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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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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