Council Asked to Fund Playgrounds

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Children using playground equipment at Louisa Carpenter Park in Washington Park

At the Sept. 17 Chestertown Council meeting, Nathan Shroyer offered suggestions for improving the town’s parks and playgrounds.

Shroyer introduced himself as a resident of Kent County, a parent interested in the progress of the town, and a small business owner. He is a city and urban planner by vocation, specializing in disaster management and mitigation.

“I live here because of the rural character and the people, and the quality of life is very important to me and my family,” Shroyer said, characterizing himself as a proponent of green space and public spaces who enjoys walking in Wilmer Park.  He said that in a recent conversation with several delegates in Annapolis, he was told that it would be easy to get up to $200,000 to build “a first-rate quality playground” in Chestertown. He said there is a new playground in Rock Hall that has families present every time he visits it, and it inspired him to do some research on the parks in Chestertown.

A view of the Chester River from Wilmer Park 

“First of all, I found out that you’ve been building parks,” Shroyer said. “This was big news to me.” He said the only Chestertown parks that show up on a Google search are Fountain Park, Kirwan Meditation Park on the Washington College campus, and Wilmer Park – “I know there are others,” he said, noting that he had made an effort to visit as many as he could and take photographs as part of his research. He said the pocket park near the rail trail – the former Ajax property – seems to have “a bunch of surplus equipment.” He said that a query on social media about the pocket park returned a lot of negative comments, such as people sleeping in the park, used condoms on the ground, and other problems.

Based on his experience as a planner, Shroyer said that a park functions better as the number of people and the variety of different groups using it increases. He said he had come to the council to explore ways to achieve that with the parks. Wilmer Park gets “consistent use,” while Margo Bailey park is heavily used by dog walkers, he said. But he has never found people using any of the other parks. Also, the playground at Bailey Park is “binocular distance” from the parking lot, making it difficult for small children to use.

And there are no signs to direct visitors to the existing parks. The only signs are those telling visitors the hours the parks cannot be used. Shroyer said the playground at Garnet Elementary School is only open from 4:30 to sunset, limiting the time it is available for small children to use, especially in winter. He  found in his research that people once considered the Garnet playground “a great town park in the middle of town for people to use.”

Mayor Chris Cerino said the current playground at the school replaced one built by community members a number of years ago. “That’s where I used to take my kids.” He said the Board of Education had removed the old equipment because of insurance issues arising from its dilapidated condition. Since it is on school property, the town has no control over it. Shroyer said the town needs a park with facilities for teens, especially with a climate-controlled indoor space for games. Shroyer said such facilities as restrooms, a barbecue area, and tennis courts would also be a plus. “It’s really about participation,” he said.

Nathan Shroyer speaking to the Chestertown Council about parks and playgrounds

Cerino said the county has such a park at the Clarence Hawkins Community Center in Worton. An audience member added that the Kent County Public Library runs a game night at the Chestertown branch, where all ages can play board games.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the town worked with the county and the school district two years ago to upgrade the tennis and basketball courts at the Kent County Middle School. He said the facilities are “empty” most of the time.

Shroyer said the facilities should be easier to find on Google maps and other online sites. “Accessibility and outreach are key,” he added.

Cerino said the town website has a section that lists the parks. Shroyer said he eventually found that website, but that the most useful information he found was in minutes of the town Recreation Commission.

Shroyer said that he came to the meeting to request that the council apply for the grant money delegates told him was available from the state. He said the town should be going for “low-hanging fruit,” such as erecting signage to let people know about the park or to put bike lanes along the road between the middle school and Bailey Park. “You could have a trail going through town with markers to designate these really great spaces,” he said. “Why should families have to drive half an hour every time they want to go recreate?”

Cerino said that the town’s budget is primarily directed toward such services as police protection and public works like road repairs. With a few exceptions, the existing parks – including Gateway Park at the end of High Street, and the Middle School playground — have been built and upgraded with Community Parks and Recreation grants from the state. Such grants are very competitive, and the state expects a municipality to spend grants it has on hand before applying for more. He said the town currently has such a grant for refurbishing Louisa Carpenter Park in the Washington Park suburb, and can’t expect anything more for parks until that is spent. He said the Kent County government might be able to get additional funding on its own, but it generally invests its recreation dollars at the community center in Worton.

Cerino agreed that a top-quality playground would be an important addition to the town’s facilities. He said he had gone to the Rock Hall park –“It’s kind of cool,” Cerino said, adding that it was designed and installed by a playground designer located in Rock Hall, with the Rock Hall Recreation Commission playing a key role. He said that at present, Chestertown’s funding for new projects is largely tied up in the completion of upgrading at the Chestertown Marina, financed with state and federal grants plus some private donations.

Shroyer said he appreciates the town’s commitment to upgrade the marina. He said it is “a question of equity” in how limited resources are used. “You need to distribute resources so people can use them,” he said. “You need to take children as seriously as dogs,” he added, referring to the dog park facilities at Bailey Park.

Councilman Marty Stetson, who has been a strong advocate for the dog park, said the park has been built up largely with private donations, and that it attracts people from all over the Shore.

Greater Chestertown Initiative Questions for County Commissioner Candidates: Diversity

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Editor’s Note: The Greater Chestertown Initiative worked this summer on a series of questions for the candidates running for one of three Kent County Commissioners to be elected in November. Over the next four weeks, the Spy will share the candidates responses to one of those questions every week.

Diversity

In the May 17 edition of the Kent County News, an editorial described how racism endures in our county. What work needs to be done to build the inclusive community Kent County should be, and how would you implement that work? How would you show the African American and Latino communities they are essential to the success of our county?

Ron Fithian

 l just had the gentlemen who is doing some work on the Legacy Days. When he found out I had graduated from high school in ’69 which meant I went through that whole integration when it started, he wanted to interview me. I’m going to tell you what basically I told him. When I grew up here in Rock Hall, it was a commercial seafood town. Blacks and whites all worked together and played together. And i’ll tell you when the blacks and whites starting going to Rock Hall High
School, it really didn’t seem to be a problem. Maybe it’s easy for me to say because they were coming to our school. But we didn’t have the real problems you might see on television. I think we’re very fortunate with that especially in Kent County. We all lived together, and it was just a natural thing. But as far as African Americans and the Latinos and how we can show them they are essential to the success of the county,

I think you need to look around at the Clarence Hawkinses, at the William Pickrums, at the Leon Frisons, leaders of this community, the preachers. Some of our more important department heads are African Americans. For example, Herb Dennis is an African American and he is the Warden of the Kent County Detention Center. One of the best we’ve ever had. And I’ve been around long enough to go through several changes of wardens. We have Myra Butler, who is in charge of Parks and Recreation. She plays a big role in Kent County, and she’s in charge of the Community Center and all of our park land. We try to make sure that African  Americans and Latinos are included not only as department heads and workers, but on our boards as well. And we’ll continue to do that. I Believe everyone has a chance in Kent County.

It’s easy for me to answer because some of my best friends are African Americans and Latinos. if there is racism in Kent County, it certainly isn’t anywhere in my travels. My father died when l was about 4 years old. His best friend was an African American and sung at his funeral. I mean we don’t look at things that way. I tend to treat everyone the same regardless of who they are or what they look like until they prove to me that I shouldn’t. That’s the way I do it. It’s one of the only good things my wife says about me. She says you might not have many, but one of the good qualities you have is—i’ve seen you walk into a meeting and you take the poorest person there and you talk to them like they’re the richest.” That is an impressive trait. I try to do that, and I would suggest everybody else do the same.

Bob Jacobs

The African Americans and Latinos are essential to the county. People are not born racist. They are taught it. I personally think everyone in life should be giving the opportunity to succeed in whatever they do. When I played sports in high school it was just a bunch of us kids just having fun trying to win a game no matter what color you are. Watching my son play sports 35 years later I saw the same thing. Routing for a bunch of kids regardless of color trying to win a game.

When I worked at Dixon Valve we were just a bunch of folks regardless of color or even gender just trying to get a job done. I have always been a goal oriented individual and don’t worry much about race. One of my commitments toward the community and making sure we are all on an even playing field no matter what color or gender you are. Everybody deserves an equal shot no matter who you are. It is all about equality. Our differences are our strengths, we learn from each other and grow together.

Tom Mason

When it comes to racial problems in our community we must practice the golden rule of treating others how we would like to be treated. I would have an all inclusive government where the African American and Latino communities will have equal opportunity to serve on committees and participate in all aspects of county government. All citizens will be treated with respect and equality when it comes to living and participating in our community. All county departments will be expected to provide the same services to all of our community without a racial or ethnic divide.

William Pickrum

I will continue to identify opportunities for inclusive opportunities.  This must be encouraged through all our social networks, i.e., churches, business groups, social and service groups, etc.  These groups must have an inclusive frame of reference.

  • How would you show the African American and Latino communities they are essential to the success of our county?

Showing by example is the best method.  I have appointed the first female African-American Department Head in this county.  As an African-American, I have been a role model for this community and have successfully been elected as County Commissioner multiple terms.  I have aggressively sought African Americans and Latinos for county employment and to serve on county boards and committees.

As a personal story, when I returned home after a career in the Coast Guard, I was not well received at an Economic Advisory Commission meeting.  In fact, I was asked why I was there. After careful thought, I decided to run for elective office. One of my goals from the beginning was to insure inclusiveness in county government.

As a County Commissioner, I’ve supported the Local Management Board.  This Board works tirelessly to make sure this is achieved. Rosemary Ramsey-Granillo, as the Director of the Local Management Board, has worked to achieve this goal and is tasked with some actions;

  1. Create a vision for the role of local government and local child and family serving agencies in achieving results for children and families.
  2. Develop plans to command public and political attention and support for programs that will achieve results for children and families at the local level.

This Board is concerned with inclusiveness and demands it.

I will encourage the development of an African-American, Latino and non-minority business directory, sponsored by the County.  This will provide local governments and residents a resource to utilize these local businesses.

All county employees should get racial and gender sensitivity training periodically.  All other local county governments should do the same.

William Short

Inclusion is imperative to the County’s overall success. All ethnic and racial backgrounds add value to our community. As an elected official I work to move the County and all of its citizens forward without a racial or ethnic divide. As previously stated I am a Commissioner for all people and have a 6 year record of serving all.

Tom Timberman

Recently, the Kent County News did us a public service by pointing out that in 2018 racism and discrimination are still very much present in Kent County. This Editorial also reminds us that Kent County’s historic record in this regard, down to the 1960s and 70’s, is not encouraging. Thus, the admirable steps being taken now, e.g. the Social Action Committee, an active schedule of events at Sumner Hall and Legacy Day, can be assessed against this background.

It’s essential that minorities actually believe that they are listened to, that they are heard and that actions are taken as a result. More African-Americans and Latinos must be invited to become involved in County management. Minorities must be hired to deliver County services. County commissions and boards should also include more minority members to become part of the decision-making process.

An initiative to identify, recruit, hire or appoint minority members should be a Commission priority.

This must start with teachers and administrators in the public school system. African American and Latino children and their parents will begin to believe they are essential to the success of the County if they are seen to occupy essential positions.

The Commission can launch an outreach program by emailing their weekly meeting agenda to African American church pastors and those from Shrewsbury Parish and the Galena Catholic Church. These individuals should be invited to speak at the meetings, to suggest agenda items and to serve on ad hoc issue committees. The Commission can also fund a video archive of their weekly meetings on the County website.

And finally, one Commission meeting per month should be conducted in each of the other four incorporated towns to encourage attendance by residents who do not live in Chestertown and are without personal transportation.

 

 

Healthcare Plans See Reductions of Premiums in Maryland for 2019

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday announced a reduction in next year’s insurance premium rates for individual healthcare plans in the state.

The two health insurance providers in the state’s Maryland Health Benefit Exchange — which operates the marketplace consumers use to purchase healthcare under the Affordable Care Act — Kaiser Permanente and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, will offer an average of about a 13 percent reduction in premiums across the board, the governor said. The new rates will take effect on Jan. 1.

The announcement comes after the federal government in August approved the state’s request for a waiver to establish a reinsurance program to stabilize the insurance market and prevent rate spikes.

“Rather than huge increases in health insurance rates, we are instead delivering significantly and dramatically lower rates for Marylanders,” Hogan said. “For the first time since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, all individual insurance rates in Maryland will go down instead of up.”

Prior to the waiver’s approval, insurance premiums were expected to increase dramatically next year for both HMO and PPO healthcare plans. CareFirst’s PPO rate was expected to increase by more than 90 percent. It will now decrease by 11 percent, the governor said.

CareFirst’s HMO plan, which covers more than half of the nearly 200,000 Marylanders with health insurance plans purchased in the individual market as of June 30, will see a 17 percent decrease.

Kaiser had proposed a rate increase of almost 40 percent. Instead their rates will drop by about 7 percent.

“As a result of these rates, the health insurance market in Maryland will finally have the chance to become more competitive and dynamic,” Hogan said, adding the reinsurance program will make healthcare more affordable and increase competition by coaxing more insurers into the market.

The reinsurance program is a temporary fix, however. The waiver runs through 2020 but could last through 2023, according to the waiver application — and a more permanent solution must be enacted by the federal government to ensure rates do not increase down the line, said Maryland Health Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer.

“Most of the rules regarding the Affordable Care Act are embedded in federal law. Very little authority is given to the states,” Redmer said. “What we really need — and what we’ve been advocating for years — is for Congress to put aside those partisan differences and come up with common sense solutions or give us more authority to make changes here in the states.”

Redmer declined to speculate whether insurance rates would increase after the waiver expires without a long-term solution in place.

“Short term, our health insurance rates are (going to be) much more competitive than they were this year,” Redmer said, adding that the lower rates will add more consumers to the insurance market making it healthier overall.

By Brooks DuBose

Town to Seek Vendors’ Input on Market Rules

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James Lockwood of Lockbriar Farms speaks at the Chestertown council meeting Sept. 17

The Chestertown Mayor and Council discussed new rules for the Chestertown farmers and artisans markets with an audience including a number of vendors at the markets at the Sept. 17 council meeting.

Mayor Chris Cerino began the discussion by outlining several “bullet points” he derived from the discussion of the market at the Sept. 4 council meeting as well as from emails received from the public:

Expand the space available for vendors

Expand the geographic area from which vendors will be accepted

Relax a rule requiring vendors to be non-commercial

Change or eliminate a requirement that non-profits have 501(c)(3) status

Allow prepared ready-to-eat foods to be sold

Allow vendors of seasonal items to have space for part of the year

Settle questions about insurance coverage for the market and vendors

Chestertown Town Manager Bill Ingersoll and Councilwoman Linda Kuiper

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, whose ward includes the Fountain Park area where the market is held, gave a summary of her research on the market rules, which she had prepared a revision of. She said there are some 25 types of 501 non-profit organizations, and she suggested expanding the market’s requirements to include all of them. She said the market already allows prepared foods, subject to inspection by the Kent County Health Department, and that vendors of seasonal items are already being accommodated. She said the suggested provisions in the 6-page draft she had prepared were already in a shorter version of the rules prepared in 2012. Kuiper also noted that vendors in the artisans market pay a $20 application fee, but no such fee has been imposed on farmers market vendors.

Councilman Marty Stetson said the pavement on the High Street side of Fountain Park was widened several years ago to make room for more vendors, but nobody currently uses it. He said the artisans want to be close to the farmers because that is where the most foot traffic is. He suggested moving some of the farmers, especially those who have sites on the inside of the park, to High Street, where they will be able to park their vehicles by their space and have more room than they now do. He said putting farmers on both sides of the market would benefit artisans because more customers would walk from one side of the park to the other, going past all the vendors in the middle. It might be necessary to close one lane of High Street to traffic on Saturday mornings when the market is on, he said.

Councilman David Foster asked if vendors would be required to move or be given a choice.

“Nobody will move voluntarily,” said Kuiper. However, she agreed that some vendors who don’t currently have curb space might make the move in order to park a truck next to their assigned site. The plan might also allow the market to add more vendors.

Cerino said the market could begin expansion by placing new vendors on High Street. He said the town should work with a new market manager, replacing the late Owen McCoy, to encourage other vendors to move. He said the town would also have to “step up” to ensure that the High Street side of the park is clear for vendors to use. He opened the floor to comments from the vendors in the audience.

James Lockwood of Lockbriar Farms noted that there were “a lot of experts in this room,” referring to the many vendors who sell both at Chestertown and other farmers markets. He said the market manager and vendors should work together with the town to decide on the rules.

Cerino agreed that the vendors should be more involved in the market rules. He said he would welcome an annual meeting with vendors to work out issues. He said the town has a stake in the market because of liability issues, since it is conducted on town property.

Other audience members had more specific questions. Bill Flook of the Kent County Democratic club, which sets up a tent in the non-profit area of the park, asked about the 501(c)(3) requirement.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the town has never required non-profits to show such credentials. “Local and non-profit is all I ask about,” he said. He said the only problem would be with a “church-state issue,” with a religious group proselytizing on town property.

Ingersoll said the town should submit any proposed rules to the vendors using the market for comment and suggested revisions. “Let us know what works for you,” he said to the vendors.

Farmers market vendor Bill Bankhead makes a point to the Chestertown council at the Sept. 17 meeting

Vendor Bill Bankhead raised an issue with a rule against the idling of gasoline engines for more than five minutes, noting that he uses a generator to keep his produce at a safe temperature. Kuiper said the proposed rule was based on Maryland state law and intended to avoid exposing the public to fumes, but could possibly make an exception for small generators.

Cerino then went down the list of bullet points, asking the council for their take on each. Council members agreed that expanding the area of the market to High Street was worth exploring and that the geographic range should be expanded to include vendors for Cecil and southern Queen Anne’s counties. The 501(c)(3) requirement would be dropped, making any local non-profits eligible to operate in the park during farmers market. Vendors of prepared foods and short-term seasonal vendors will be permitted.

At the end of the discussion, the council unanimously approved a resolution instructing Ingersoll and Kuiper to work up a draft set of rules based on comments at the meeting and focusing on the bullet points Cerino identified. The complete draft will be forwarded to market vendors for their input.

Also at the meeting, Nathan Shroyer made several recommendations concerning parks and playgrounds in the community. Look for a full account in an upcoming Spy story.

 

Greater Chestertown Initiative Questions for County Commissioner Candidates: Public Schools

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Editor’s Note: The Greater Chestertown Initiative worked this summer on a series of questions for the candidates running for one of three Kent County Commissioners to be elected in November. Over the next four weeks, the Spy will share the candidates responses to one of those questions every Monday.

Public Schools

What are you willing to do to make the Kent County Schools the best in the State of Maryland?

Are you committed to budgeting the resources our schools need including:
Competitive teacher salaries,
Pre-school education for our 3 year olds, and
Social workers to support our young people dealing with crises

What will you do to help reverse the perception that our schools are not successful in the face of data that shows otherwise?

How will you market our schools to demonstrate their successes?

Ron Fithian

I’ve served on five different boards and I don’t think that there’s been a board I’ve sewed on that’s done more for education in Kent County than the one I’m sitting on right now. There’s a group called Maryland State Education Association who just put out a political ad. What they’re attempting to do is
to highlight the per pupil contribution from each of the 24 Jurisdictions while showing that Queen Anne’s is ranked in 22nd place. The group is saying, “Look here to see how little our county commissioners value our kids.” It says, “Our kids deserve better”.

Then if you turn the thing over, it’s got all five of the commissioner’s pictures on the front of this thing, and it says, “The county commissioner’s policies are failing our kids. Call the county commissioners and tell them our kids deserve better.” On the other side of it they have the top five counties, and it says, ”These Maryland counties value their students the most.” And they have in great big black letters highlighted, Worcester’s first, Somerset’s second, Baltimore’s third, KENT COUNTY fourth, and Montgomery is fifth. And it says, “These Maryland counties VALUE their students the most. How this group can brag on us while a local group can say we don’t do enough is puzzling to me.

And then let me also say that three years ago, we gave the board of education $758,000 that was to go directly to salaries. It was to be used for nothing but salaries and they did just that. That contribution three years ago was the largest amount of money ever put toward salaries in the history of Kent County. The very next year was the year that we consolidated the schools and we did away with Millington and Worton. It was about a $1,000,000 savings in doing that. Out of that million dollars, they used $900,000 for salaries and benefits, again one of the largest contributions to teachers salaries and benefits in the history of Kent County. So out of the last three years, two of them were record breaking amounts of money that went to teacher salaries.

And then another thing that gets overlooked all the time is this fiber internet service that we’ve got throughout the county. I don’t care who the next commissioners are, there will never be a project that as far as I’m concerned will do more for people of Kent County and the students of Kent County than
that fiber project. I’m not sure it’s appreciated as much as it deserves to be. What that project is going to do is make sure that every kid has the ability to not only be able to use the internet in school, but to go home with their laptop or whatever it is and study, look into the future, and have all their questions answered by researching. They have the ability to do much more than any of the kids in the surrounding counties because the others don’t have this. This means that even the poorest of poor children that will never have internet hooked to their house will have sixty places throughout the
county where they can go and receive FREE internet. Places like Worton Park, Worton Community Center, all the firehouses, all the parks, Main Street of Rock Hall, Fountain Park of Chestertown and many more. To me, that’s enormous.

One question asked is how will you market our public schools. I would think the combination of our fibre, the endorsement of the Maryland State Education Association and two years of record breaking salary increases for our teachers would be a good place to start.

Our IT department was summoned to Capitol Hill. Scott Boon was summoned to Capitol Hill to talk to the Congressional Internet Caucus because little Kent County has done something exceptional. Billy Short and I went over with them and sat in the audience and listened to the testimony. And the reason for having them come over there was because Kent County has done something that probably hundreds and thousands of towns would love to be able to duplicate. And their question was how was little ole Kent County able to do something most of the states in the United States couldn’t think of.

It’s really something that Kent County can be proud of and those of us who were involved in it. That is a marketing tool. There’s a lot of positive things to talk about in Kent County, IF we choose to be positive!

Bob Jacobs

There are two big Economic drivers in this county and the school system is one of them. Economic development as I stated above only helps the revenue of the county if people live here. If we have great schools people live here and pay income tax and property tax. Education is a way of fixing our budget woes, not adding to them. If we don’t continue to make our schools better and continue in fixing the perception of our public schools, we will continue to lose families to Queen Anne’s county. With the county revenue only growing 5% in the last five years it would be important to work with the school system on ways to making our schools better.

I was always told good schools starts and end with discipline. Yes, I would fund the additional funding for additional councilors if needed. Kent county seems to have a few kids like all schools that can be disruptive and cause issues in the classroom. You can’t just give up on those few kids. It is not their fought that they may have challenges at home or other types of issues. The problem is without any additional revenue from the county the school budget is expected to be over a million dollars in debt by 2020 which means the county would have to fund that. The county had approx. 10 million funding balance last year, which is down to approx. 3 million due to the fiber project.

Kent County has a very bad hand dealt to them by the state of Maryland. We pay a much higher percentage of the cost per student than other counties because we are deemed a rich county even though 60 percent of our kids are on free or reduced lunch. We can’t change the bad hand we have been dealt by the state, but we can’t give up. Mathematically the way to fix the school funding issue is to add population to our school. Continued improvement of our school system, coupled with new and growing businesses is key to increasing new families to Kent County. Trying to balance the school budget and county budget by allowing our schools to shrink and population to remain stagnant is the much harder recourse. If you were to get in a downward spiral it will cost a lot more to get out of it. According to the latest info I have seen on population I think our population has trended backward.

Tom Mason

The public school system is of utmost concern to all the citizens of Kent County.  I want to see more cooperation between the county commissioners and the local school board and administration on budget issues before the budget process so government and schools can understand what is needed and what funds are available.  I would like to see a publication that profiles graduates of Kent County Public Schools that have done well in their chosen vocations. This information should be given to all realtors and distributed to prospective home buyers in Kent County.

My children are products of Kent County Public Schools and I have a grandchild now attending, so I want our schools to be adequately funded to provide for all their educational needs.  If we introduce business growth, which will then bring new families, we will have more tax revenue to assist in funding our schools.

I will also explore and advocate through our school administration and state lawmakers the possibility of receiving additional funding from the state to help the schools.

William Pickrum

What are you willing to do to make Kent County Public Schools the best in the State of Maryland?

I consider the Kent County Public Schools already the best in the Maryland. Time and time again, our system is held up as a model for other school systems in the state. As reported one the front page of the June 14, 2018 edition of the Kent County News, I was recognized for declaring the I’m “unafraid to declare Kent County Public Schools the best on the East Coast.” There is always room for improvement. That improvement can come about through allowing our system, and all school systems, to be more independent. Our school board is aware of what the citizens of their want out of their school system, and I support them.

Are you committed to budgeting the resources our public schools need? Including: Competitive teacher salaries Pre-school education for all three-year-old children Social workers to support our young people dealing with crises.

The school system’s budget is developed from the programming of our public school system. This is the legal responsibility of the Kent County Public School Board. Specific programs are not under the Commissioner’s authority. The County Commissioners financially support the public school system and are responsible for protecting county taxpayer dollars.

County Commissioners may only provide funding in the legally required 11 categories.

Administration
Mi-Level Administration
Instruction
Special Education
Student Personnel Services
Health Services
Transportation
Operation of Plant
Maintenance of Plant
Fixed Charges
Capital Outlay

Staff salaries are only negotiated by the school board with the school superintendent. Labor contracts are only seen and reviewed by the school board. The Commissioners are not part of this process and have no legal authority or responsibility. The school board can allocate the available funds as they see fit. Most organizations look at paying their people first. The statement that County teachers are 23rd out of 24 jurisdictions does not tell the true picture. The starting salaries are only at this level. The overall salary schedule could be adjusted with consent of the labor organizations to be at any level the school board desires.

During my tenure, Kent County Commissioners have consistently provided well above the State mandated Maintenance of Effort. Many of the capital projects desired by the school system are funded directly by the Commissioners. I have always supported provision of funds to cover these expenses. This has included providing tablet devices to all Kent County Public School children, providing parking space for system buses, maintaining the grounds, assisting with the internet service to all schools, etc. These costs are not borne by the school system and do not add to the Maintenance of Effort thresholds.

Kent County Public Schools were ranked 6th out of 24 jurisdictions in revenue per pupil in the local funding for schools in Fiscal Year 2017 according to the Department of Legislative Services. We were 4th highest in the State in FY2016. Therefore, regardless of having the smallest system, we spend far more per pupil than most school districts.

The public school system has, for the past 15 years, under spent their budget. This leaves an ever-growing budget surplus (fund balance). The school system has desired to have a fund balance of $500,000. Considering that, it is determined what funds are available above that $500,000. These are taxpayer dollars that are not available for other County needs.

Not all counties in Maryland allow their school systems to maintain fund balances. This is not a state requirement. These are taxpayer monies. Keeping a “slush” fund in the school system is not reasonable at the same time as asking for more taxpayer money. The County is the funder for all County governmental units and will use whatever funds that are available to keep these units’ solvent. If a unit need for more money are not available from county funds, only the Commissioners may borrow the necessary funds.

The school system’s budget has well over $1 million in excess funds. This is enough to fund almost any program the school board desires. This is taxpayer money that is being stockpiled. If the school systems need additional funds, the Commissioners are readily available to meet the need. In fact, any budget adjustments that the school system desires must ultimately be approved by the Commissioners. It is not necessary for the school system to have a fund balance. No other county government unit has a fund balance.

To increase available revenue for the county would require raising primarily property taxes. These taxes are regressive. Some residents can pay higher taxes, but many cannot. The county has each year several properties up for tax sale. Higher property taxes would make the situation worse. The Commissioners have a responsibility for protecting taxpayer dollars. The school system does not have taxing or borrowing authority.

There are under 2,000 children in our school system. Approximately, 1/3 of our under 20,000 citizens are over the age of 60. Yet, over $17 million is allocated to education and only $28,000 to senior services.

What will you do to help reverse the perception that our public schools are not successful in the face of data that shows otherwise?

I have consistently touted the quality of our education system and its staff. The school system must aggressively promote the quality of our education before all of our local organizations, real estate agents, church groups, political organizations, etc. Along with the Commissioners, every publication, where appropriate, must promote the quality of our system. Our website should say we have a top ranked system.

How will you market our public schools to demonstrate their successes?

As stated above, touting our successes at every opportunity and venue should be a must. This must be a collective effort by all.

William Short

Kent County Public Schools have achieved great things since the arrival of Dr. Couch. While the Commissioners fund 56.5% of the Kent County Public Schools operating budget the County Commissioners do not have oversight or authority regarding the allocation and specific use of those funds. The County Commissioners have to rely on the power and authority of The Board of Education to manage and ensure appropriate use of all available funds. I have talked encouragement for years on the future of our school system. At the end of the day words only travel so far, I am eager to see the continued process of the school system through increased academic scoring and state rankings.

When Kent County Public Schools become top rated in the State current and perspective residents will have a clear depiction that the Kent County Public School system is a great place to raise their children.  Under the current funding formula created through the Thornton Commission public schools are funded on a per pupil basis. It is imperative that the Board of Education and the school system as a whole work to reduce the increasing exodus of out of school placement. If out of school placement enrollment was eliminated the school system would receive approximately $5.6 million of increased funding. While the County budget has been tight, with little revenue growth in past years, I have worked diligently to find funds to continually provide the public school system with funding above the required Maintenance of Effort.

The County not only funds recurring operating costs covered under Maintenance of Effort it also funds nonrecurring costs each year and capital projects. The school system and the County have worked well to provide benefits to each other through in kind services and reduced fees. Increased sharing of resources between the County and the school system will provide even greater benefits to both parties. Vehicle maintenance, storage, office space, information technology, finance, and purchasing are just a few areas where increased collaboration needs to be explored.

Tom Timberman

The Kent County Public School System has four basic problems, none of which have diminished the entrepreneurial spirit of the administrators and teachers.  They have delivered best-in-state programs. However, that being said, these four realities reduce County funds available to support the school system: (1) County revenues are static; (2) County population is declining; (3) County population is aging and the number of children in the school system shrinks every year (lost 1/3 of student body since 2008) and (4) Maryland’s formula for distributing public education financial support to counties is based on two elements that hurt Kent County: (1) size of student population and (2) “Wealth per Student”.

The Wealth-per-Student number is arrived at by dividing the county’s property tax revenue by the number of students.  There are a number of valuable water-front homes, whose owners pay high property taxes. Given the dwindling number of students, the wealth per student continues to rise.  Other Eastern Shore counties share the same problem.

This implied finding is at odds with the reality of the County’s income disparities. Fifteen percent of the population is at or under the poverty line; Kent’s median income is $20,000 lower than the state’s and 58% of the students in the middle school qualify for free lunches.

Our representatives in the State legislature need to press hard to change the formula.

An initiative I’m pursuing to establish an academy of advanced technical skills in Kent County is aimed at keeping young people here and attracting others.  The curriculum will focus on 21st Century technologies, e.g. robotics, artificial intelligence and cyber security etc.  All are in high demand.

There is no easy, short-term solution to the underlying challenges affecting Kent’s Public School System.  A friend told me about a plan to attract large sums of money from major education foundations, to use Kent’s public schools as laboratories to test cutting edge programs.   It is also essential we recruit new employers create jobs, pay taxes and whose younger staff will help grow the student population.

This is not one problem it is a complex of interacting problems that need to be addressed as a whole.  To do this effectively, will require introducing a much closer working relationship among all those involved: County and town governments, the school board, the parents, the budget specialists, the business and economic expansion experts, to work on a strategic plan incorporating all the interwoven issues and their possible solutions.  

 

Council Meets New Hospital Director

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Shore Regional Health CEO Ken Kozel introduces Kathy Elliott, new director of the Chestertown hospital, to the mayor and council

Ken Kozel of Shore Regional Health came before the Chestertown council Sept. 4 to introduce Kathy Elliott, the new executive director of the Chestertown hospital.

Kozel said Elliott was chosen after an “exhaustive” interview process involving board members, physicians, management and team members working in Chestertown. He said that she is a long-time resident of Kent County and Chestertown. “What appealed to us the most is her commitment and passion for this community,” Kozel said. Elliott is a nurse by profession, “with specialties and experience in just about every area of nursing,” he said, noting that nursing is one of the primary functions of the hospital. Equally important, though, was the need for a community member who is passionate and loyal to the community, Kozel said.

Elliott said she has worked in the hospital for a number of years. She said she would be “bringing the bedside to the boardroom and the boardroom to the bedside, so the people closest to our patients understand what we are doing.” She said she knows she has a lot to learn about the management of the hospital – “It’s been eye-opening and exciting, and it’s a challenge – I’m looking forward to it.” She said she had started as interim director at the end of March.

Councilman David Foster asked if she would take part in recruiting new doctors for the local hospital. She said she would; “I’ve recruited nurses in the past,” she said, adding that there would be “a learning curve” as she worked to bring in new physicians.

Councilman Marty Stetson said he had heard a report that the hospital was looking to set its number of inpatient beds at 15. He asked how that number was arrived at, noting that far more people are likely to be in the hospital during flu season. “If you have 27, 28, 29 people, what do you do with them?”

“We admit then,” Elliott said. “We have the bed space, but we staff to the 14ish level,” she said. In the event of a need for more personnel, the hospital can call in additional nurses and other personnel to handle the higher patient load. “It’s why we look at things every four hours and plan accordingly.” She said that presently, the hospital has 26 physical beds.

Kozel said the 15 number is “a guess,” projecting the hospital’s mission through 2022 and beyond. He said the healthcare community is focused on keeping people healthy and out of the hospital rather than admitting every prospective patient. He said today’s health care community looks at a prospective patient and asks, “Is there a better way to care for that patient that doesn’t require admission, which is very labor-intensive, very expensive, and often times not necessary.” Primary care and preventive care are important ingredients in this approach, he said.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked how Elliott was advocating to preserve the hospital for the community, at a time when many residents are worried it may close or downsize to something inadequate to their needs.

“The hospital is important to me on a couple of different levels,” Elliott said. “It’s my job, and it’s my community that we serve,” she said. She said she was working to bring in specialties and primary care physicians needed in the community.

Foster asked what residents should do if they hear of someone coming to the local hospital and being sent to Easton for services available locally. “You can call me,” said Elliott.

Erney Maher, a Heron Point resident, said there was much concern that Shore Regional Health is planning to move programs out of the hospital and to Easton. He cited a reduction of the number of beds and closing the intensive care unit. “We would like to hear from Mr. Kozel things that are new and positive about the hospital, not that we are cutting this or that.” He said the Heron Point community is very loyal to the hospital and finds it a source of anxiety when it hears of loss of services.

Kozel said Shore Regional Health has recently brought to the Chestertown area a pulmonologist, a cardiologist, an ear-nose-and-throat specialist, and several primary care providers, including Dr. Susan Ross as a hospital staff member. It has also hired several other doctors to assist her, and a nurse practitioner. “We’re looking for a general surgeon, as well.” He said the new medical pavilion at Philosophers Terrace is already at capacity, and the hospital is searching for ways to expand its capabilities. “We recognize that that’s our responsibility.”

Dr. Gerry O’Connor said he has seen disturbing evidence that Shore Regional Health is working to move patients and services out of the Chestertown hospital, such as telling patients that the hospital is “full” when only four or five beds are in use. “There’s no tangible feel that I get that Shore Regional wants to keep it going,” he said. “The low census concerns me; there’s something going on.”

Mayor Chris Cerino said to Kozel, “We hear from you all (…) ‘we’re doing everything we can to serve the community,’ and we hear doctors from within the facility basically say almost the exact opposite. It’s really confusing.” He said it was in the town’s interest to preserve as many services as possible, especially given that residents are used to a full-service hospital being available. He said a full discussion might take three hours, and suggested a special meeting to go over the issues might be in order in the near future.

Also at the meeting, Latoya Murray and Catherine Torrez of Saving Hope came before the council to explain her program’s work for local families and children. She said the group provides a nurture and parenting program that works with the Department of Social Services and the local courts to help families that are seeking to regain custody of their children. She said they had recently ended a project to do a housing assessment of Kent and Caroline counties. They also held a clothing and school supply giveaway – “this is our fourth year doing that” – in partnership with Dixon Valve, serving some 70 families. They have an annual food drive and a “Pictures with Santa” event at Kent Family Center, for which they partner with the Judy Center of the Kent County Schools to provide books for young children.

In addition, Murray said, they provided “blessing bags” for homeless families, with socks, hygiene products such as toothpaste, non-perishable foods, and other useful items they can carry with them. They announced future events including one to educate the community on the history of Juneteenth, the African-American holiday in celebration of emancipation. They are also planning a coat drive for this winter, and a women’s expo showcasing breast cancer awareness and other women’s health issues. She said the group hoped to be able to offer the event in Wilmer Park, but dates were still being decided on.

Councilman Linda Kuiper asked how the group’s activities are funded. Murray said they work with the Kent Family Center and the Department of Social Services, as well as charging a consulting fee for in-home parenting programs. For the giveaways, “everything is donated,” she said.

The council signed a letter of support for Neyah White, who was applying for a Class D liquor license in the former location of J.R.’s Past Time Pub at 341 High St. Town Manager Bill Ingersoll read from the letter, noting the history of the location as a tavern over the years since the 1950s, if not earlier.

White said the four-building complex – which includes the former Lemon Leaf restaurant, the bar, and several adjoining rooms — “is in some of the worst shape of any business I’ve ever walked into.” He said it would be impossible to open it as a restaurant any time soon, though that is the long-range plan. “We are going to get there,” he said. “We think this is a hole in the smile of High Street, and we want to fill it.” He said he would operate it as a tavern until the building was in a condition to offer food service. He said the short-range plan was to re-open the bar kitchen, which has been out of service for several years. “We want to do it the right way,” he said. For the short term, the business will be called “Limited Time Offering” in recognition that it will eventually change to a larger operation.

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S.O.S. Comes to Rescue Kent County Public Schools with Jodi Bortz

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While there has always been a history of community activism and concern about the Kent County Public Schools including such groups as the PTA and those trying to fight off school consolidation a few years ago, the recent emergence of S.O.S., a.k.a. Support Our Schools is entirely different in many ways.

This small, informal friends group that grew out of parental concern about the financial capacity of the KCPS system has now emerged as a real force in holding elected officials accountable for the votes they cast, or don’t, to subsidize Kent County public schools beyond the mandatory “maintenance of effort” budget requirements set by the State of Maryland.

S.O.S. also represents a new era of local leadership. A new generation of young parents, well-versed in business management, social media, and marketing, have come to the fold to fight these battles.

One of those new leaders is Jodi Bortz, the owner of Blue Canary Letterpress, the mother of two KCPS children, and a graduate of Kent County High School. The Spy talked to her at Spy HQ last week to talk about the S.O.S.mission and its concern of the long-term sustainability of its public school system.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about S.O.S. please go here

One Maryland, One Book 2018 – Bloodsworth with Tim Junkin

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Long before Sarah Koenig’s brilliant Serial on NPR or Netflix’s award-winning Making a Murderer, which highlighted the importance and use of technology to save those falsely accused of high crimes, Talbot County’s Tim Junkin had already “been there, done that” with his pioneering and highly-regarded Bloodsworth some ten years before.

Destined to be a book that created an entirely new sub-genre of true crime since its publication, Bloodsworth tells the dramatic tale of  tale of Kirk Bloodsworth, a Dorchester County man charged and convicted of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in 1984. But, as Junkin documented in Bloodsworth, an introduction of  DNA evidence into the appeals process led to Bloodworth’s eventual release from prison.

Over a decade later, Tim Junkin’s Bloodsworth is back in the news as the 2018 selection for the popular One Maryland, One Book program, which encourages all residents of the state to read the same book in the hope of starting community conversations. In this case, it’s doubtful that will be a problem.

The Spy caught up with Tim at the Bullitt House a few weeks ago and thought it would be the most interesting to our readers to hear his account of this remarkable moment in the country’s pursuit of justice.

This video is approximately ten minutes in length. For more information about One Maryland, One Book please go here.

 

 

Greater Chestertown Initiative Questions for County Commissioner Candidates: Public Transportation

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Editor’s Note: The Greater Chestertown Initiative worked this summer on a series of questions for the candidates running for one of three Kent County Commissioners to be elected in November. Over the next four weeks, the Spy will share the candidates responses to one of those questions every Monday.

Public Transportation

The United Way of Kent County recently prioritized transportation as a top need in the county. What ideas do you have to increase accessible and affordable transportation throughout the county?

How will you create public/private partnerships to address this issue?

How will you reach out to other rural jurisdictions to study their plans?

Ron Fithian 

I would say as far as transportation goes, we have what is called Delmarva Community Transit right now. It‘s a busing system that transports seniors and others around. It’s grant-funded by the federal, state and county government. Our contribution is roughly a hundred thousand dollars yearly. It’s not the best system by no means, and it doesn’t solve all of our problems. I think instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and start from scratch with something else we should bring them before us, discuss the shortfalls and see if we can’t build on what we already have in place. The expenses would be to large if we were to try and start from scratch. By doing this, we could build on it, and hopefully make it  much better than it is today. And I think we could. This system is supported by Kent, Caroline and Talbot Counties.

Bob Jacobs

Transportation in a Rural is America is and always will be a challenge. I am sure this matter has been studied by many millions of people around the world for centuries. The first thing we would need to do is determine what kind of public transportation we are talking about. There is transportation within the town which Rock Hall does with in the town in the summer which is paid for by the people of Rock Hall.

You can have public transportation between the towns perhaps using a bus. There could be transportation with destinations outside the county connecting say Middletown or Easton as examples. I would follow this up with a survey and a business plan to show the tax payers the cost. All public transportation is heavily subsidized by the tax payer. The tax payer of Kent County would have to decide on how much money they were willing to subsidize on this matter out of there pay check. Until then we can continue our partnership with DCT.

Tom Mason

Being able to travel is an important part of our lives. Kent County is a small county with limited resources and as such cannot provide a public transport system. We can continue to support the Delmarva Community Transit and look for an entrepreneur or private business that would start such a service. It is my belief that if there is a need and it makes sense from a business aspect, it will happen. Also as a commissioner, I would support such an effort and try to make sure there are no regulations or restrictions that stop such an endeavor.

William Pickrum

As County Commissioner, I will look to expand the existing bus system through subsidies, temporarily until a more substantial system is developed. The Maryland Upper Shore Transit has established routes that can be expanded in frequency and route structure without any increase in cost to riders.

Currently, the ride cost is $1.50 for senior citizens (60+ years), persons with disabilities and all Medicare Cardholders. This should be the universal fare, subsidized by the County for all Kent County residents, if necessary.

Delmarva Community Transit (DCT) has been the county’s public transportation partner for many years. Their system relies heavily on federal and state grants. In an attempt to expand service within the county, DCT has, in addition to the route to/from Chestertown, expanded to Rock Hall. Unfortunately, there were very few riders. They attempted routes to the Community Center in Worton from Chestertown and Rock Hall with virtually no ridership.

Because the attempts did not work at the time, does not mean they cannot work today or the future. I would suggest the appointment of a citizen’s commission to address these issues.

How will you create public /private partnerships to address this issue?

The public transportation systems must be subsidized.

Building on the survey conducted by the United Way, use federal, state and local dollars to create a local bus system.
Seek a partnership with County Ride of Queen Anne’s County to expand into Kent County. Once a county system is established, encourage the development of a terminus in Millington for the Delaware Transit Corporation (DART) to connect to their extensive system.
Conduct a more comprehensive transportation survey to include more diverse demographic.

How will you reach out to other rural jurisdictions to study their plans?

The County staff has been charged to study these issues. Using the resources of the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), their staffs and NACo’s rural transportation committee may provide insight into establishing a transportation system in Kent. I currently serve as MACo’s First Vice President. If elected for another term as Commissioner, I will become the President of MACo and use my extensive knowledge and contacts with other Maryland counties to find the best possible solutions to our issues. This is the first time Kent County, the smallest county in the state, will hold the President’s position.

The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) is a non-profit and non-partisan organization that serves Maryland’s counties by articulating the needs of local government to the Maryland General Assembly. The Association’s membership consists of county elected officials and representatives from Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City. MACo is the only organization serving the needs of county elected officials and governments across the state.

Representatives have attended our County Commissioner’s meetings and I’ve expressed with the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation need to develop a county public transportation system. Grant funds would require a substantial match of county funds, which I would support.

Bill Short

Mass transportation in a rural County such as Kent is a hard task. Kent County citizens currently have many options available to them for transportation, whether it be for medical needs or other reasons. A larger focus needs to be placed on reaching those in the community who need this service but who are not taking advantage of the current offerings. I have worked hard to continue to fund and support the Delmarva Community Transit Service and The Kent Family Center, both of which provide transportation. Within the County citizens also have Uber and other taxi services available to them, some of which are designated specifically for medical transportation and are covered by insurance. I will continue to work with Queen Anne’s County Transit to see if a partnership can be developed to further enhance transportation options for Kent County citizens. I also think a trolley system in the Chestertown area would be a great public private partnership that would benefit not only citizens but tourist and local businesses.

Tom Timberman

I researched the public transportation currently provided by Delmarva Community Transit Services and managed by Maryland Upper Shore Transit (MUST), and quickly learned why there is so much dissatisfaction.

The system is focused primarily on two population centers, Cambridge and Easton. Kent’s schedule is quite limited and is based on infrequent travel. In terms of going to work or appointments in Kent or another county or Chesapeake College, the schedules are too sparse. While each one-way ticket is reasonably priced ($3.00, $1.50 senior citizens and 2.00 for those 17 and under) the monthly passes are not ($80.00, $35.00 senior citizens and $40.00 students)

The county pays Community Services about $120,000/year. I believe this is a good niche local entrepreneurs could fill with a business plan focused on travel within Kent County, but with scheduled extensions to Centreville, Chesapeake College and Easton.
Non-emergency transportation to health appointments and treatments is another increasingly important aspect of Kent County’s health services deficit. Most specialists are in Centreville, Easton, Annapolis or Baltimore. While the County has a large and growing number of senior citizens, residents of all ages need physical therapy, drug rehabilitation, oncology treatment, dialysis or just a flu shot. One national statistic defines the seriousness of the problem: 1/3 of people with appointments don’t keep them because they have no way to get there.

There are two possible general transportation models that could be reviewed: The New York City “Dollar Vans” originally a private sector surge response 8-10 years ago, when the public transit system was shut down. Over time it evolved into a group of for- profit companies that continue to serve areas of New York, albeit no longer $1.00. They are less expensive than taxis or Uber or Lyft.
The second is an already proven technique for local communities with a common need or mutually beneficial joint public project, called Community-Co-ownership.

In one instance, several towns were experiencing problems shaping/regulating wind power turbine installations. Together the towns made an initial investment in the firm’s turbine-related costs and then shared in the profits from the sale of kilowatt hours. They negotiated the contractual terms together and were able to mould the exchange of obligations more to their benefit.