REPORT OF MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS
The Charter of the Town of Chestertown states, “The Mayor, during the first quarter of each calendar year, shall report to the Council the condition of municipal affairs and make such recommendations as he (she) deems proper for the public good and welfare of the town.” Herein is said report.
FINANCIAL. The audit for the Town of Chestertown for FY 2015 is complete and will be presented in January by Lindsey & Associates, LLC of Towson, Maryland. The audit showed the Town to be in extremely strong financial condition with total net assets over liabilities in all departments of $15,202,860. During this year the Town again held the tax rate at $.37 per $100 of assessed value. The Town also retained the Homestead Property Tax Credit percentage of 5%, which limits the increase in a homeowner’s property tax bill to 5% in any given year, no matter how much their assessment has increased.
STAFFING. The Town currently has 39 full-time employees in four different departments. These departments include: Office (6), Street (11), Utilities (8), and Police (14). There are also 4 part-time positions within the Town. Three are employees at the Visitor’s Center, and the Police Department has a part-time civilian administrative assistant. All departments are fully staffed and operating well.
ACTIVITIES AND ACHIEVEMENTS IN 2015:
The following list highlights some of the significant developments that took place in our community in 2015.
- HOSPITAL OIL SPILL REMEDIATION PLAN: The Hospital Oil Spill Remediation continued to be a serious Town concern in 2015. In 2014, the Hospital had carried out a pilot study of injecting a surfactant (IveySol*) into three test wells. The surfactant is essentially a detergent that mixes with oil and releases it from the soil, where it can then be recovered by nearby pumping wells. The pilot test was approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and relatively small quantities of oil were recovered during the pilot phase. Our legal and technical environmental consultants recommended that the Town ask the MDE officials in charge of approving the testing protocol to give the Council, the public, and the press the facts concerning the impending plan to inject surfactants into the water table on a larger scale. MDE officials came to Chestertown at the Mayor’s request in late June and explained their rationale and answered questions. Still not totally satisfied that the remediation process was safe, a delegation of Town officials traveled to the Maryland Department of the Environment on November 2nd to have an audience with Secretary Grumbles and his staff. During this meeting, the Town requested a Consent Agreement between the Town, the Hospital, and MDE that clearly delineates each party’s responsibility for cleaning up the site and provides the Town with financial assurances in the event of a worst-case scenario that necessitates the creation of new wells. Despite our continued concerns, the full-scale injection of surfactants began in August and continues today. The Consent Agreement requested by the Town has still not been drafted by MDE.
- CHESTERTOWN MARINA PROJECT: A great deal of time and effort was spent this year designing, fundraising, and obtaining permits for the redevelopment of Chestertown Marina. The rebuilding of the Marina is an ambitious undertaking, as the entire facility is in urgent need of repair due to decades of deferred maintenance in the private sector. The redesign of the Marina will address infrastructure needs by replacing and raising the bulkheads, raising the grade of the flood-prone grounds, replacing and extending the docks, removing and replacing the main marina building, dredging the entire basin, moving the fuel storage tanks out of the flood plain, and building a new launch ramp and pervious parking area. Last year (2014) we asked the state legislature for a very large request of $4 million dollars in the capital budget and did not succeed in getting the project funded. This year we discussed the Marina project with representatives from Governor Hogan’s office, divided the revitalization of the Marina into three distinct funding phases, and solicited Letters of Support from area residents to demonstrate that this project has broad-based community support. So far, over 110 letters have been received, with more arriving at Town Hall every day. Additionally, we have other State and Federal requests for funds that have been submitted, approved for submittal, or funded. We recently had the permits for all of the planned infrastructure upgrades approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works and will be working with the owners of the Fish Whistle Restaurant to engineer a solution for the flooding in their parking lot, which is intertwined with the Town’s plans to raise the grade of the land and bulkheads at the foot of Cannon Street. (Click here to read the Capital Project Request)
- CREATION OF THE ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT, AND THE HIRING OF A FULL-TIME DISTRICT MANAGER: The Town officially received designation as an Arts and Entertainment District in the state of Maryland in June of 2015. The District provides tax incentives for artists to create works of art within the district’s boundaries, and also provides tax credits for property owners that make improvements to their buildings for arts and entertainment purposes. After receiving the A/E designation, the Town budgeted funds to create a new full-time position for overseeing and managing the District. After an extensive search, the Town hired Mrs. Kay MacIntosh as its first Economic Development and Marketing Coordinator. Kay joined us in October and has already established strong inroads to progress in this area. Many thanks to volunteers in the Greater Chestertown Initiative and the Downtown Chestertown Association for all of their hard work in assisting Town staff with establishing the A & E District. (Click here to read more about the A&E District)
- KENT COUNTY MIDDLE SCHOOL RECREATION PLAN: The Town of Chestertown, the Kent County Board of Education, and the Kent County Commissioners submitted and received a $230,000 Community Parks and Playgrounds grant for campus-wide recreational improvements at KCMS. The Town applied as the eligible agency and was notified that the grant was approved this fall. The multi-agency cooperation involved in this project is unprecedented in Kent County and it will allow us to develop a community asset that we can all use and enjoy. We are looking forward to bidding the work out this spring and completing the project by the end of the summer of 2016.
- RECREATION COMMISSION: The Chestertown Recreation Commission (CRC) continued to provide fun things for people of all ages to do in Town. The Bocce League had another successful year at Wilmer Park and the outdoor movies entertained hundreds of people at the foot of High Street. In meetings held with the Recreation Commission, the Town Council ironed out some unclear overlapping responsibilities and developed a working relationship that will benefit all of Chestertown’s citizens. The Council is currently working with the CRC to identify a location and research possible funding sources for a community playground.
- MARGO BAILEY PARK: Several improvements were made at Margo Bailey Park in 2015, and the facility continues to grow in popularity. A new pedestrian access point was established at Heron Point and the park entrance off of Rolling Road was enhanced. New benches and additional landscaping were added to the dog park, and a new pavilion was constructed with donations obtained from the Friends of the Chestertown Dog Park.
- GATEWAY PARK: Construction of the park by David A. Bramble began in November. The park’s construction costs are covered by a $155,000 grant that the Town received from the state of Maryland’s Community Parks and Playgrounds Program. The walking trail, basketball court, and parking lots have been installed and the site grading and landscaping have been completed. Street lights, trash cans, picnic tables, bike racks, and a sidewalk connecting the Park to Phase III of the Rail Trail will be added in the coming months. The Town is targeting May 2016 for an official ribbon cutting to open this new facility for public use.
- PARKS IN GENERAL: Since 2004, the Town has added over 20 acres of public land for recreational use at Gateway and Bailey Parks, and constructed almost two miles of Rail Trail. These facilities have been enhanced using every available grant available to towns. Chestertown has taken advantage of the Stateside Program Open Space program in purchasing the Parks, and has used the Community Parks and Playground program to rebuild Wilmer Park, implement improvements at Bailey Park, and to develop Gateway Park.
- WILMER PARK PLAYSCAPE: In 2015, the Town finalized a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant – one of only two in the State – that funded a Public Arts Master Plan and a deposit on the inaugural public arts project envisioned in the Plan: a children’s Play-scape sculpture called Broad Reach at Wilmer Park, designed by Maryland-based artist David Hess. A $50,000 NEA Public Arts grant is being applied for that will pay for the remaining 50 percent of the costs associated with the Play-scape, matched by the Town and private donations. It is anticipated that, in combination with a successful fundraising campaign, the Play-scape will be constructed by the summer of 2017.
- SOLAR ARRAY: Solar City has completed the build-out of Chestertown’s new 1.3-megawatt solar plant, carrying out the contract Chestertown signed with Solar City for a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) at $0.0450 per kilowatt-hour with no escalator over the life of the agreement. This PPA represents a significant cost-saving on Chestertown’s electric bills for the next two decades. The Interconnection Agreement through Delmarva Power was approved in December and the system went live in December 2015.
- CHESTERTOWN POLICE STATION: In January, the Town of Chestertown purchased 601 High Street for the relocation of the police department. The police are making interior and exterior changes to the building and plan to move to it in early 2016. The existing police department building at 333 South Cross Street will be sold.
- VISITORS CENTER AND SPECIAL EVENTS: The Visitors Center was open 360 days last year and had over 14,000 visitors. May was the most active month with 2,247 visitors, followed by 1,729 visitors in April. Major events in 2015 included the Chestertown Tea Party Festival, Sultana’s Downrigging Weekend, Fourth of July fireworks, the National Music Festival, Legacy Day, Music in the Park, the Jazz Festival, Taste of the Town, the Harry Potter Festival, RiverFest, Winterfest Weekend, Chester Gras, Santa’s arrival, and D.C.A.’s very popular “First Fridays” program. These special events bring vitality to the Town and stimulate economic activity throughout our community.
- CURB APPEAL AND D.C.A.: The Downtown Chestertown Association’s Curb Appeal program continued to beautify the Town and put new energy on the street with their ideas and projects. This year they added many more holiday decorations to our Downtown and it added to the warmth of our holiday season. Our thanks go out to all the Curb Appeal volunteers, and especially to Nancy Butler and to the head of the Downtown Chestertown Association, Kristen Owen.
- FOUNTAIN PARK RESTORATION: The Garden Club and the Town of Chestertown are continuing to work together to return Fountain Park to its original luster. This year the brick sidewalk was widened on Cross Street to create additional room for the Artisans and Farmer’s Market vendors. Some of the sod from the expanded area was used to make repairs to downtrodden areas in other parts of the Park. Areas of focus in 2016 will include adding new benches and continuing to reseed and/or re-sod the grassy areas.
- FARMERS AND ARTISANS MARKETS: The Farmer’s and Artisan’s Market in Fountain Park continues to fill the Historic District with a special vitality on Saturday mornings. Thanks to both market managers for their successful efforts, as the Chestertown market is widely regarded as one of the best in the state.
- COMPREHENSIVE PLAN UPDATE: In 2014, the Planning Commission completed a lengthy update of the Chestertown Comprehensive Plan. After the public comment period ended on December 15th, the Planning Commission incorporated the comments and forwarded their recommended document to the Mayor and Council. The Council adopted the new plan on April 6, 2015. Thanks to the volunteers on our Planning Commission for a job well done.
- COMMUNITY LEGACY GRANT: Sultana Education Foundation received a $150,000.00 grant through the Community Legacy Funding program in 2015 to build their new educational facility on South Cross Street. The Town is the pass-through entity for this grant application. Construction on this facility is underway and the Education Center is expected to open in July 2016. The building itself will meet LEED Platinum standards and its unique design should make it an iconic addition to the Historic District.
- ACME EXPANSION AND KENT PLAZA RENOVATIONS: The Cordish Company and ACME completed renovations that nearly doubled the size of the existing store. A grand reopening was held in March. In addition to the ACME expansion, additional improvements were made at Kent Plaza including re-paving and re-striping the parking lot, adding new curbs, and expanding landscaping islands at the facility. As an additional bonus, a new Tractor Supply Store opened in September at the former Rose’s location.
- REDNER’S WAREHOUSE MARKETS AT WASHINGTON SQUARE: Redner’s Warehouse Markets held the grand opening for their 40,000+ square foot store in 2015, giving the Town two major food stores from which to choose for the first time in many years. The parking lot at Washington Square was re-paved and re-striped in conjunction with this initiative.
- WASHINGTON COLLEGE’S NEW ACADEMIC CENTER: In April, the College broke ground for construction of their new Academic Center on Washington Avenue on the site of the former Kent County Board of Education building. The new Center is on schedule for completion in 2016, adding a fantastic new facility to the streetscape along Route 213.
- SHA BRIDGE CLOSING PROPOSAL: The State Highway Administration (SHA) announced that they would be closing the Chester River Bridge for 4 – 6 weeks in the spring of 2015 for much-needed painting and maintenance work. This announcement greatly concerned many local residents and led to the creation of a Task Force consisting of representatives of the Town, Kent County, and SHA. As a result of the meetings of the Task Force, the proposed work was postponed by SHA and it now appears that the bridge closure will occur during July/August of 2016.
- CURBSIDE RECYCLING: The Town’s curbside recycling program continues to be a success with well over 50 % of households participating. Recycling of organic and non-organic bulk materials also continues at a high level with the Town pursuing every avenue practically available for reuse or salvage.
- PUBLIC INFORMATION: James Egan continues doing a great job of getting our Mayor and Council meetings on air and on the web. The Town also utilizes a Constant Contact program, Facebook page, and a revamped web site at Chestertown.com to provide information to the public.
- TOWN WEB SITE: Councilman Sam Shoge worked closely with Moo Productions (Ms. Francoise Sullivan) on the creation of our new Town website which was launched in January. The site is user-friendly for residents and visitors alike and is updated on a daily basis. There have been 47,434 unique visitors to the site, spending an average of 2 minutes and viewing an average of 3.84 pages during each visit.
- MARKETING COMMITTEE: Councilman Shoge initiated the creation of a Marketing Committee that is working on a branding initiative for Chestertown. The Committee met frequently in 2015 and enlisted the support and expertise of the well-respected local company, Benchworks. With the assistance of Benchworks, Chestertown’s new A & E logo will be chosen this spring and incorporated into all new signage and marketing efforts to promote the District.
GOALS FOR 2016
- Keep taxes at the same rate if possible while maintaining our chartered service responsibilities
- Aggressively pursue all forms of public and private funding to complete the revitalization of Chestertown Marina.
- Work with the Kent County Commissioners to discuss the possibility of reinstating a tax deferential for Chestertown
- Research and consider a PILOT program with input from Washington College
- Work with Washington College to design, engineer, and identify funding sources for the planned waterfront walk along the Chester River on College-owned lands between Wilmer Park and the mouth of Radcliffe Creek
- Continue our work with businesses, business associations, industries, and institutions to improve the local economy and keep storefronts filled. Support all events, festivals, and celebrations that bring our Town to life.
- Protect the Town’s drinking wells at all costs. Continue to pursue measures to protect the Town’s water supply, including 1) a Consent Agreement between the Town, the Hospital, and MDE that clearly spells out each party’s responsibilities with regards to the ongoing cleanup of the Hospital’s oil spill and 2) working with the Eastern Shore delegation to pursue a Local Courtesy Bill in Annapolis that provides the Town with financial assurances for replacing its shallow water wells in the event of a worst-case scenario with the Hospital’s remediation efforts
- Improve our recreation programs, expand recreational activities for all ages in Chestertown, and involve the input of our youth in the decision-making processes.
- Work with the Recreation Commission to identify an appropriate site for a central playground for Town residents under the age of 12. Pursue funding sources to design and construct the playground.
- Complete the Kent County Middle School Community Parks and Playground campus restoration before school reopens in September 2016.
- Encourage and expand recycling and all other greening efforts, increase public awareness of the need and advantages of these efforts, and continue to plant trees to reach the Town’s 40% canopy goal.
- Move the Chestertown Police Force to its new location at 601 High Street.
- Complete Gateway Park and connect it with Phase III of the Rail Trail.
- Work with the Maryland Transit Authority to clear the way for Phase IV of the Rail Trail to the edge of Town.
- Create a new branding for Chestertown that will be incorporated into Town signage. Add directional signage throughout the community.
- Pursue grants that provide solutions for storm drainage and runoff into the Chester River.
- Pave or repair streets as part of a comprehensive, long-term plan.
- Continue to improve the Town’s website. Increase efforts to bring heritage and eco-tourism to Chestertown through the use of the web site and social media, and promote the community as an arts and entertainment destination.
- Explore the creation of an Enterprise Zone in Chestertown to provide landowners with tax incentives for making improvements on lots within town limits where new development is desired.
- Work with the medical community, Eastern Shore delegation, Kent County Commissioners, and local residents to advocate for the retention of services at our local Hospital.
I would like to take a few final moments to thank all of those individuals who donated their time and talents to make Chestertown a better place in 2015. Thanks to the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company and the Kent and Queen Anne’s Rescue Squad, who put their lives at risk to protect our property and loved ones. Thanks also to the dozens of Commission members, Committee members, and Task Force members who donate their time to help the Town review applications, coordinate growth, and formulate future policy. Without your help, there is no way that we could function. Next, I’d like to recognize the volunteers who directly or indirectly assist the Town with all the events and activities that bring excitement, pride, and a sense of identity to Chestertown. These include individuals, local businesses, and non-profits that do what they do all year long without expecting any thanks in return. Finally, thank you to the employees of the Town who carry out their jobs with pride, a sense of responsibility to our citizens, and attention to detail. While our beautiful river, historic buildings, Washington College, and the laid-back lifestyle of the Eastern Shore make Chestertown a unique and enjoyable municipality in which to live, it is the people in our community that make it truly special place.