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 2016 is complete and was presented December 5, 2016 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 $15,045,192. 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 40 full-time employees in four different departments. These departments include: Office (6), Street (12), 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 2016:
Generally, 2016 was a watershed year for Chestertown in several important areas. The Town tackled challenging issues that had gone unresolved for months, years, and in one case for decades. Breakthroughs were realized with the Hospital oil spill issue, the marina redevelopment project, the Chester River Bridge repairs closure, the Wilmer Park Playscape/sculpture project, community parks, the local economy, and in smaller areas such as food truck legislation and new Fountain Park furniture. Building permits for new houses were issued at a rate more than double that of the previous year. We joined forces with the County in creating a Chestertown Enterprise zone of 1,187 acres, and looked to the future by annexing 79.67 acres of industrial, commercial, and residentially zoned land to the north of Chestertown.
The following is a description of some of the significant developments that took place in our Town in 2016:
- HOSPITAL OIL SPILL ACTION: The Hospital Oil Spill Remediation continued to be a serious Town concern in 2016. The Hospital’s plan of injecting the surfactant IveySol into the monitoring wells, which received approval from the Maryland Department of the Environment, yielded relatively small quantities of free phase oil. During a meeting with Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Grumbles, the Town requested a three-way Consent Agreement between the Town, the Hospital, and MDE that would clearly delineate each party’s responsibility for cleaning up the site and provide the Town with financial assurances in the event of a worst-case scenario necessitating the creation of new Town wells. Ultimately, the three-way consent order with MDE and the Hospital never materialized. As a result, the Town sought a separate agreement with the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) that would indemnify the Town and protect its well system should the Hospital’s oil plume or its remnants reach the municipal well field. After several weeks of negotiations, an Agreement was signed on June 22, 2016 where the Hospital indemnified the Town for costs of well replacement if it was proven that the contaminants had originated from the Hospital’s spill. Additionally, the agreement called for UMMS to install three additional monitoring wells on Campus Avenue, making a total of seven sentinel wells in place between the plume and the Town’s productions wells. If there is further movement of the plume toward Campus Avenue and the production wells on Kent Street, the Town is confident that it will show up in the well-placed sentinel wells first, alerting the movement to the two parties and triggering the responsibility of the Hospital towards the protection and preservation of the Town’s drinking water supply.
- EFFORTS TO RETAIN SERVICES AT THE HOSPITAL: In 2016, the Town hosted a public meeting at the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company to discuss the current status of the Hospital and to voice concerns about reductions in services and inpatient beds that have taken place since the facility was purchased by Shore Regional Health and UMMS in 2008. The overflow, capacity crowd voiced its concerns about the future of the Hospital in our community. This meeting and others were part of a concerted effort to reiterate the need to preserve existing services and inpatient beds at the Hospital. This is an ongoing effort that will require continued vigilance and communication with Shore Regional Health and UMMS in future years.
- CHESTERTOWN MARINA PROJECT – PERMITS: The Army Corps of Engineers’ permit allowing the Marina reconfiguration work was finally received in June 21, 2016. Several months before, the wetlands permit had been approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) after a wait of nearly two years. In January of 2016, the Corps of Engineers was able to extend the maintenance-dredging permit from the previous owner of the marina and the Town dredged 6,000 cubic yards of spoils from the basin area of the marina, yielding many more rentable slips during the boating season.The permits recently received by both MDE and the Corps of Engineers sets the stage for a major renovation and re-design of the Marina that will address the facility’s many 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 parking area.
- CHESTERTOWN MARINA PROJECT – FUNDING: For the past two years, the Town has requested funding for the Marina project from the Miscellaneous Projects category of the Governor’s Capital Budget. In 2016, we requested $1.5 million after discussing the request with representatives from Governor Hogan’s office and dividing the revitalization work into three distinct funding phases. As part of this effort, the Town solicited Letters of Support from area residents to demonstrate that the project had broad-based community support and stressed the regional and local economic benefits of the venture. Over 100 community members submitted letters as part of this campaign. We have continued to solicit and apply for other State and Federal funds, such as a $1.0 million grant/loan application with USDA to provide 1:1 matches for $600,000 in state grants from DNR’s Waterway Improvement Fund that have already been approved. We were buoyed and encouraged this year by the appearance of the Governor and our local delegation at the marina site in June. They toured the project area and talked to businesses about the ancillary benefits to the business community. This winter, the Town also was aided greatly by the efforts of the Chestertown Waterfront Coalition, formed by the Sultana Education Foundation, Kent County Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Chestertown Association. The Waterfront Coalition hired a lobbyist at their own expense and began a letter writing campaign that yielded an additional 400 letters of support. As of this reading, efforts to secure funds are still ongoing.
- CHESTERTOWN MARINA PROJECT – WORK COMPLETED AND ONGOING: Meanwhile, the progress at the marina continues with over half of the dredging completed in February 2016 and the design of the interpretive center completed using grant funding from the Chesapeake Heritage Areas and the Community Legacy program. The architectural firm of Schamu, Machowski, and Patterson was awarded the design bid for the Marina Interpretive Center and the conceptual drawings have been presented to the Chestertown Historic District Commission and Chestertown Planning Commission for final approvals. Looking ahead, the Town plans to hire a contractor to replace the bulkheads and boat ramp in the basin this winter (January – March 2017) and to implement a major overhaul of the bulkhead in front of the Fish Whistle Restaurant in the winter of 2017-18 utilizing USDA funding and existing Waterway Improvement Fund grants.
- ANNEXATION: The Town completed the annexation of 79.67 acres of vacant land on the northeast part of Chestertown into the Fourth Ward of Chestertown on August 22, 2016. The property is generally bounded on the south by Scheeler Road; on the west by Haacke Drive extended, Washington Square Shopping Center, the lands of Charles Sommers, Pizza Hut, and Chestertown Investments (the former Happy Harry’s and Walgreens), and MD Rt. 213; on the north by the lands of the Trinity Lutheran Church and Delmarva Power and Light; and on the east by the lands of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The plan for this property is to create an innovative, mixed-use development consisting of Industrial, Commercial, Professional Office, and high-density Residential areas. The property was assembled by a single entity, KRM Development Corporation, and their concept plan was reviewed and approved by the Chestertown Planning Commission during the annexation process.
- CREATION OF THE ENTERPRISE ZONE: In 2016, the Town joined the Kent County Commissioners in launching an Enterprise Zone Designation that includes 1,187 acres in Chestertown where eligible businesses will be able to claim a 10-year credit against local real property taxes for real property improvements in the District. There will also be credits for wages paid to new employees in new positions. This important incentive offered in the Town and County is meant to attract new businesses and encourage the expansion of existing ones.
- KENT COUNTY MIDDLE SCHOOL RECREATION PLAN: The Town of Chestertown, the Kent County Board of Education, and staff at Kent County Middle School held a ribbon cutting on Monday, September 12, 2016 for the campus-wide recreational improvements funded through a Maryland DNR Community Parks and Playgrounds Grant. The Town applied for, received, and administered the grant with the support of the Board of Education, Middle School staff, and the Kent County Commissioners. The ribbon cutting showcased the incredible improvements on the campus, including a paved walking track, workout stations, tennis courts, a basketball court, new perimeter fencing, a bounce-back practice wall and pad, and beautiful new landscaping. Best of all, the entire community can use the facility when school is not in session. Special thanks to Kees de Mooy for his work on this project!
- GATEWAY PARK: Construction of the park by David A. Bramble was completed in April 2016. The park’s construction costs were subsidized by a $155,000 grant that the Town received from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Community Parks and Playgrounds Program. The amenities in the Park include a basketball court, walking trail, a stream observation area, parking lots, picnic tables, bike racks, trashcans, and a sidewalk connection to Phase III of the Rail Trail. A ribbon cutting was held on Saturday, May 7, 2016. The Bayside HOYAS have adopted Gateway Park and are making sure it remains spotless.
- RECREATION COMMISSION: The Chestertown Recreation Commission (CRC) continued to provide fun things for people of all ages to do in Town. The Council most recently worked with the Commission to relocate play equipment from 601 High Street and benches from Fountain Park to the Ajax Park along the rail trail. A swing set and fencing materials were purchased for Ajax and the fence was installed by Rebuilding Together Kent County. All in all, this new “pocket park” is now a lovely and safe play area for children who frequently visit from the adjacent rail trail to relax there.
- MARGO BAILEY PARK: The facility continues to grow in popularity. Because of the rise in usage, the parking lot near the Dog Park entrance was doubled in size and sidewalks were installed to provide improved pedestrian connectivity from the lot to the entrance. In addition, the tree committee installed an osprey box at the northeastern end of the 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. However, to create the sculpture, private donations were necessary to fund it. In what can only be described as an outpouring of love in recognition of a pillar of our community, private donations literally poured in for the project Broad Reach in an amount exceeding $80,000.00 to date to honor Mr. Alex Castro. Mr. Castro is renowned in the community, at Washington College, and in the State of Maryland for his talent, imagination and creativity and will be moving from Chestertown this year. This sculpture will become a lasting tribute to a man who helped shape the local arts community in so many different ways.
- STREET SUPERINTENDENT TOM SAPPINGTON: Many of the projects that we are admiring tonight have been accomplished and supervised by our new superintendent of Streets, Mr. Tom Sappington. Tom is an accomplished mason who has worked for us for several years, developing an expertise in sidewalk, concrete, and storm drain capital projects. No task seems too large for Tom. This year alone, he installed a major underground storm water system to alleviate water problems at Reed Court and totally rebuilt the Byford Court Bridge. When the street superintendent position came available, he added that to his repertoire and has done a great job of organizing the workload of the Department.
- SALE OF THE OLD CHESTERTOWN POLICE STATION: The former police department building at 333 South Cross Street is under contract. The Town is hoping to make settlement in early 2017.
- VISITORS CENTER AND SPECIAL EVENTS: The Visitors Center was open 360 days last year and had approximately 13,800 visitors. June was the most active month with 1,961 visitors, followed by 1,629 visitors in April. Major events in 2016 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.
- CURB APPEAL AND D.C.A.: The Downtown Chestertown Association’s Curb Appeal program continued to beautify the Town, including the yearly addition of the spectacular lights and garlands during this year’s holiday season. Our thanks go out to all the Curb Appeal volunteers and to the head of the Downtown Chestertown Association, Kristen Owen.
- FOUNTAIN PARK FURNITURE: In 2016, the Chestertown Garden Club decided to update the benches in the Fountain Park with a more traditional Victorian-style design. Rounded, backless benches were placed around the outside of the brick circular plaza that surrounds the Fountain. Each bench was privately donated, many by members of the Garden Club. Each had a plaque installed as part of the donation. The older benches have been repurposed at Ajax Park and Washington Park. The Town continues its efforts to re-seed and 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.
- 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 was finalized and the Education Center held a standing room only ribbon cutting at the spectacular new facility at 200 South Cross Street in August 2016.
- WASHINGTON COLLEGE’S NEW ACADEMIC CENTER: Washington College held a ribbon cutting for Cromwell Hall on Saturday, September 23rd at 213 Washington Avenue. The building is well proportioned with beautiful landscaping and grounds and is a tremendous addition to the streetscape along Route 213.
- SHA BRIDGE CLOSING PROPOSAL: Thanks to the efforts of the Secretary and District Engineer of the State Highway Administration, the Bridge Task Force, the Kent County Commissioners, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and local business people like J.R. Alfree, a solution was found for repairing the Chester River Bridge with minimal loss of business or public safety impacts to the Town and County. The welding and painting work was completed in December.
- PUBLIC INFORMATION: The Town continues to utilize Constant Contact, Facebook, and a revamped web site at www.townofchestertown.com to provide information to the public. James Egan continues doing a great job of getting our Mayor and Council meetings on air via the local cable channel and Youtube.
- TOWN WEB SITE: The Chestertown web site is user-friendly for residents and visitors alike and is updated on a daily basis. Thanks to Ms. Francoise Sullivan of Moo Productions for her continued efforts to keep the site current and functional. There have been 56,215 unique visitors, spending an average of 2.1 minutes and viewing an average of 2.5 pages during each visit.
- MARKETING COMMITTEE: The Marketing Committee continued with meetings this year in an effort to rebrand the Town and standardize the street signage.
- FOOD TRUCKS: This was a big issue in Town in the past two years. In May of 2016, the Peddling and Soliciting Ordinance was expanded to include Food Trucks. They were defined and a simple licensing and operational process was adopted. By October of 2016 the Council adopted a Food Truck Pilot Program that allowed food trucks on Park Row, Memorial Plaza, and Speer Road during designated daytime hours. A modest fee schedule was added. The program has been successful to date.
- GOALS FOR 2017
- 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
- 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
- Pave or repair streets as part of a comprehensive, long-term plan
- Complete 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
- 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 to improve our recreation programs, expand recreational activities for all ages in Chestertown, and involve the input of our youth in the decision-making process
- 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
- 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
- Work with the medical community, Eastern Shore delegation, Kent County Commissioners, and local residents to advocate for the retention of services at our local HospitalACKNOWLEDGMENTSI 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 2016. 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 a truly special place.