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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Governor Hughes by Howard Freedlander

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Governor Harry Hughes

The death of former Gov. Harry R. Hughes on Wednesday at 92 leaves a void in Maryland’s political landscape. He represented honor and humility. He was a gentleman who treasured his Eastern Shore roots.

I last saw Gov. Hughes on November 13 when I was invited to join his former staffers to celebrate his 92d birthday at a lunch at his home outside Denton overlooking the Choptank River. Though perhaps he didn’t hear all the chatter, he seemed to enjoy the good cheer and stories about past political battles. I was impressed by how loyal his former staffers remained to a person whom they clearly liked and greatly admired.

This Denton native served as governor from 1978 to 1986. He beat all odds and some derision to win the Democratic primary and then the gubernatorial election by 400,000 votes. He determined at the outset to restore integrity to the State House after his two predecessors, Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel, had faced legal charges for their behavior in office.

In recent years, I had seen more of Harry (as he was wont to be called) at lunches in Easton with former staffers and, not so happily, at Shore Medical Center in Easton. He grappled with pneumonia as he aged and found himself frequently sitting in a hospital bed awaiting friends bringing him unhealthy but welcomed food.

Whenever I visited Harry in the hospital, he was typically low-key and reserved. He expected no special treatment from the nursing staff. He was always friendly and down-to-earth.

As a member of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s board of directors, I learned how beloved the former governor was in the land preservation community. He was a longtime friend and former chair of ESLC.

A few years ago, the organization named its conference room in honor of Gov. Hughes. He was pleased and honored. He harbored no sense of entitlement.

During his two terms as governor, Harry Hughes became particularly known for his environmental record. He brought together the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, to establish a regional program focused on the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. This compact still exists.

In a controversial but beneficial decision, he placed a moratorium in 1985 on the harvesting of rockfish. Commercial fishermen were furious. Science proved Harry right. The moratorium remained in place until 1990 when the species bounced back enough to allow a limited harvest.

Harry Hughes practiced politics with class and civility. He inspired a return of integrity to the Maryland State House.He extolled a workmanlike approach to governing our small but complicated state. He forswore showmanship.

You will be missed, Harry. You made a difference. You sought to build a legacy based on results and ethics.

And you did.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

 

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.

Maryland Leaders Announce School-funding Plans Based on Kirwan Report

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Maryland Democratic legislators announced Tuesday “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” a bill that would provide funding for increased teacher salaries, improved teacher training and free, full-day prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-old children in poverty.

Introduced by House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, this bill — along with an identical counterpart in the Maryland Senate — would allocate $325 million in fiscal year 2020 and $750 million in fiscal year 2021 toward funding the five main policy areas outlined by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.

The panel — nicknamed the “Kirwan Commission” — has been working since 2016 to come up with recommendations for education improvements across the state, Chair William “Brit” Kirwan said Tuesday.

Kirwan called his experience with the commission the “most important thing I have ever worked on in my life,” citing the shortage of teachers in the state of Maryland as a major contributor to a lack of academic success.

House bill 1413 would establish more opportunities for career growth among educators and provide them with salary increases in order to avoid the “revolving door” of teachers that some schools are suffering from, Kirwan said. The bill will also heighten the rigor of state certification standards for teachers, Kirwan said.

This bill would provide early support and intervention for low-income families, including full-day prekindergarten for children ages 3 and 4, according to Kirwan.

The blueprint will set a “college and career readiness standard,” one that is aimed to ensure that by the time a student completes the 10th grade (if not, by the time of high school graduation), they will have the English and mathematical literacy necessary to succeed in the first year of a community college program, according to Kirwan.

The “blueprint” will also provide pathways to free early college programs that would allow students who have met these standards to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school. The bill will also provide access to career and technical education for those who have met the college and career readiness standards.

The measure would provide additional support and services for English learners, students with disabilities and students from low-income families who have not met their college and career readiness standards.

The bill would also provide an accountability system to ensure that school districts are implementing the improvements identified by the commission, according to Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, underlined the importance of making sure the bill’s accountability system is air-tight in a letter he sent to legislative leaders Nov. 27.

“Increased funding and strong accountability are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they must be aligned to ensure that Marylanders are receiving a world class education and good value for the state tax dollars invested,” Hogan said in the letter.

Students and educators, clad in red Strong Schools Maryland T-shirts, came to Annapolis to show their support.

Eleven-year-old City Neighbors Charter School student Mallory Lerch said increased funding and access to teachers would make for a better, more creative classroom environment at her school in Baltimore.

“I think our schools are really underfunded and we deserve more,” Mallory said.

The Maryland State Education Association said they are in support of the bill and the school improvements and teacher salary increases it addresses, according to the president, Cheryl Bost.

Though no hearing date has been set, identical legislation, Senate bill 1030, is scheduled to be heard by a Maryland Senate committee Wednesday.

By Charlie Youngmann

 

Council Splits on Support for Midshore Pride Event

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The Chestertown Council in session in 2018. (L-R ) Ward 4 representative Marty Stetson; Ward 3 representative Elsworth Tolliver; Chris Cerino, mayor; Bill Ingersoll, town manager; Ward 2 representative Linda Kuiper, Ward 1 representative David Foster     Photo by Peter Heck

A group seeking permits for a Midshore Pride celebration in Fountain Park ran into unusual opposition at the Chestertown Council meeting, Feb. 19. Councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson spoke against the celebration and voted against granting the permits. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote.

Jim Bogden gave the council a list of the scheduled events, which include an afternoon of music and speakers in the park Saturday afternoon, May 4. The celebration, sponsored by Midshore Maryland chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), is scheduled for May 3-5 and includes events in Easton, Cambridge and at Washington College as well as in Fountain Park.

Jim Bogden tells the Chestertown Council about plans for the MidShore Pride event

Bogden said the event is the first lesbian and gay pride event to be held on the Eastern Shore. “Hopefully, it will become an annual tradition,” he said. He said he wanted to begin by talking about the purpose of the event.

“That was my first question,” Stetson said. “I’m heterosex, but I don’t feel any need to have a festival to celebrate my sexual orientation. I believe people were born that way.”

“Because every day is a festival for the straight people,” said Bogden. “The Pride celebration is for the LGBTQ community to assemble and celebrate the freedom to be ourselves. Pride gatherings are more than just bright colors and good times. They are rooted in the histories of sexual minority groups who have struggled for decades to overcome prejudice and to be accepted for who we are. We cannot underestimate how wonderful it can be to be surrounded by like-minded people for a change. And that is the essence of it.”

Bogden said the celebration is not exclusive. “Everyone can come and participate.” He said the organizers were working with the Social Action Committee to make sure the event was inclusive of African Americans and other communities. He said that PFLAG had been active in Kent County for a number of years, and mentioned that Linda Dutton had been the original organizer. He said the Pride celebration was meant to be youth-focused and family-friendly. “We don’t anticipate anything that will embarrass the town,” he added.

The weekend begins with a Friday night comedy show in Easton and a dance sponsored by the Downtown Chestertown Association. Saturday morning, there is a multicultural festival in Easton, followed by the Fountain Park gathering beginning around 1 p.m., after the Farmers Market closes. Saturday evening there will be a drag show at Washington College, featuring Marti Cummings, a Kennedyville native who has become a Broadway actor in New York. Sunday afternoon, there will be a repeat of the drag show in Cambridge.

The Fountain Park event will feature Cummings as master of ceremonies, with a lineup of speakers. Bodgen invited Cerino to offer opening remarks. The organizers have also invited a speaker from the Gay and Lesbian Educational Network, one from Free State Justice, and Amy Adams, the regional director for PFLAG. Other speakers have been invited but are not confirmed. The Pam Ortiz band has been invited to play, along with several youth groups. The Garfield Center has also been invited to present a scene from Where the Wild Things Are, which will be in production at the time of the celebration.

Bogden then opened the floor for questions. Tolliver asked how the organizers are prepared for any kind of protest or dissent. Bogden said the permit from the town would include police protection.

Stetson said he didn’t recall the council being asked to approve a permit. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the group had been in touch with him about the celebration but hadn’t at that time provided all the details the town needed. He said the group had filed a request for permits in September. He said the group had requested the town stage and a tent to cover it. He said he had asked the group to come to the council to spell out its needs before a formal vote. “We’re in the process of trying to get you a permit,” he said.

Bogden said the group’s request included a police presence. He said Chief Baker told him that additional security would be at the group’s expense, but he said he didn’t think it would be necessary, considering that it is a family-focused event.

Tolliver said, “I’m struggling with the ‘family-focused event’ part of it. How do I explain to my 13-year-old son about a group of men or women hugging and kissing and some of the things I’ve seen in Pride festivals that happened out in the public arena? How do I explain to my child that this is OK?”

“A lot of people believe it is OK, that it’s normal – a normal variation of humanity,” said Bogden. He noted that there have been same-sex relationships in every culture and every period of history.

Stetson asked why the event needs to be public. “I don’t know what you’re doing. Are you exhibitionists? Do you want to show off?” He said that everyone has a gay relative and that there’s nothing wrong with it. “But I don’t understand why you have to celebrate it in such a manner. Why not go down to Wilmer Park and have a party?

Caren Samuels compared the celebration to Legacy Day, which recognizes the African American community’s contributions to society.

Tolliver said, “That’s always the argument, that the LGBT community is somehow tied to the African American struggle, and I have a problem with that.”

Larry Samuels, Caren’s brother, said, “Of course it’s different, but the celebration of people’s humanity in a public way – who could be against that?” Bogden said that Coretta Scott King has spoken out in recognition of the struggle of gay people.

Councilman David Foster said he sees the event as “a celebration of the fact that we are a diverse society; we are a welcoming society.” He noted that people sometimes go to churches other than their own and that they are welcomed. He said he’s been welcomed in other countries, and that he was welcomed to Chestertown when he moved here from India. “I would hope my home town can also be welcoming to other people. It does not mean espousing.”

Bogden said that many gay people grew up “with a deep sense of shame of who we are,” and that it has affected their personalities and careers in negative ways. He said that cultural shifts in recent years have reduced the amount of shame, but young people still feel it and are damaged by it. He said the Pride celebration is an attempt to “bury that shame, to eliminate it.”

Tolliver said that the other events during the weekend are at indoor venues where there is a degree of privacy. He asked whether government permits were needed for those events. Being told that no permits were needed, he pointed out that PFLAG was requesting government permission for the celebration. “That to me is the problem,” he concluded.

Larry Samuels said that New York City, Boston and other major communities around the nation have had Gay Pride parades for many years without problems. “It’s just a celebration of our diversity,” he said.

Mayor Chris Cerino said that he supports the celebration and that he was aware it might be “a little controversial.” He said the reason there hasn’t been a previous pride event on the Shore was that “this is a pretty conservative part of the world.” However, he said, there is a very prestigious LGBTQ community in Chestertown – “These are some of our very finest citizens, and I would feel kind of remiss not to support this.”

Foster said, “At a time when our nation is so horribly divided, I think we do need to make the extra effort to welcome people, shake hands with people who think and act differently from us. It’s not that painful. It’s not that hard to do.”

Kay MacIntosh, manager of the town’s Arts and Entertainment District and the Main Street program, said, “We are trying to build a diverse, vibrant artistic community, and I really support this. I think it would be a black eye on our community if we didn’t.”

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said the Farmer’s Market closing time might need to be adjusted, which would require the market managers’ cooperation. She said that when she took her oath of office upon election to the council, she had promised: “to serve without partiality or prejudice.” She said she couldn’t put her personal beliefs into the decision, and that she didn’t have a problem with the event other than concerns about safety for attendees or the general public.

Cerino said he was sure Police Chief Baker would be able to handle any security issues. He said he didn’t expect violent protests; people with strong objections would probably avoid the event. He added that he favors the event, and wants to support community members. “There are more of them than a lot of people know about,” he said and added that he would support it even if some people turned their backs on him because of it. He asked for a motion from the council, adding that he would vote in favor of the event.

Ingersoll said the organizers had provided most of the information necessary to issue the permits. He said a request to hang banners in the downtown area ran into a problem with trucks running into them. He suggested hanging one over High Street where the rail trail crosses the road. He said the rest of the requests were pretty routine – “We’ll work out the details once the council says yes or no.”

Foster moved to express the council’s support for the celebration and to issue the necessary permits assuming details were worked out. Kuiper seconded the motion, and Cerino joined them in the final vote to approve the event.

Following the meeting, Stetson emailed the other council members, copying the Spy, saying in part, “I am not sure I made myself clear on the opposition to the use of the park by the Midshore Pride people. I think they are making a mistake by showcasing themselves, saying look at me I am different. They should just continue to become a part of society and if asked or feel it necessary to let people know they are gay, do so on a personal basis. To equate their difference as that of being the same as the black people is wrong.  They have never been refused service at a lunch counter or not admitted to a school of their choice because they are gay.”

The motion to approve the permit passed with Cerino, Kuiper, and Foster voting in favor and Stetson and Tolliver voting against.

The council then went on to discuss other matters, including a police report and the possible acquisition of a new portable town stage, which will be covered in a second Chestertown Spy report.

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ESLC’s Jim Bass Reports on Eastern Shore’s Preparedness for Rising Seas Levels

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Given the nature of things – literally – it won’t be surprising for the Eastern Shore to have several studies prepared in the decades ahead that record and evaluate the dangers facing its rural communities as sea levels continue to rise throughout the century.

With the Delmarva Peninsula being one of the country’s most vulnerable landscapes for flooding and erosion as the result of global warming, there is an ever growing concern on the part of local government staff, conservation organizations, agricultural associations, and state agencies on what is being done, and what could be done, to prepare the Shore for this extraordinarily dramatic shift in climate.

One of the first of these has just been prepared by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy with a new study to assist local governments to plan for the impacts of sea level rise. Titled “Mainstreaming Sea Level Rise Preparedness in Local Planning and Policy on Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” the study is centered on sea level rise projections for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in the years 2050 and 2100.

This report was written on behalf of the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation Partnership  – a regional workgroup of local government staff, partners from the State of Maryland, academic institutions, and nonprofits for that very reason.

The ESCAP assists communities in reducing climate vulnerabilities and risks; collects and shares information among communities and decision makers; and educates members, residents, and elected leaders on risks and adaptation strategies. It also serves to raise the visibility and voice of the Eastern Shore and rural regions in conversations about adaptation and resilience.

The Spy sat down last week with Jim Bass, ESLC’s Coastal Resilience Specialist, who helped manage the study, last week to find out what the significant takeaways were and what must be done in the future to protect and defend the Mid-Shore from this dangerous new future we face.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information regarding this study, ESCAP, or ESLC’s coastal resilience program, please contact ESLC Coastal Resilience Specialist Jim Bass at jbass@eslc.org.The study is available to view and download at www.eslc.org/resilience.

Harvey Is New Farmers’ Market Manager

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Sabine Harvey, Chestertown Farmers’ Market manager

Sabine Harvey is the new Chestertown Farmers’ Market manager.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cerino Reports on State of Town and Marina

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino

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

The full report is online at the town website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chestertown marina with new docks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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