park. He said he had exchanged emails with farmers market manager Sabine Harvey to let her know that the Environmental Committee is available to help with suggestions, brainstorming or grant writing. Small said that Harvey is also working with the Chestertown Garden Club, which maintains plantings in the park. He said he hoped the team would have more information in the near future.

Carl Gallegos of the Chestertown Environmental Committee’s tree group

Carl Gallegos, representing the Environmental Committee’s tree group, reported on plans to work with the College’s GIS Center to update its images of the town’s tree cover, determining what percentage of the town is currently covered. He said this would be a step toward assessing where trees need to be planted to reach the committee’s recommended level of 40% tree coverage within the town. He said the committee’s plan was to plant trees of at least 2-inch diameter, doing so over the winter to maximize their chance of survival.

Darren Tilghman gave an update on the town’s project of installing a riverfront walkway downriver from Wilmer Park, through lands now owned by Washington College. She said the main requirement for the project to move forward was “a champion inside the college,” which Greg Farley agreed to take on. She said Farley met with college officials and had reached verbal agreement to move forward with the trail, in partnership with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. “For the Environmental Committee, that is really important. It’s an access issue; we want people not to have to own riverfront property in order to be able to enjoy this river,” she said. She said it was also an economic development issue.

Mayor Chris Cerino asked to what extent the college was on board with the rail trail, for example, whether it was committed to giving the town an easement for a trail. He noted that the college is in the process of selling off excess property, potentially including the armory, so it would be a good idea to get the agreement in place before that property is sold. Tilghman said Farley was working on that end of the project, but she didn’t know whether there had been any specific commitments on the college’s end.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the decision on an easement needed to go before the college’s Board of Visitors and Governors. He said the town had offered as a model an easement given for use of the ground in front of the Custom House for a riverfront walkway between High and Cannon streets. He said the town didn’t expect to get a lot of money from the college, but that it hoped the college would put its planners to work on carving out pathways for the proposed trails, based on the work of the town’s planning commission at the time the college’s new waterfront buildings were approved. He said the next step ought to be a meeting of the committee, the town officials, and the college to work out details.

Tolliver also asked Tilghman for an update on the garden club project at Garnet School. She said the Garnet Good Seeds Garden project is “very close to fully funded,” with a community launch event tentatively planned for May. She said there had been an “amazing” outpouring of support from community businesses, and that work would begin in the summer.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked whether there was a problem with constructing a walking trail over wetlands along the river. Ingersoll said the decision had been made not to extend the trail along Radcliffe Creek, but to end it at the old sewer plant just past the armory. He said the expense of constructing a trail through wetlands was more an issue than any environmental questions.

Tilghman said her group also looked into playgrounds and parks, as a way to get people outside. She said she had worked to activate a group of residents to work toward a grant to raise funds for playgrounds, including one at Garnet Elementary School. She said she was also working toward possibly extending the town’s rail trail.

Also, Tilghman said, the committee had learned that Chestertown is certified as a “Keep America Beautiful” town. She said that if the town can track how much trash is cleaned up from the rail trail, it would help the town keep its certification. Finally, she said the committee would have a presence at the town’s Earth Day festival, April 20, and would be distributing sustainability tip sheets to give residents specific ways to contribute to improving the environment.

Joe Bohle, leader of Cub Scout Pack 253

Also at the meeting, Joe Bohle, leader of Cub Scout Pack #253, asked the council’s permission for his pack to adopt a section of the Gilchrest Rail Trail as a cleanup project. The section chosen is the one running from High Street to the Morgnec Road bypass, through the Washington College campus, and the scouts would perform the cleanups on a Saturday, roughly every three months. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the town would supply trash bags for the cleanup, and would pick up the filled bags.

In his regular report, Ingersoll also outlined the schedule for the town’s budget discussions, which he would begin with a “very preliminary” meeting April 23. Worship sessions would take place on May 7 and 14, with the budget resolution to be formally introduced at the May 20 council meetings. “As usual, the budget looks like it’s going to be challenging,” he said. He noted that the town was approaching the county commissioners for a tax differential or a rebate to offset town residents’ taxes for services for which the county bills them but which are provided by the town, such police protection, water and sewer, planning and zoning, and so forth. Cerino said he thought the commissioners were more likely to offer a tax differential, which would benefit property owners in town but would not add anything directly to the town’s budget.

Council Supports Enterprise Zone Tax Credits for Downtown Renovations

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The Chestertown council at its April 1 meeting

The Chestertown council, at its meeting April 1, approved resolutions in support of Enterprise Zone tax credits for three businesses in town.

New or expanding businesses in the Enterprise Zone, which covers the town’s main business and commercial areas, are eligible for several kinds of tax credits. Businesses hiring new qualifying employees can apply for an income tax credit of $1,000 for each new employee and $6,000, phased over three years, for each new economically disadvantaged employee. Businesses renovating or upgrading properties within the zone are eligible for credits against increases in county property tax based on the assessed value of improvements to the properties. The tax credits are administered by the Maryland Department of Commerce.

Front view of Stam’s, being renovated as an ice cream parlor and luncheonette.

Kit-Team LLC is performing renovations to the former Stam drugstore and the restaurant/bar most recently operating as Lemon Leaf Grill and J.R.’s Past Time Pub. Both properties are undergoing extensive work. The former drugstore is being prepared to open as a luncheonette and ice cream parlor, with a target opening in the fall of this year. As part of the restoration, the owners plan to restore the original storefront façade. Inside, there will be a teaching kitchen and a community gathering place on the first floor, and an office space for a non-profit and an apartment on the second floor. The renovations are expected to cost some $3 million; the luncheonette plans to create at least one full-time job and four to six part-time jobs, while the non-profit would create two to three jobs, at least one of which would be full-time.

At the restaurant site, the renovations are expected to cost about $5 million, spread over four adjacent buildings. A 70-seat restaurant is planned for 337 High St., the former Lemon Leaf site; the building will also include a new kitchen on the first floor, and private dining areas, a pub, and banquet facilities on the upper floor. At 337 ½ High St., plans are for an independently-owned bar and restaurant with outdoor seating in the rear. A small storefront, offering rare and high-end distilled spirits, is slated for 339 High St., while 341 High St. is to be converted into three or more apartments. The applicants estimate that the four buildings will generate some 37 new jobs, as well as increasing tourist traffic and other economic activity. Kit-Team LLC is applying for property tax credits for the capital improvements.

The council voted unanimously to support the tax credit applications. Mayor Chris Cerino described the two Kit-Team projects as “a godsend” to the downtown business area, praising the investors for their “altruistic” commitment to the future of the town.

The former J.R.’s Pub is being renovated — this view from the rear shows the current progress.

The council also approved a resolution in support of applications by KRM Development Corporation and KRM Construction Company, which have offices in the former bank building at 205 High St. The KRM companies are working to create the new Chestertown Business Park on Route 213 behind the Washington Square shopping center, among other projects. These companies are applying for income tax credits, stating that they both plan to create at least one new job in the upcoming year.

Also at the meeting, the council approved event permits for the Tea Party Festival and for Downrigging Weekend. Sabine Harvey, chairwoman of the Tea Party committee, said the festival over Memorial Day weekend would be “the same as always,” with a few minor tweaks. The Saturday street fair will close at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. as previously, to give the town’s street crew an earlier start for cleanup. Harvey said she had already met with the town crew and the police department, and everything is on course for the festival. 

Drew McMullen of Sultana Education Foundation gives the Chestertown Council an update on Downrigging Weekend

Drew McMullen of Sultana Education Foundation gave the presentation for Downrigging, which takes place at the end of October. He said the recent renovations to the town marina would have a major impact on the festival, allowing it to present almost all its events at the marina and on the foot of Cannon Street. Among the changes would be a “festival village” on the site of the former marina store, on the downriver side of the 98 Cannon St. restaurant, the former Fish Whistle. This village will feature live music and food vendors, with music playing until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights. The festival does not plan to use the foot of High Street, as in former years, but McMullen asked that the town not schedule any other events for that area, or for Wilmer Park, so those areas will be available for parking for festival attendees. Also, he asked that Front Street south of Cannon be closed to non-local traffic. There will be a fireworks display either Friday or Saturday night from Wilmer Park. The park will be closed the afternoon of the display to allow the fireworks to be set up safely.

The council also heard an update on the Chestertown bocce league, scheduled to begin its season in Wilmer Park April 16. Frank Hurst, the league president, said that last year’s league enrolled some 325 players. With three new teams signed up for the upcoming season, the league could have 350 players this year, he said. The league has $8,574 cash on hand, from which it will pay for maintenance of the turf in the park. He asked the town to ask any festivals or other events using the park not to run trucks onto the grass, so as to minimize the need for repairs. The bocce league also has a new website, which will offer updated schedules, scores and standings. The council approved a waiver of the open container law for the bocce season.

Cerino asked the council members for their opinions on a proposal to rename the marina “the Port of Chestertown,” as suggested by Councilman Marty Stetson. Cerino said the renovations in the town-owned facility have come a long way, and a new name might help the town to erase negative connotations around the marina from before the upgrades. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said many people will continue to use the old name, whatever the town decides. After some discussion, Cerino decided to wait for the return of Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, who was absent for this meeting, to make a decision on the renaming.

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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