Spy Poll Results: Chestertown Overwhelmingly Likes Idea of Nonstop Public Transportation to Easton

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The results of a Spy poll on public transportation is in, and the conclusions might surprise a few people.

In short, Residents of Kent County overwhelmingly support some form of public transportation to downtown Easton, based on an hourly schedule, with an average cost around $15 per ticket, departing every hour, and would be willing to do so more often if offered special discounts by restaurants or performance venues.

Over 170 Spy readers responded to the Spy poll posted last week asking Chestertownians if they would use a non-stop shuttle service between downtown Chestertown and downtown Easton for either work or pleasure. A summary of the survey is shown below.

1.  Would you use an nonstop bus shuttle from Chestertown to Easton?

2.   What would be a fair round trip fee for such a trip?

3.  Ideally, what schedule would you prefer if a service was offered?

4.  Would your employer help you cover some these costs?

5.  If traveling for entertainment or dining, would you be more likely to use the service if there were special discounts rates offered by restaurants or performance venues?

DCA Plans Changes in “Crazy Days,” First Friday

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Jennifer Laucik Baker, president of the Downtown Chestertown Association, tells the town council about plans for the annual sidewalk sale.    

The Downtown Chestertown Association has decided its annual “Crazy Days” sidewalk sale needs a new look. The answer – add wine and music!

At the July 2 meeting of the Mayor and Council, Jennifer Laucik Baker, president of the DCA, said this year’s sidewalk sale will feature several regional wineries and a distillery offering their wares on Friday evening, July 27. She requested a waiver of the town’s open container ordinance for Friday evening. In addition to the wineries, the evening will feature four or five local music groups performing at various locations throughout the downtown shopping district between 5 and 9 p.m. The name of the event will also be changed from “Crazy Days” to “Chestertown Sidewalk Sale.”

Baker said the idea was to make the annual sidewalk sale, scheduled for July 27 and 28, “a more vibrant event” in hopes of bringing more people into the community. “The event needs to evolve a bit,” she said, and to reflect the changing demographics of the business community. The addition of music and wine tasting should offer “more experiential-based opportunities in addition to retail opportunities during the event itself,” she said, with multiple events to engage a younger crowd. The evening will end at Bad Alfred’s Distillery with events to bring attendees inside.

The DCA also requested that Park Row be closed to traffic for part of the afternoon and evening Friday. An ice cream vendor, some food trucks and live music would be on the block. Baker said there are three new businesses on Park Row, and the idea was to attract attendees to that section of the town, which is separated from the rest of the shopping district by Fountain Park. Other music will be near Figg’s Ordinary, the former J.R.’s bar, and Skippy’s – again, with the intention of drawing people to parts of the shopping district they might not normally visit.

The event will continue on Saturday, but without the vineyards and with no street closing. Baker said there would be some live music Saturday.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll recommended that the council approve the permits, describing the event as “First Friday on steroids.” The council approved the permit without dissent.

Baker also said the DCA is working in conjunction with the Kent County Arts Council and the Arts and Entertainment District to make a few changes in the First Friday format in coming months. She said the goal was to foster “a more arts-based event,” increasing live music and arts. She said First Fridays are already an important occasion for the town’s various galleries and arts-oriented businesses. “The next big First Friday we’re planning is September, which will be ‘Welcome back WAC’ for the Washington College crowd,” she said. The DCA is partnering with the college for events coordinated with orientation for new students, with the goal of making it an annual September experience.

Chestertown Mayor and Council — from left, Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper and Councilman David Foster     

Ingersoll told the council that residents of the Haacke Drive neighborhood have requested traffic calming along the street, in the form of two speed humps. Ingersoll said he thought the best locations for the humps would be near the intersection of Morgnec Road, near Magnolia Hall, and near the actual residential project which borders on Scheeler Road. He said the town has had “varying success” with speed bumps in town, citing the ones in front of the two schools as the most successful. In other neighborhoods, “they come and go,” he said. The broader humps cost $2,000 to $3,000, compared to the “more abrupt” speed bumps seen elsewhere, which cost $700 to $800, he said.

Ingersoll said he had spoken to Cerino about the issue of putting in the humps on a road that leads to the KRM business park now under construction at the north end of Haacke. He said a fair amount of traffic to the park would be using Haacke. He said he thought the town needs to talk to the builder before committing to the humps, but his recommendation would be to install them.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said there had been accidents at the four-way stop at the corner of Haacke and Scheeler. She said she hoped the four-way stop would not be taken out.

Ingersoll said he thought there would eventually be a light at that intersection, but until then the four-way stop is “an absolute necessity.” He said the density of zoning in the area meant that Haacke Drive would be “a little more traveled” than other town streets.

Cerrino said that the neighborhood had done everything the town asked for as far as gathering signatures on petitions and contacting the council. He said expected that the developer of the business campus “isn’t going to like it,” but that the residents of the neighborhood have a legitimate safety concern.

The council voted to authorize the bumps pending consultation with the neighborhood and the developer of the business campus.

Also, Ingersoll requested the council to authorize Mayor Chris Cerino to sign any papers relevant to a federal grant application that could result in the town receiving several million dollars for street repairs. The deadline for the application is July 19. Ingersoll said the grant will be very competitive, but he hopes the town could get $2 million to $2.5 million to repair the streets that have deteriorated the most. The grants, which focus on rural transportation, fall under the American Recovery Act. “This is a tremendous opportunity; it’ll take some work, but I believe it’s worth it,” he said. “We have to try to grab this ring while we can.”

The council approved the appointment of Dinah Hicks and Harold Somerville to the town Recreation Commission, pending completion of background checks.

Kuiper, in her ward report, called attention to the Kent County Historical Society, located in the Bordley Building at the corner of High and Cross Streets. She said the society is dedicated to preserving and commemorating the history and heritage of the county, with exhibits, lectures, and a research collection. She said it should not be confused, as some residents do, with the town’s Historic District Commission, which rules on building and construction in the historic district. She said that the Historical Society gets many phone calls from residents assuming it is responsible for enforcing the historic district regulations, and she wanted to clarify the difference between the two bodies.

At the end of the meeting, Cerino announced that the town hall bocce team had finished in second place in the town bocce tournament, losing the final match 17-13 after leading by as many as five points. He proudly displayed the trophy, promising a stronger finish in the future.

Mayor Chris Cerino displays the trophy for the town hall team’s second-place finish in the town bocce league.    

Chestertown to Get Map of Water System

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Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes (R) tells Mayor Chris Cerino about bids for mapping the town’s water system.

Chestertown will be getting a new, state-of-the-art digital map of its water system.

Town Utilities Director Bob Sipes reported the results of a bid opening for creating the map at the July Utilities Commission meeting, at the beginning of the Monday council meeting.

“We got a large number of proposals for the mapping,” Sipes told the council. He said he had looked at the four lowest bidders as possible contractors for the map, which would include a graphic information systems computerized map showing all mains, hydrants, and valves, plus other necessary information to allow workers to maintain and perform repairs on the system. The contractor would also train town employees to edit the map and add features, so it wouldn’t be necessary to call in the contractor if the town added a development or annexation.

The town already has an up-to-date map of the wastewater system, which the new map would supplement. He has said he wants a complete map of the system to be available to any future utilities manager, both on paper and in electronic form. Sipes joked about putting the file on a thumb drive and putting it in a safe so it could be recovered if town hall was destroyed in a hurricane.

Earth Data, Inc., of Centreville, was fourth lowest bidder at $42,000. “I’m thinking because they’re local, they would be better suited to build the system and tend the system,” Sipes said. He recommended them over three lower bidders, all of whose proposals were in some way flawed. He said the prices for the license, at $7,000 for a perpetual license and $3,000 for a term license, were “the same for everybody.” He recommended having the work done all in a single year, to ensure consistency. If the town did it in three installments, “you don’t know if it’s going to be the same guy back, or that he can remember his processes” from one year to the next.

Earth Data is an environmental consulting firm that specializes in groundwater, geospatial, planning, watershed restoration and other environmental projects. The firm has done a number of local projects, including monitoring test wells on the grounds of the Chestertown hospital for oil leakage into the groundwater.

Sipes said the lowest bidder, at $33,500, did not cover the entire system. Another bidder’s proposal “looked good,” but when Sipes called their references, they didn’t recognize the name. He said the bidder told him they were a subcontractor on those bids, which he said should have been noted in the bid. A third bidder came in low, but didn’t include the software – which left them room to “jack up the contract,” Sipes said. He said some of the bidders went as high as $210,000 for the project.

The council unanimously authorized Sipes to accept the Earth Data bid.

Also in Sipes’ report, he said the town had received two bids for maintenance on the water towers. However, he said, he wasn’t satisfied with the responses and would like to rebid the project.

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Kent County Primary Results : Short, Jacob, Mason Lead Commissioner Race on Republican Side

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Primary candidates & supporters hold signs today near the Fire House voting location at the corner of Maple Ave (Rt 213) & Cross St. in Chestertown. Kent County Commissioner incumbent and candidate for re-election Billy Short is on right (in shades and white shirt & shorts)     Photo by Jane Jewell

THIS ARTICLE UPDATED Wed. June 27 to include more election information.

Tuesday, June 26, was the primary election day in Maryland. Kent County primary election results are in, with all 10 of 10 precincts reporting. According to the Kent County Board of Elections,  1,637 Republicans and 1,977 Democrats took part in the primary, both in early voting and on election day, for a total of 3,614. That represents just over 33 percent of the county’s eligible voters in the two parties. Unaffiliated voters are not eligible to vote in the Maryland primary as the purpose of a primary is to select the party nominees thus only registered members of the parties may vote in the primary.

The numbers were probably increased by strong interest in several contests, including the Republican race for county commissioner and the Democratic primary for the District 1 Representative to the US Congress.  The results below include early ballots plus election day votes but not any absentee or provisional ballots.

In the most hotly contested local race, five candidates entered the contest for three Republican ballot slots in the race for Kent County Commissioners. Voters chose incumbent Billy Short and newcomers Bob Jacob and Tom Mason over Aaron Bramble and Jim Luff. However, the final margin was close enough – Bramble trailed by only 16 votes – that absentee and provisional ballots could change the result. The official totals may not be known until as late as next Friday, July 6, when final absentee ballots are counted and the Board of Elections certifies the election results. As of June 25, there were 42 absentee ballot requests from Kent Republicans, of which 23 had been returned. The Board of Elections did not have provisional ballot figures as of press time.

In the Democratic primary, incumbent Kent County Commissioners William Pickrum and Ron Fithian were joined by newcomer Tom Timberman to make up the Democratic slate for November. The three were uncontested for the three November ballot slots.

The other contested race in Kent pitted Andrew Meehan against Bryan DiGregory for the Democratic slot for the position of the State’s Attorney. In a close race, DiGregory was ahead by 130 votes with all 10 wards reporting. The winner will face former State’s Attorney Robert Strong, who ran uncontested on the Republican side, in November. With only 96 Democrats having requested absentee ballots, DiGregory’s lead appears to be safe.

Another closely-watched race was for the Democratic slot for the First District representative to the U.S. Congress. As of midnight on election day, 292 of the 294 precincts in District 1 had reported their totals. At that point, political newcomer Jesse Colvin led a field of six contenders with 38 percent of the vote district-wide and a lead of some 3,500 votes over Allison Galbraith, who finished a respectable second with nearly 10,000 votes, or just under 29 percent. Three candidates shared the remaining 33%–Michael Brown (15%), Michael Pullen (12.8%), Steven Worton (3.9%), and Erik Lane (2.2% ). Colvin’s margins were considerably higher in Kent, where, with all ten precincts reporting, he garnered over 55.2 percent of the votes to second-place Galbraith’s 17.9 percent.

On the Republican side, incumbent Andrew Harris easily won the primary over two rivals, both from the Eastern Shore. Harris received 82.7% of the votes cast by Kent County Republicans and 85.8% of Republican voters throughout the district which includes all of the Eastern Shore counties plus parts of Baltimore, Harford, and Carroll counties.

Look for a fuller election report in the Chestertown Spy soon.  For the complete state, county, and local election results in all races both state-wide and in the individual counties and districts see the list at Maryland Board of Elections websiteFor Kent County totals click here.

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Chesapeake Bay’s Dead Zone to Grow this Summer; Breaks with Wave of Good News

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The Chesapeake Bay’s infamous “dead zone” will be larger than average this summer, scientists suggest in a new forecast that breaks with a wave of encouraging signs about the estuary’s health.

If their prediction is correct, 2018 will be the fourth year in a row that the size of the Bay’s oxygen-starved area has increased. The forecasted expansion can be chalked up to nutrients flushed into the Bay during the spring’s heavy rains, according to researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University of Michigan.

“The size is going to go up and down every year depending on the weather,” said Don Scavia, a University of Michigan aquatic ecologist and one of the report’s authors.

A “dead zone” is a popular term for waters that have very little oxygen (hypoxic) or none at all (anoxic). Fish tend to flee, and any marine life that can’t escape — usually shellfish — could suffocate.

New evidence seems to arrive almost daily suggesting that humans are turning the tide against the Chesapeake Bay’s many woes. Bay grasses are flourishing. Waters are less murky. Despite a harsh winter, the blue crab population’s rebound appears undaunted. Officials and scientists at a press conference on June 15 celebrated the Bay’s ability to maintain moderately healthy conditions in 2017 for the third year in a row.

But the dead zone has remained persistently large over the years, though it has been disappearing slightly earlier at the end of the summer.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, higher than average spring rains brought more than 85 million pounds of nitrogen into the Bay from the Susquehanna River, the primary source of nutrient pollution in the main portion of the Chesapeake. The Potomac River delivered another 30 million pounds to the Bay.

As a result, the dead zone is expected to be an average of 1.9 cubic miles this summer, a 5 percent increase over 2017, according to the forecast. That area of “hypoxic,” or low oxygen, water represents about 15 percent of the Bay’s total volume. Those numbers haven’t changed much over the years, said UMCES researcher Jeremy Testa, a co-author of the report.

Dead zone conditions already appeared to be forming in May, according to water quality-tracking by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The DNR Eyes on the Bay website showed that dissolved oxygen levels measured in early June had dipped into the danger zone for fish and shellfish from the Baltimore Harbor south to (and extending into) the Patuxent River. Along the Eastern Shore, the north-south boundaries are rougly the same — from Tolchester Beach in Kent County south to Dorchester County, across from the Patuxent.

Dead zones form are caused by excessive nutrients in the water, which cause algae to bloom. Ultimately, the algae die and sink to the bottom, where they are consumed by bacteria in a process that uses up the oxygen in the water. Low-oxygen waters are found throughout the world, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Baltic Sea.

The Chesapeake’s dead zone has ballooned since recordkeeping began in the 1950s as growing cities and farm fields shunted more nitrogen into the Bay, researchers say. One of the main goals of the federal-state Chesapeake Bay restoration program is to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads — and shrink the dead zone.

The typical summer dead zone has measured about 1.7 cubic miles of water since 1985, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. The largest recorded was 2.7 cubic miles in 2011.

While hypoxic water remains stubbornly abundant, anoxic conditions — the very worst areas where there is virtually no oxygen — are gradually improving, Testa said. This year’s anoxic portion of the Bay is expected to be 0.43 cubic miles.

Testa attributes the improved anoxic conditions to gradual reductions in the Susquehanna’s nitrogen concentration that began in the 1980s. Scavia said this year’s forecasted expansion isn’t too concerning because rain appears to be the main culprit.

“It’s the long-term trend that really matters,” he said.

by Jeremy Cox

Bay Journal staff writer Jeremy Cox teaches communications at Maryland’s Salisbury University. He has written for daily newspapers since 2002, most recently as an environment reporter for the Daily Times in Salisbury, where he is based.

Council to Pursue Tax Differential Answers

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(L-R) Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, and council members Linda Kuiper and David Foster

The Chestertown Council is exploring ways to recover the tax differential the town was at one time granted by Kent County. Councilman David Foster raised the issue at the end of the council’s Monday, June 18 meeting.

A tax differential, a payment or a discounted rate designed to compensate the county’s five towns — Chestertown, Rock Hall, Millington, Galena, and Betterton — for services such as police protection and street repair. With the towns providing those services, the counties are saved much of the cost of providing them. In the case of Chestertown, those services amount to some $3 million in the FY 2019 town budget.

Kent County stopped providing a tax differential in 2014 as a result of the 2008 recession, which led to a decline in tax revenues. At one point, the differential took the form of a “grant in aid” payment that amounted to some $116,000 at its peak – an amount that, as Mayor Chris Cerino noted, would allow the town to repave a couple of streets, at the very least. Cerino and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said they had approached the County Commissioners about a resumption of the tax differential during the county budget deliberations the last couple of years. Ingersoll said the county’s answer was, “You’re on the radar,” but no action was taken to restore the lost payment.

Foster said he had very little idea what tax differential was before being elected to the council last year. “I was embarrassed; I had property in town for over 20 years, and I had never, ever heard of it.” At the annual Maryland Municipal League (ML) meeting in Ocean City earlier this month, Foster asked representatives of other towns in the state whether they were receiving a tax differential. All the ones he asked said they were receiving either a direct payment or a discounted rate on the county property tax; in most cases, they said the amount had grown by 60 percent over the last few years. In contrast, Foster noted that Chestertown’s tax differential has “decreased by 100 percent.” According to Foster’s research, there are only three counties in the state that don’t provide some form of tax relief to their towns. Foster said he asked the county commissioners why they didn’t provide a differential, “and they kind of mumbled, ‘Oh, we don’t have the money.’ How is it all these other counties can do this?” Foster asked.

The commissioners, during a June 5 public hearing on the county budget, said that flat revenues and rising prices have forced them to make difficult choices, including some reductions of staff and trimming budget requests from many county departments. They did not mention the tax differential.

One commissioner was given the opportunity to address the question at a candidates’ forum for Republican candidates for commissioner, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Chestertown Councilwoman Linda Kuiper asked the candidates if they supported restoring the differential. Commissioner Billy Short, who is running for reelection, said the commissioners hope to restore the differential within five years. He said he would support it in the form of a reduced tax rate for the town, “giving the money directly back to the taxpayers.” Short said he didn’t understand why Chestertown needs to budget $1.8 million for police work. He went on to say there is considerable duplication of services between the town and county. “Our officers actually operate within Chestertown as well,” with Sheriff’s deputies frequently patrolling the streets, he said. The county also performs some road work within town, he said.

Recapitulating the exchange at the council meeting, Kuiper said that Short had cited the cost of the county’s high-speed internet project as a benefit the town was receiving. “I’m not seeing the advantages of it yet,” she said. She also noted that the Chestertown police department responds to calls for service beyond town limits, benefitting the county. “It didn’t take me very long to decide which commissioner candidate I was going to vote for,” she said.

The county’s property tax rate remains unchanged at $1.022 per $100 assessed value, and the income tax rate is also unchanged. Chestertown raised its property tax rates, which are in addition to the county taxes, by five cents to $0.42 per $100 assessed value.

Foster said he had spoken to Ryan Spiegel, the president-elect of MML about the problem, and was encouraged to write a request for the organization to consider it as an issue it would lobby for in Annapolis. He said the request might gain more attention with the General Assembly because Ocean City is suing Worcester County over the issue. If there were no objections, Foster said he would like to submit a letter requesting that the MML support a requirement that all counties provide a tax differential. He noted that the state code differentiates between counties that “may” provide such a differential and those that “shall,” with Kent falling into the former category. Nine of the state’s counties–primarily the larger, more urban counties–are required to grant some form of tax differential to the incorporated towns as those residents who are in practically all cases already paying taxes for services which the county therefore does not need to provide. Foster said that one of the questions he wanted to ask MML was how the town might go about changing the county’s status from “may” to “shall.”

Cerino asked if such a change would require the local delegates to the General Assembly to support the measure. “It would certainly help,” said Foster. “I think it’s an uphill battle.”

“I totally agree with you; it’s crazy we don’t get anything,” Cerino said. He noted that Chestertown has one-quarter of the county’s population. “For those of you who live in Chestertown, you’re paying full property tax rates to the county, and you’re basically getting no services in return,” he said. “Technically, you’re getting police protection, but 99 out of 100 calls for service are answered by our police.” He listed other services not being supplied by the county to town residents, including snow removal, trash collection, and recycling–services which are provided to residents who live outside the town limits. “What we’re getting is, we’re underwriting services for everyone else in the county. And that’s why (the county commissioners) don’t want to give us a rebate. They have a great deal, they know it, and they have no impetus to change it.”

Foster noted that the majority of the county’s small businesses are located in the towns, and therefore are subject to the higher property tax rates, whether directly or through higher rent payments. That makes the issue one of economic development as well as of fairness, he said. “It’s worth a shot” to try to push for legislative action, he said. He also noted that the makeup of the county commission may change after the November election.

Foster said he would be happy to draft the letter to MML. “It’s not just for Kent County,” he noted. “There’s already 13 counties that fall under this ‘may provide.’ So we’re not alone in this.”

Councilman Marty Stetson suggested that Foster write the letter and the rest of the council add their signatures. Cerino said he would be glad to sign it, but he said it would be important to get more town residents to support the issue. He noted that most are unaware that there is any problem.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked if it would be worthwhile to mount a public relations campaign to inform residents of the issue. Foster said he hoped the media were listening and that they would report on the council discussion. The other thing the town can try to do is get groups like the League of Women Voters to add it to the list of questions they ask candidates for office, he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson said that council members who get complaints about their votes to increase town taxes can reply that the increase wouldn’t have been necessary if the county were still providing the tax differential.

Ingersoll said he had made that point during budget discussions. “A simple way to understand it is ‘double taxation,’” he said. He said the commissioner’s saying a restoration of the tax differential was “on their radar” was hard to understand in an election year. “On whose radar? Are you going to be in or out?” he asked to wrap up the discussion as the council moved on to other issues.

Look for continuing coverage of this issue as it evolves.  As available, the Spy will post copies of the letters on the tax differential from the town of Chestertown to Kent County and to the Maryland Municipal League or other relevant documents.

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Sultana Offers to Buy Excess Property from Town

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino (L)  listens as Town Manager Bill Ingersoll describes an offer to purchase excess town property

The town of Chestertown has received an offer to purchase a vacant plot of land near the old railroad station, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said at the June 18 meeting of the Mayor and Council.

The 1.16-acre property, which the town acquired from the Penn Central railroad when it ceased its local train service around 1980, is basically an upland wetland, Ingersoll said. The town offered it to a neighboring property owner for $5,000 at the time, but there was no interest. The town listed the lot as excess property in 2006, and now it has found a prospective buyer in Sultana Educational Foundation.

Sultana’s plan is to combine it with an adjoining 5-acre parcel owned by Washington College, for use as an educational wetland preserve for Sultana’s environmental programs for K-12 students. Architect Miles Barnard has submitted a detailed plan for the project, which will be presented to the town’s planning commission. Sultana has offered $15,000 for the lot.

Ingersoll said the property is not on the tax rolls, and that its location won’t affect the potential development of the college-owned Stepney property. “It looks pretty exciting to me,” he said. He asked the council to authorize him to go ahead with negotiations for the sale. The council voted its approval, conditional on the planning commission’s approval of the proposed use. Mayor Chris Cerino, who is employed by Sultana, recused himself.

Chestertown Recreation Commission Chair Amy Meeks

The council also heard a report from Amy Meeks, chair of the town’s Recreation Commission. Meeks gave a summary of the commission’s recent activities, including a summer film program, participation in festivals, and plans for upgrading Washington Park, for which the commission has received a Community Parks and Playgrounds grant from the state of Maryland. Also, Meeks requested permission to install a swing set in Margo Bailey Park, near the dog park enclosure. The council approved the site and the expenditure of $2,700 for the equipment. Accompanying Meeks to the meeting were new commission member James Bogden and Harold Somerville, whom Meeks asked the council to appoint to the commission.

Also at the meeting, the council approved a resolution to raise the town’s fees for building permits. Ingersoll said the current fees have been in effect since 2008, and he described the increase as “modest.” The fee rate is essentially $0.50 per square foot for new residential projects and $ 0.40 for substantial rehabilitation of an existing property. For properties larger than 3,000 square feet, the per-square-foot rate is reduced to half the usual rate for the additional area. Thus, a 3,000-square-foot new property would cost $1,500 for the permit while refurbishing a similar property would be $1,200. Smaller projects such as fences, roofs siding, or sheds come in at $75.

The complete rate list is available from town hall.

In his Mayor’s report, Cerino gave an update on work at the marina, including the installation of the first floating pier. Next step is to add the finger piers, Cerino said. Work to extend the Cannon Street pier will commence next week, with schooner Sultana out of town on its summer cruise.

Chestertown Police Chief Adrian Baker

Also at the meeting, Police Chief Adrian Baker delivered the departmental report for May, and Main Street Manager Kay MacIntosh gave a brief report on the facade improvement grants to several downtown businesses.

At the end of the meeting, Councilman David Foster reported on his research into a tax differential arrangement between the town and the county, which has been in abeyance for several years following the 2008 recession. Tax differentials, which most Maryland counties provide to their associated municipalities, are meant to compensate the towns for providing services such as police protection and street repair which the county consequently doesn’t need to pay for. The Spy will publish a full account of the discussion in an upcoming story.

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Commissioners Enact FY2019 Budget; Residents Criticize School Funding

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Kent County Commissioners Ron Fithian, William Pickrum and Billy Short listen to a report by County Administrator Shelley Herman at their June 12 meeting.

The Kent County Commissioners, meeting Tuesday, June 12, passed the FY 2019 county budget by a unanimous vote.

There was no discussion before the vote, and there were no adjustments to the budget as presented at the previous week’s meeting, despite considerable public criticism of the allocation for public education – both at the June 5 meeting and in 93 pages of written comments submitted to the commissioners. The budget leaves the county’s property tax rate unchanged at $1.022 per $100 of assessed value. The income tax rate is 2.85 percent, also unchanged from last year.

At the end of the meeting, when the commissioners opened the floor for public comment, several audience members came forward to express their disappointment that the budget fell short of the school district’s request for funding.

First to speak was Robbi Behr of Chestertown, representing the Support Our Schools group. She began by addressing remarks by Commissioner Ron Fithian at the June 5 meeting, when he stated that the SOS group’s efforts had been choreographed by some outside group, and implied that the mothers who organized the group didn’t have the skills to organize a FaceBook campaign. Behr summarized the credentials of the founding group, who are “smart and capable women who can do these sorts of things all by ourselves.” She also addressed Commissioner Billy Short’s characterization of the group as “rude” after she and some others walked out of the June 5 meeting and for allowing “a censored swear word” to appear on their FaceBook page.

Behr apologized, saying, “We were rude. But we’ve been hammering at this for two years and your response has consistently been and continues to be that we’re too stupid to understand this stuff so we need to sit down and be quiet.” She said that misogyny frequently characterizes the commissioners’ remarks. However, she said, the focus should be on “addressing the myriad problems this county has at hand, from flat-lining revenues to the opioid crisis to the hospital to emergency services and so on.” If the commissioners had listened to the SOS group’s ideas about marketing the county and its schools to families and serving the families who are already here, “We wouldn’t be here wasting everyone’s time,” she said. “We would be working together, doing good for this county.”

Behr noted that none of the commissioners had, “as far as I can tell,” responded to Rock Hall Elementary School Principal Kris Hemstetter’s plea for them to visit the school and see the problems for themselves. She said the commissioners should take up the challenge and visit all the county’s schools and see the ways they could help the teachers and administrators improve them. “It’s too late to revisit your budget now, but it’s not too late to actually support our teachers and schools,” she said.

Commission President William Pickrum responded to Behr, correcting her statement that he doesn’t use FaceBook and noting that he is professionally involved with internet and IT. He said he had offered Behr the opportunity to review and make suggestions on the whole county budget. “Every citizen has that opportunity,” he said. He said the commissioners struggle every year “to balance the needs and desires of the citizens of this jurisdiction.” Government, unlike business, exists to deliver services to its citizens, not out to make a profit. He said the county had been unable to meet the requests of many of the nongovernmental organizations that asked for funding this year. Pickrum noted that the county roads were considered by the State Highway Administration to be some of the best in the state, even though the county lost some 90 percent of its funding for road maintenance. “We do the best we know how, we do listen,” he said. He cited examples of the county adopting ideas from other jurisdictions to improve services and efficiency. He said the commissioners are here to try to satisfy everyone, “but because of the financial realities, that may not be possible.”

Carla Massoni of the Greater Chestertown Initiative distributed copies of a Baltimore Sun article, “Education Status Quo Unacceptable in Maryland,” which summarizes the conclusions of the Thornton Commmission and the Kirwan Commission, both of which addressed the condition of Maryland’s schools. Massoni said it was time to “move on,” with the budget set for the next fiscal year and SOS intent on continuing its efforts on behalf of the school system. She cited a speech by Trish McGee, president of the Board of Education, saying that the board will continue to work to make the schools successful, and praised Superintendent of Education Karen Couch for “giving her all.”

“There are some things I think we can do,” Massoni said. She noted that the article she distributed encouraged people to reach out to gubernatorial candidates to see if they commit to support the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission. She asked the commissioners “to take a leadership role in making Kent County schools the best schools in the state of Maryland.” She said it would require them to take an active role in the state, using their influence and connections to push state officials into fuller support for local schools. “There is a great deal you can do to take a leadership role,” she said, encouraging them to “share the story” of what county schools have accomplished and what they still need to reach their potential.

Darran Tilghman of Chestertown asked the commissioners to try to harness the energy the community had shown in support of the schools. She asked them to be reasonable, for example in resisting the temptation to accuse the schools of “playing a shell game” with their funding. She said the commissioners need to take ownership of the fact that the county’s contribution to the education budget is among the lowest in the state, measured as a percentage of the overall budget. And she asked them to visit the schools to have a clearer idea what the needs are. “Please let’s keep talking, let’s keep moving forward,” she concluded.

Jennnifer Baker, president of the Downtown Chestertown Association, said she had attended the Board of Education meeting the previous evening, where she learned “just how desperate the situation is over the next several years.” She said it’s necessary to start planning aggressively to bring the schools up to potential. She said businesses in the county are having trouble finding qualified staff, which affects the likelihood that other new businesses will locate here. To attract “the next Dixon and LaMotte,” she said, the county needs to think about how it markets and recruits new businesses. She said her decision to locate to Chestertown and open a business here was a result of the town’s having a comprehensive strategy and plan to attract businesses. “It had strategies that let us know that it was working really hard at being something incredibly great.” She said the county has similar assets, and with a coordinated effort it ought to be able to take the next step.

Pickrum thanked everyone for their comments. He said the commissioners had always worked to make the county the best it can be. He said when he is in other areas, he always praised the Kent County school system as “the best not only in Maryland but on the East Coast.” He said citizens sometimes misinterpret the commissioners’ questions of the schools as hostile, whereas it is a necessary part of governing. “We have to look at things with a critical eye. It does not mean that any one of us is opposed to that entity. But we have to ask those critical questions to ensure that your dollars – and my dollars, too – are spent appropriately by every particular governmental organization.” He said he believes that the county’s educational staff is the best around, and expressed the wish that they were better paid. “I think it’s a shame that we do not value, as a society, our educators,” noting that many teachers have to pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets and that they work many hours after school. “But that said, it is incumbent upon our elected school board to allocate the funds they have available to get the best bang for the buck,” he said. “Personally, I think you pay the people first – but that’s not my job. That’s the school board’s job.”

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Spy Time with Congressman Andy Harris

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It is safe to say that Sunday afternoon did not turn out to be what Congressman Andy Harris had expected when he dutifully showed up the League of Women Voters forum.

Anticipating to share the stage with two GOP opponents in the Republican primary race on June 26, Dr. Harris instead learned that both Martin Elborn and Lamont Taylor were “no shows” which prompted the LWV to cancel the event to be in compliance with the League’s standing rule that a forum can not take place with only one candidate in attendance.

To Rep. Harris’ credit, he nonetheless stayed in the lobby for close to an hour to answer questions from constituents, many of whom were Democrats, which centered around the Congressman’s long-standing opposition to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare).

He also took a few minutes with the Spy to answer our questions about the current Congress, his support and a few disappointments of President Donald Trump’s leadership and analyzing his chances to keep the 1st Congressional seat in the 2018 general election in November.

This video is approximately seven minutes in length.