Council Will Not Replace Resigning Police Recruit

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Chestertown Police Chief Adrian Baker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foster, Fithian Ready to Work Together on Tax Differential

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Chestertown Ward 1 Councilman David Foster appeared before the Kent Commissioners on Tuesday, June 11, striking a more conciliatory tone than at the June 4 meeting over a tax differential he said the county owes Chestertown.

In his remarks, Foster acknowledged the efforts of the commissioners to fund public services.

Chestertown Councilman David Foster 

“I recognize that our county commissioners are working hard for all of us,” he said. “I admire your efforts; I appreciate them; that doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree, but I do admire and respect your work on behalf of all of us.”

Foster insisted that the issue should not be a choice between funding the school system or paying a differential to the town, which was apparent at the June 4 meeting when Commissioner President Tom Mason said a “place holder” of $100,000 originally slated for Chestertown was diverted to the school system for fiscal 2020.

Foster said the commissioners should fund both because it’s “the right thing to do” and represents an “investment in the economic development of our county.” Foster then proposed the commissioners and the town begin work next month on a formula for a tax differential.

The differential is a rebate on property taxes town residents pay the county for services like police, street cleaning and planning & zoning, which the town provides and pays for out of its own budget. The differential exists in the vast majority of counties in the form of a lower county tax rate to town residents or a direct cash payout to the municipality, but not in all cases.

The lack of the differential to Chestertown has been named as a culprit in the town’s decision to raise the town property tax by 5 cents last year and another penny for fiscal 2020.

Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian Photo by Jane Jewell

Chestertown officials have said the lack of a differential to the town amounts to double taxation as town residents are forced to pay the county for services the town already provides.

At the June 4 meeting Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino named towns like Crisfield and Princess Anne in Somerset County that receive differentials to make a case for Chestertown, but Commissioner Ron Fithian questioned whether the examples given in Somerset mirrored the same “structure” of responsibilities as in Kent and asked for “apples to apples” comparisons to see if Chestertown was being shortchanged. He said Kent pays about $1 million to operate eight firehouses – in addition to another $1.7 million for EMTs and paramedics.

In fiscal 2018, Somerset County gave a rebate of $196,000 to Princess Anne, but the town doesn’t actually see the money. Instead, the rebates go directly to the fire department to cover the cost of paramedics, according to an analysis from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services (page 23). However, Kent County pays for these services directly out of the general fund, and in 2018 paid $190,000 to fund emergency services in Chestertown, according to the Kent Office of Finance.

But Queen Anne’s County paid $9.1 million (page 7) to fund its emergency services in 2019 and still paid a $577,000 differential to compensate the Town of Centreville for duplicate services related to roads, police and planning and zoning. (page 22)

Fithian said at the close of the meeting that he would work with Foster in the next budget year if unfairness could be identified.

“I assure you, if you can show me where we’re being unfair after we’ve compiled everything, I’ll work with you to make a difference in the upcoming budget next year,” he said.

But in the DLS analysis, there is no clear-cut way to find an exact apple-to-apple comparison, as Fithian requested. There is no doppelganger county to compare, which could make it hard for towns in Kent County to win any argument on tax relief.

There were many counties in the analysis that provided tax relief for the duplication of police services and planning and zoning. Calvert County provided a differential to Chesapeake Beach that included money for economic development. And four counties provided a differential for parks and recreation.

Future discussions between the town and the county will need to determine where services are truly duplicated in Kent in order to create a formula for a fair tax differential or rebate.

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Eastern Shore Advocate and MD House Speaker Clayton Mitchell Dies at 83

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The Baltimore Sun reports this morning that one of the Eastern Shore’s most powerful advocates has passed away at his home in Kennedyville, Maryland.

Read the full story here

Foster, Cerino Scold Commissioners Over Budget

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino (right) testifies at the Kent County public hearing on the FY2020 budget

Chestertown Councilman David Foster and Mayor Chris Cerino gave the Kent County Commissioners a scolding Tuesday evening, June 4, at the county’s public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

The two elected officials took the commissioners to task for the county’s failure, for the fifth year running, to provide a tax differential or rebate to the town. The idea is to compensate town residents and the municipal government for services provided by the town for which they are billed in the county tax rate. In the case of Chestertown, those services include police protection, road repairs and maintenance, and planning and zoning. While the county taxes town residents the full amount that all county residents pay, it does not, on the whole, provide those services within town limits.

Describing the budget negotiations as “a very difficult assignment,” Commission President Tom Mason said the county had set aside “a placeholder” for a tax rebate to towns but decided after examining the budget as a whole to give it to the schools instead. “We can only do so much with what we have,” he said. He said the commission decided not to increase the property tax rate because it would present a hardship to many property owners, who are already facing one of the higher rates on the Shore.

Mason said the county had budgeted for an increase in the county’s “piggy-back” addition to the state income tax rate to the state-allowed maximum of 3.2%. He said the increase would provide about $1.6 million over three years, which would give the towns, “especially Chestertown,” a “substantial” increase in their income, making it unnecessary to set aside a tax rebate for them.

Kent County Commissioners (from left) Bob Jacob, Tom Mason, and Ron Fithian

Foster, who has made the tax differential a signature issue, was the first of several public officials to address the commissioners. He said, “Like most folks, I hate to see my taxes go up, but I recognize that sometimes it’s necessary to provide critical services. […] But somehow, those people who provide services somehow forget that many of us live in Chestertown. The sheriff rarely comes to town. The county street crew, paid to shovel our streets, somehow rarely get here.” He asked the commissioners to imagine how a resident of one of the town’s wards would feel if the town decided not to provide equal services to that ward. “Now, if Delmarva [Power] would have charged me the same rate as everyone else but provided me with half the services, I’d call that fraud. Wouldn’t you? What should we call it when local government charges us full range but provides half of the services, solely because of our location?”

And if the towns are, on their own, providing the services the county doesn’t, Foster asked,Why should you not provide a tax differential to the citizens who do not get county services, like virtually every other county in our state? I’m still trying to find out what is so unique about Kent County that you can’t strive to meet your obligations.” Foster went on to say, “I know that you’re working hard for economic development. So I just cannot understand why you penalize precisely the areas that are most suited and most likely to attract small businesses. […] I know that you’re working hard. And I hope that you will recognize that we’re not asking for charity. I’m simply asking for the services we’re paying for.”

Cerino said, “It is extremely disappointing that for the fifth straight year I’ve come and asked and put this issue every way I possibly can to make it crystal clear why the town of Chestertown in particular, but also the town of Rock Hall, deserve a tax differential or a tax rebate.” After pointing out that the two towns, which have a population of about 6,500 between them – nearly a third of the county – pay the full county tax rate, Cerino noted that the two towns have their own police departments, their own road crews, and their own planning and zoning. “Which not only takes millions of dollars off of your plate every single year, we’re also essentially paying you for services you know you don’t provide within the town. […] We are paying for phantom services. Every other county in the state that has incorporated towns has figured this out by either lowering the county tax rate within the town or by cutting a check to the towns, a tax rebate or a grant in aid – call it whatever you want.”

Cerino told the commissioners that up until 2014, the incorporated towns received a grant in aid, as much as $110,000 for Chestertown. “I can tell you that has hurt our budget for Chestertown,” he said. “That’s not just a problem for Chestertown; that is a county-wide problem. Because this is where a fourth of the people live. This is where most of the businesses are. This where all the hotel rooms are. We have twenty-five miles of roads that we need to maintain. When the county gets in a little bit of trouble in a recession, and one of the first cuts is cut to the towns, that is a cut to your own constituency.”

Cerino went on to list a number of towns all over the Shore with the amount of tax differential they receive, ranging from 13 cents per $100 assessed value in Easton to 6 or 7 cents in some smaller towns. He also listed rebates received by towns in other Shore counties, ranging from $3.3 million in Ocean City to $13,000 in Cecilton. He then said, “I requested a 5-cent differential. That would have been the lowest figure on this list. And you guys came up with a goose egg again.” He observed that the towns he listed “all have their own police force; they all have their own street crew; and probably they all have their own planning and zoning. Somehow, their counties figure out a way to compensate them fiscally for the inequities in the system. And we can’t do it.”

He went on to address the county budget directly. “When you’re showing a $50 million budget, of which Chestertown probably funds more than a quarter, and you’re telling me you can’t pony up $40 grand a year […] to compensate for services we’re already paying you for, I’m telling you that is a scam. But what adds hurt to the scam is, we don’t really know what’s going on. We need to be more vigilant. That is not right. And I feel for the school system, I feel your pain, and I have my kids in the public schools. I know you guys have a tough job. But if you cannot find $150, $250 grand for Chestertown, which funds at least a quarter of your budget every single year, to me that is bogus. There’s just no other way to put it.” Both Cerino and Foster were greeted by applause from the large audience.

The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the FY2020 budget at their meeting Tuesday, June 11. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and will take place in the county commissioners’ hearing room at 400 High St. in Chestertown.

A Community Unites to Remember John Cassidy

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Over 500 residents of the Mid-Shore gathered in front of the Easton YMCA Sunday night for a candlelight vigil in honor of John Joseph Cassidy who is the victim of a horrific crime that took place at the Peachblossom Road branch last Thursday morning.

The service, led by Rabbi Peter Hyman from Temple B’nai Israel, and joined by Talbot County Council President Corey Pack, Father Nash of Saints Peter and Paul, the Rev. Dr. William T. Wallace of Union United Methodist Church in St. Michaels, and Pastor Craig Fadel of the Bay Area Community Church in Easton, all spoke of the common need for the greater YMCA family to honor John Cassidy’s life, and to begin the painful but necessary process of healing.

With a moving rendition of Amazing Grace by the Bay Area Community Church members Sarah Weidlewalt & Rachel Pletts, those in attendance wept, hugged, and lit candles to grieve alongside the Cassidy family and take comfort. 

The Spy was there to share some of those moments with our readers.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

Schools, Towns Both Unhappy with County Budget

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Kent’s fiscal 2020 school budget has for another year brought a wave of concern from parents and teachers over programming, salaries and staff levels — as an $850,000 budget increase over last year fell short of $1.6 million requested by Kent School Superintendent Karen Couch and the school board.

The county’s fiscal 2020 budget came in $2.2 million over last year at $50 million. A little over $18 million will go to the school system.

Couch acknowledged that the commissioners took “great pains” in drafting the final budget.

“I know you try to do what’s best for the school system,” Couch said shortly after Kent Chief Financial Officer Pat Merritt presented a breakdown of the fiscal 2020 budget at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.

Couch said salary increases are a priority in her new budget, targeted at 3 percent.

The additional $1.6 million funding request was made as enrollment has declined by another 70 students this year.

Kent’s school population began to slide in the 70s, dwindling from 1,350 to 530 just at the high school. The downward trend in enrollment also forced the school district in 2017 to consolidate five elementary schools to three.

The additional $850,000 is 5 percent over last year and translates to $1.1 million over Maintenance of Effort because of declining enrollment. The new funding level can never be decreased because school districts are prohibited under MOE from spending less per student than the previous year.

Commissioners say ‘no’ on Property Tax Hike for School Funding

A point of contention in the budget discussions was whether the commissioners would increase property taxes to meet the additional $1.6 million funding request.

Commissioner President Tom Mason said a property tax increase would add more burdens on residents already struggling to avoid tax sale.

“We just can’t put more burdens on our citizens by raising the property tax.” He said the burdens were evident in Kent’s 247 properties that went to tax sale this year.

Kent’s property tax rate is currently second on the Eastern Shore and seventh in the state.

Mason was hopeful that raising the county’s income tax this year from 2.85 to 3.2 percent would open the door for more state funding. The 3.2 percent increase is the maximum allowed by statute.

Maxing out the county income tax changes the formula for state aid in an upward direction.

Cerino Calls Foul Tying School Budget to Tax Differential

For the past five years the Town of Chestertown has pressed the commissioners for a rebate on property taxes residents pay to the county for services it doesn’t receive, like police, road maintenance and planning and zoning, which the town pays out of its own budget – AKA the tax differential.

Town officials have called the lack of a differential a form of double taxation, since every county on the Shore except Kent returns property tax revenue to incorporated areas that pay for their own public services.

In April the commissioners made a “placeholder” in the budget to return $100,000 to Chestertown but instead diverted that money to schools, Mason said at Tuesday’s meeting.

This drew the ire of Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino, who said the poorest counties on the Shore manage to pay a differential to its municipalities while funding their school systems.

“Counties figured out a way to compensate [their towns] fiscally for the inequities,” Cerino said.

He pointed to Somerset County, the poorest in the state, which sends $196,000 differential back to the town of Crisfield.

Cerino then named a dozen or more towns that get similar compensation.

“We fund our own police department; we fund our own street crews,” he said. “When there’s a call for criminal activity it’s not a sheriff’s officer that shows up at my door, it’s a Chestertown police officer…we are paying for phantom services.”

A 5-cent tax differential to Chestertown would be the lowest in the state.

SOS, Citizens Ask For Efficiency Study to Fully Fund $1.6 Million Request

Francoise Sullivan, a founding member of Save Our Schools, a group in Kent that advocates more program funding and better teacher pay, said the commissioners should find more efficiencies in the general budget.

“I still believe that there is a path for fully funding our schools and that an efficiency study would be the best way to show where adjustments can be made to the budget process,” she told the commissioners. “The county has been dealing with flat revenue for several years and I believe that we have more flat revenue in our future. It is past time to re-evaluate and prioritize the budget.”

Robbi Behr, another founding member of SOS echoed Sullivan that an efficiency study is needed if the commissioners are unwilling to raise taxes.

She said SOS made findings in the general budget where “different departments were allotted more money than they were using.”

“Our solution is to allot the departments money they’ve historically used. That would leave plenty of room to fund the school budget,” she said. “I would actually encourage you to fund an efficiency study.”

David Sobers of Chestertown recommended a blue ribbon commission to study the county budget. He said that Kent’s allocation to schools was under the national average of 40 to 50 percent.

Kent currently funds at 38 percent.

But Commissioner Ron Fithian said after the meeting that Kent was unique with its tiny school system and a growing demographic shift to an older population where money has shifted to pay for emergency services once covered by an all volunteer force.

He said since 1994 the emergency services budget has climbed from almost zero to $1.7 million and noted that the dwindling younger population was making it harder to staff volunteer positions like paramedics.

“We have to take care of our elderly and our youth and we’re trying to make it work for both,” he said.

Chestertown Council Passes Budget, Saves Recycling

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

Chestertown’s curbside recycling program will continue.

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

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

Ford Schumann of Infinity Recycling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chestertown to Continue Recycling Program

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Ford Schumann of Infinity Recycling at the Chestertown Public Hearing on the 2020 budget

Chestertown’s curbside recycling program will continue.

After some 70 residents – described by Mayor Chris Cerino as an “unprecedented” crowd – filled the second floor of Town Hall for a public hearing on the town’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget, the council voted to pass a budget with a $0.01 increase in the property tax. Recycling, which was on the chopping block in the draft budget, will be retained after an offer by Ford Schumann of Infinity Recycling to hold down costs.

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

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, in response, found a way to move about $15,000 from the town’s insurance pool to pay for the rest of the recycling program. He said the fund rarely gets used.

A full report on Monday’s council meeting will be published later this week.

 

Tornado Destroys Arena at Worthmore Equestrian Center by Marita Wilson

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On the evening of May 29th, Pam Kuster had just come home from a Special Olympics meeting with her son Scott. Her husband Eric was home already, and as they began sorting the mail a thunderstorm rolled in.

For Pam, Eric and Scott, home is a special placethey share their property with the 44 horses of Worthmore Equestrian Center, a riding, boarding, and therapy center they started in 2003.

Worthmore and its facilities have withstood two hurricanes, constant high winds, and countless sudden thunderstorms. So when Wednesdays storm hit, Pam wasnt too concerned. In fact, the horses were all spending the night outside in the paddocks and pastures, as is normal in good weather.

And then a tree came down over her porch.

I turned around and looked out the back doorand Im watching our big honey locustJust so you have perspective, we have been here through two hurricanes. We were here for Isabel. We were here for Sandy. And Ive never seen that tree move like that.

The bushesIm surprised they actually stood back up because they were laying on the ground. And the rain came horizontal.

And I saw sheet metal fly.

Watching stunned from her kitchen window, Pam immediately assumed the roof was coming off the old barn, which has stood on the property for 80 years.

But when she opened the door to get a clearer picture, she received a total shock.

Their indoor arena was totally gone.

Eric yelled, Dont even think about going out there,’” Pam recalls. Of course, he knew she was thinking about the horses in the 10 paddocks downwind from the indoor, completely out of sight.

It was awfulknowing that the horses were out there in this mess.

Genna Kuster, Pams daughter who works and teaches at Worthmore, remembers getting a call.

Mom called me and she said, Genna, the indoor has gone down and I cant see the horses over the wreckage.And I pictured…” Genna gestures down an imaginary hill. “…dead horses. I thought that BP, Fancy, Musette, Byzwere gone.

When the winds eased after 5 agonizing minutes, Pam and Eric rushed out into the rain.

We have to go to the side paddocks, because we have horses out. And to come through that barn and to see that first paddock, and all the metal in that first paddockand there was no horse in the paddock.

There was so much metal, it was like, Okay, hes got to be dead under the metal.Where else are you going to go?

The horse they were looking for was Trojan Fan, a 12 year old gelding owned by a family in Tennessee.

Miraculously, Trojan had managed to escape the paddock and was several yards away, standing near the other horses.

He hadnt escaped without injuries, though.

Pam immediately called her vet, who made it to Worthmore in 5 minutes and spent three straight hours giving Trojan hundreds of stitches.

He was incredible. He just stood. You know, after 2 hours of suturing to then say he started to get a little dicy? Thats an amazing animal.

The first day we really werent sure if he was going to make it. [But] Im feeling really positive. Hes going to come through.

——

Worthmore isnt just home to Pam, Eric, Scott, and the horses. Its a second home for many others on the Eastern Shore as well.

Dozens of special-needs children from six local schools come to the barn weekly through the Kent Association of Riding Therapy (KART) program. Dozens more, both with and without disabilities, take private lessons as well. Disabled adults spend time with horses each summer through KARTs Easterseals Camp Fairlee. Bridges at Worthmore serves veterans and their families, at-risk youth, and children of incarcerated families. KART and Bridges also work in partnership to run programs for the Kent Center and local veterans. Kent County Parks and Recreation runs programs at Worthmore for kids that have never been around a horse. And for adults who havent been around horses, Worthmore serves as an Equine Discovery Center, which provides guided and supervised horse experiences.

And amidst all of these programs, countless people seek out Worthmores horses to ground themselves in the midst of a busy, sterile, technology-filled world.

All of those people and programs relied on the indoor arena.

The indoor arena is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It allows programs to run rain or shine. It contained lighting, fans, a video security system, a ramp and lift to allow wheelchair-bound people to ride, and large mirrors on the walls to let riders evaluate their posture. Private horse owners and students of Worthmore alike used the arena constantly.

And while insurance will cover the replacement of the building, they wont cover many of those lost assets, nor the lost revenue from programs that wont be able to run while construction is underway.

Normally we do all of our sessions in the indoor,Pam said. That means that with the indoor down, theres no conceivable way they can run Camp Fairlee. As for their other summer camps and their regular lessons, theyre hoping to find a way to continue them.

But they will have to reimagine what that will look like without the indoor arena.

That building has changed more lives than I can even tell you,Pam says.

She doesnt have to tell youits easy to see. On Friday, people brought donuts, coffee, muffins, soup, and homemade lasagna all in the space of an hour. The wall outside the office is stacked with water bottles and iced tea. On Saturday, only two days after the news got out, people are chopping up felled trees, taking over horse chores, sharing the story on social media, and pooling their talents and connections for future plans. Volunteers are clearing debris with whatever they have, whether its their hands, their trucks, or a backhoe.

Avery, a Worthmore riding student whos on the spectrum, called Pam in hysterics, saying We have to rebuild. This has to happen. Nobody understands.She offered Pam her life savings$500 in a lock boxto help rebuild the arena.

I am honestly so thankful for the people Im surrounded by,Pam said with quiet honesty. Because it really was like a death, where youre kind of wandering. You cant really think about what you need.

By Saturday afternoon, people had donated over $5000 through Worthmores GoFundMe campaign. Worthmore is hoping to eventually raise up to $200,000, not only for the rebuilding costs that insurance wont cover, but also to keep the horses fed and cared until they can get their programs running again.

And, of course, to help pay for Trojans ongoing medical costs.

On Saturday, Trojan was bright-eyed and moving around his stall, looking to visitors for scratches and munching from a huge pile of hay. He seems to enjoy being the center of attention now that he lives in the stall closest to the office.

The worry at this point is that the numerous drugs in his system will ruin his appetite and his health will start to deteriorate.

In retrospect, one injury out of 44 animalsits a godsend. I chalk it up to God. I really honestly do. All I have to say is, Well, Im not exactly sure why. Its not important that I know why. But hes got something else going on.But seriouslyI always look at it for a higher reason. There has to be something. Why else are we here?

But that higher reason wont happen without continuing support.

We appreciate anythinganythinganybody can do. Whether its five dollars, whether its a donation of a mounting block, whether its a donation for a lesson for somebody, or a therapy session for somebody. Hands on deck are going to be really important over the coming weeks.

Worthmore will be posting updates and instructions on their Facebook page and website (www.worthmoreequestrian.com) for those looking to volunteer.

As for Scott, who has autism, it took him a while before he was able to process the big change.

Indoor arena X X,he told his mom on Friday morning.

To Scott, X X means destroyed.

Yes. Indoor arena X X,Pam replied. But were going to build a new one. Were going to fix it.

Indoor arena X Xfix it,he repeated.

And with the help of the community, they will.

For those looking to donate, please visit www.gofundme.com and search for Worthmore Equestrian Center,or make a check payable to Worthmore Equestrian Center and mail it to 11570 Still Pond Rd, Worton, MD 21678.

Links to their GoFundMe page and their Venmo can also be found on their Facebook page. 2Follow their progress on Facebook or at www.worthmoreequestrian.com.

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