MAYOR AND COUNCIL
OCTOBER 7, 2019
Mayor Cerino called the meeting to order at 7:33 p.m. In attendance were Councilmembers David Foster, Linda C. Kuiper, Ellsworth Tolliver and Mauritz Stetson, W. S. Ingersoll (Town Manager), Jennifer Mulligan (Town Clerk) and guests.
Mayor Cerino asked if there were any additions or corrections to the minutes of the Mayor and Council Meeting of September 16, 2019.
Ms. Kuiper stated that on October 3rd the Kent County News printed “the vote was four to one with Kuiper dissenting to continue negotiations with Kent County on receiving assistance with the Police Department.” She said that the minutes had not been approved and the summary of the motion read “that the motion was four in favor, one opposed”. Ms. Kuiper asked how her name was released to the Kent County News.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that when the Council returned to open session and had to characterize what happened at the meeting, Ms. Mulligan read the summary and said the name. Mr. Ingersoll stated that he recommended at the meeting that voters names not be used, but the Kent News printed them anyway. Mr. Ingersoll pointed out that the words were said with an audience in an open session.
Ms. Kuiper stated that she would like to have the minutes amended to show her name since it was in the paper. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the Council could agree to that, but he did not think that names should appear in the motions of executive sessions. Mr. Ingersoll stated that every effort was made to keep the meeting closed but it was loud, and he wouldn’t be surprised if the people in the lobby heard every word that was said. Mr. Ingersoll stated that it was difficult to immediately characterize what happened in a long executive session in a sentence or two.
Mr. Stetson moved to approve the minutes of the Mayor and Council meeting of September 16, 2019 as changed, adding Ms. Kuiper’s name to the motion of the executive session, was seconded by Mr. Foster and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino stated that total operating funds on hand for unrestricted use was $253,045.31. Restricted funds for the Marina were set aside in the amount of $21,054.42.
Mayor Cerino asked for a motion to approve the payment of the bills. Mr. Stetson moved to approve payment of the bills as submitted, was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried unanimously.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that there was a request for a Tequila Toast 5k run on Saturday, October 26th and said that the applicant changed the permit request to begin and end the race at 98 Cannon Street. There were 40 people registered for the run. Rev. Tolliver moved to approve the revised permit for the Tequila Toast for Pancreatic Cancer on Saturday, October 26, 2019, was seconded by Mr. Foster and carried unanimously.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that the Fountain Park aeration and seeding had been performed a couple weeks before. He said that there were vendors from both the Farmers and Artisans markets at the meeting this evening who may have some comments, but the Town had to keep people off the new grass until it was established.
Ms. Kuiper stated that she would like for Park Row and both sides of High Street to be closed beginning this Saturday morning during Farmers Market hours with no parking signs and markings painted 12’ apart on the curb. She said that that the businesses on High Street need to be made aware that High Street may be closed Saturdays through December 7th during Farmers Market hours.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that these changes may prove to bring more pedestrians through the core square of Town while keeping people off the grass in the Park.
Ms. MacIntosh stated that the Dickens Festival will not close the 300 block of High Street this year, but the Holiday Parade the Saturday after Thanksgiving would have to be rerouted.
There were questions from the audience about using the Wilmer Park or the Industrial Park as the location for the Farmers Market. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the ambience of the downtown could not be denied and that was where the Market vendors wanted it to be.
There was a question about how the vendors on Park Row would set up. Mr. Ingersoll stated that it will take a bit of adjustment, but they were trying to keep the Market in the heart of the downtown. Ms. McGuire stated that having the market downtown was important to the merchants. She said that she thought the merchants would welcome the closure of the 300 block of High Street. Ms. MacIntosh stated that the merchants on Park Row were eager to have more foot traffic and she would be visiting the 300 block of High Street vendors this week.
Mr. Foster asked where the merchants would park. Ms. Kuiper stated that some of the vendors will have to unpack their wares and park elsewhere.
Ms. Kuiper asked where the community organizations will be placed. Mr. Ingersoll stated that he was telling community organizations to use the sidewalk on High Street in the area where vendors had not been up to now. Mr. Ingersoll stated that room would have to be made for everyone involved with the Market. Ms. Kuiper stated that parking should be blocked at the Nearly New. Mr. Ingersoll agreed that the road should be closed from Cross Street to Spring Street with no access to vehicles in the Nearly New parking lot.
Ms. Barb MacBeth of the Chestertown Garden Club stated that she wanted to commend the Council and the vendors for trying to work the details of the market while caring for the Fountain Park.
Mr. Allen Schauber asked that someone from the Town call the 911 Center on Friday afternoons to alert them to the closings. Ms. MacIntosh stated that the post boxes had to be figured out as well because cars will not be able to turn around.
There was a vendor in the audience who said that conflicting signals are being sent because there is no manager in place right now. Mr. Ingersoll stated that this would take some adjustment, but everyone was trying. He said that Fountain Park looked like a sand lot and they had to try to get the grass back.
Mr. Ingersoll asked if there were any vendors in the audience who disagreed with the suggestions for the Farmers Market through December 7th. All vendors present at the meeting were in agreement.
Mr. Foster moved to close the 300 block of High Street and Park Row through December 7th except for the holiday parades, was seconded by Ms. Kuiper and carried unanimously.
Ms. Kuiper stated that in the 2019 calendar year, the vendors have contributed $13,120.00 in vendor weekly fees and application fees. She said that Ms. Harvey started a “Go Fund Me” page for funds for WIC, SNAP and the Maryland Market Money. She said that there has been $760.00 in donations which the “Go Fund Me” page matches. Ms. Kuiper asked if the Town could give $2,000.00 out of the vendor fees to the “Go Fund Me” page for the seniors and other families eligible for the Food Assistance program. She said that this is a statewide program through the Maryland Farmers Market Association and that it has been so successful that it was out of funding right now. Mayor Cerino asked to table the matter for the next meeting as an agenda item. Ms. Kuiper agreed and asked people in the audience to donate to the “Go Fund Me” page so that the program would be viable this weekend.
Mr. Foster asked where the money from the vendors is used. Mayor Cerino stated that there were many maintenance costs associated with the use of the Fountain Park and that is where those funds are spent.
Mayor Cerino stated that there has been a lot of discussion about the Chestertown Police Department and the budget in general since Chief Baker announced he was leaving the Department for DNR. Mayor Cerino stated that he saw this time as a chance to press the pause button, look at the budget, and see how the Town should move forward in the future.
Mayor Cerino stated that he was elected in 2014 and has been part of six (6) budget processes to date. He said that the current budget rate was $.43 per $100.00. Property taxes are two-thirds of the revenue for Chestertown. He said that the revenues were at $4,038,000.00 and expenses were $4,030,000.00. This year’s budget was passed with no raises for staff and no capital improvement projects.
Mayor Cerino stated that people are under the impression that the Marina was hurting the budget but that was not the case. He said that property taxes were raised by $.05 in 2018 but because the overall assessed property values in Town dropped, there was an additional $.01 increase in order to keep flat revenues.
Mayor Cerino stated that this is not a choice between the Town having a Police Department or a Marina. Mayor Cerino stated that there are rising expenses vs. flat revenues from 2009-2018. Kent County’s grant in aid to Chestertown in 2012 was $116,000.00 annually and was zeroed out in 2014. The lack of the tax rebate and/or tax differential from Kent County is ongoing. Kent County is one of two counties in the State that does not provide a tax differential or tax rebate to their municipalities.
Mayor Cerino stated that since 2009, the annual cost of Public Safety for Chestertown has risen by $462,000.00 or 33%, whereas total Town revenues have only increased by $168,000.00 or 4%.
Mayor Cerino stated that a new headquarters building was purchased for the CPD in 2015 and there were additional costs associated with that purchase for remodeling. Mayor Cerino showed the overall expenditures for the Police Department. The new police headquarters was purchased at a very good price and was needed for the Department but cost over $500,000.00 or $41,500.00 in annual debt service.
Mayor Cerino stated that the Marina was acquired in 2012 and he was elected Mayor in 2014. He said that the “conspiracy theory” that he was in cahoots with the Sultana to have the Town purchase the Marina is bogus. Mayor Cerino stated that the Town purchased the Marina outright two years before he took office. He said that rumors floating around otherwise made an already difficult job almost impossible. He said that the Marina was considered a separate business and the mortgage was under a separate fund. Mayor Cerino stated that a slow drip of $91,000.00 has been spent each year out of the general fund budget to cover the mortgage of the Marina and not reflected as such. $91,500.00 represented 2.3% of the Town’s annual expenditures.
Mayor Cerino stated that when the Marina was purchased it was a total mess with no private owner coming forward to purchase it and no money to fix it. He said that funding for repairs has almost entirely come from grants which he got for the taxpayers by lobbying the State to make sure that Chestertown resident taxpayer dollars come back to Chestertown for use. He said that there was one loan for $598,000.00 from USDA for 40-years at 1.375% interest. He said that he still had to raise $200,000.00 to complete the project and was hoping that USDA would come through to get it finished. Mayor Cerino stated that this year, the Marina made $145,000.00 in revenue, $60,000.00 of which has been used for expenses to date.
Mayor Cerino stated that the County zeroing out the grant in aid is the drain. He said that the County had given the Town $116,000.00 annually, which they have not received in 6 years for a total of $696,000.00. He said that if that money was received, the Chestertown budget would make sense and have room in it for capital improvements. He said that every Chestertown resident is paying Town taxes in addition to Kent County taxes which is not being spent at all in Chestertown. Mayor Cerino added that most of the criminal calls are answered by CPD, which relieved the Kent County Sheriff’s office to a great extent. The Kent County snowplows and asphalt trucks turn around at the edge of Town and head back out into the County. Mayor Cerino stated that it was time for the residents to act and demand a tax differential or tax rebate. He said that Chestertown is due, and this is common in all but one other county in the State of Maryland.
Mayor Cerino showed a breakdown of other municipalities in Maryland according to their municipal tax rate, the county tax rate and the differential they receive each year. He said that some in some towns taxpayers are given a reduction in their county taxes, which is then paid to the municipality for the duplication of services. There are other counties that pay their municipalities directly and he showed those figures as well. It showed that Chestertown was one of the lowest tax rates of Towns with similar services in the entire Eastern Shore.
Mayor Cerino stated that that grants also pay for the parks in Town and they do not come out of the General Fund of the Town. He showed the grants received for parks and where in Town those funds were used.
Mayor Cerino reviewed the overall budget for Chestertown for each department showing the breakdown of where revenue was spent. He said that the perception that the Marina is bankrupting the Town is simply not true and the numbers prove it.
Mayor Cerino stated that the largest expense which grows each year is public safety. He said that he and Mr. Stetson met with Sheriff Price and asked if they could work with CPD to try to find significant costs savings within the department. He said that he thought that merging resources with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department should at least be a consideration. Mayor Cerino stated that he has no working relationship with the Kent County Commissioners so he asked the Sheriff how his department was run and where costs could be cut in Chestertown.
Mayor Cerino stated that he saw three options moving forward: 1) hire another Chief of Police and continue the status quo; 2) raise taxes, and/or; 3) work with the Kent County Sheriff’s Office to merge and leverage resources.
Mayor Cerino stated that the Town should not be paying to police the entire Town without any help from the County. He said that an attention-grabbing headline was “shuttering the police department” but nobody wanted to see that happen. He said that the Town taxpayers are paying the County to police Chestertown and the County is not doing so. He said that people forget that Chestertown is in Kent County and the County has a responsibility to the Chestertown citizens to make their tax dollars work for them.
Mayor Cerino stated that he would like to move forward with Lt. Dolgos in command through February 2020 and revisit the issue with the Council in March 2020. He said that he would like to form a Task Force to make recommendations regarding possible cost savings within CPD and to explore options for merging resources with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.
Mayor Cerino stated that he thought the process to date was handled clumsily. He said that it took him some time to gather his thoughts and his biggest regret was that the officers were put into limbo. He said that he did not want that, and he had the highest respect for the officers and their work in Town. He added that this was an awkward time as well because an election was taking place in November, with at least one seat changing on the Council.
Mayor Cerino stated that he did not like to raise taxes, but Chestertown’s $.43 tax rate was low compared to towns of similar size in Maryland. He said that there had to be a fundamental change to the budget. He said that Denton and Berlin were comparable to Chestertown in population and services offered to residents. Berlin’s tax rate was $.68 which would amount to $1.25 million extra in tax revenue if it was Chestertown each year. Denton’s tax rate was $.77.
Mr. Foster stated that many of the towns with higher tax rates also receive a tax rebate. He said that a study was performed in 1997 on the issue by the Institute of Government at the University of Maryland and it was estimated at that time that if the County paid a differential to the citizens or to the Town it would have been $.18 per $100.00 or the equivalent of $200,000.00 to the Town. He said that he was working with Mr. Fithian for a study and he said that he thought the numbers would prove Chestertown’s argument. Mr. Foster stated that taxes were raised this year, but not for the previous 30 years. He said that maintenance was deferred for a lot of years and the Town needed to build a reserve.
Mayor Cerino stated that this issue was not something the entire Council agreed upon, noting that he was also certain that those people in attendance at the closed executive session could overhear the meeting and the screaming that took place. He said that he preferred to do everything in open session.
Ms. Kuiper said that she cares about each police officer in Chestertown and said that she was concerned about the impact of everything published by the press as it negatively affected the officers’ lives and the lives of their families.
Rev. Tolliver stated that nobody has discussed how additional revenue can be raised for the Town. He said that he believed the Town needed a Chief and a full complement of officers. He said that he would be willing to listen to alternative ways to generate revenue. He said that there were issues in Chestertown that are not necessarily issues in other parts of Kent County and that the police force had to be on full complement as the Town grows.
Mr. Stetson stated that he thought if the County and Town departments merged it would make for a better police department overall. Mr. Stetson stated that he gave a list of names to Mayor Cerino and he hoped that he would speak to the people on the list as he would learn that the quality of policing is not what it should be in Town, nor has it been for the last 20 years. He said that there are highly trained officers in Kent County. He said that the Sheriff’s Office has training and technology that the Chestertown Police Department does not, and that the Town has officers who would be excellent police if given the right direction.
Mr. Stetson stated that he thought Captain Kirby could straighten out the Department and met with him and Sheriff Price where there was discussion of such an arrangement. He said that Sheriff Price thought if the departments merged there would be an overall annual savings of $800,000.00 to Chestertown. Mr. Stetson stated that the people of Chestertown won’t care what uniform an officer is wearing as long as a competent officer answers the call.
Mr. Stetson stated that he understood that the officers in Chestertown were objecting to a merger with the Sheriff’s Department and thought that they were afraid that they would have to perform their job as an officer should. He said that there was a way to do the job and it was not happening in Chestertown because the officers do not have the right direction.
Mayor Cerino stated that he did not want to leave the officers in limbo and he would like to have Lt. Dolgos as acting-Chief for 5 or 6 month to have time to look into the options discussed, but also to give the existing force stability and time to work on the budget to see where cuts could be made. Lt. Dolgos stated that he has a list of ideas and would like time to work with the Council before any decisions are made.
Mr. Stetson stated that when he read the Chestertown Spy, Lieutenant Dolgos made the statement that when Chief Baker was in position he gave the operation over to him, so the Council knows how it was being run. Lt. Dolgos stated that he had partial control over day to day operations, but he did not have control over the budget.
Ms. Candy Wilson, a resident in Chestertown, stated that Chestertown is dying and if the Town wanted revenue they had to attract families to live here and providing things for families to do. She said that when she bought the first lot in Coventry Farms they were promised that the streets would be paved when the last lot in Coventry II was finished. She said that now the fiber companies are coming in and ripping up the streets and the Town ripped up the street to find a leak. She said that Coventry Farms is hazardous to the residents and the police if they must go down those streets. She said that the Town and the County had to stop blaming each other and work together to find the revenue and bring businesses to Town.
Mayor Cerino stated that this discussion to him was not about job performance, it was about the budget and something had to change.
Mr. Foster moved to postpone any decision on the Police Department through the end of February 2020 with Lt. Dolgos to remain Acting Chief, was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried with four (4) in favor, Mr. Stetson opposed.
Mr. Foster stated that he would like to continue consulting with Kent County for greater efficiency in the department during this timeframe.
Mr. Billy Norris asked if there were services that Kent County was already providing to the Town that are not being mentioned and could be considered a tax differential. Mr. Ingersoll stated that Kent County has MES tub grind the mulch once a year. He said that is not such a great deal, however, because for each ton that the Town sends to the quad-county MES-run landfill, dollars go to recycling and that is the only benefit that Chestertown residents get. He said that he just read that Rock Hall had their mulch hauled away by the County, which would be a nice benefit for Chestertown, but has never happened.
Mr. Norris asked why there seemed to be such a division between the Town and the County. Mr. Ingersoll stated that Chestertown has been ignored for years. He said that that during the great recession he could understand why things changed at the time, but it is hard to understand now when over $7 million dollars of local income tax funds has been spent on fiber that most citizens don’t have access to yet. He said that the earlier mention of the person going through Coventry was a private company that did not have anything to do with the County project or Think Big.
Mr. Norris stated that he thought someone had to bury the hatchet and work things out. Mr. Ingersoll stated that he agreed with that statement. Mr. Norris stated that major taxpayers in the County have called to get boat slips for Downrigging Weekend and they can’t because all the slips are going to Sultana. Mr. Norris stated that was revenue to the Town being turned away. Mayor Cerino stated that since Downrigging began this is how it worked, but there were ancillary benefits to Chestertown as a result of the event. Mr. Ingersoll stated that Sultana does not use every slip for Downrigging but the slips that are not being used have been reserved in advance by boaters.
There was a resident of Chestertown (who did not identify himself) who said that he has complicit in allowing the County to spend his taxpayer dollars elsewhere in Kent County. He wondered if this crowd showed up to the hearings at the County Commissioners if there would be a change. Mayor Cerino stated that in Kent County this was a particularly acute problem because one-fourth of the residents are in Chestertown Town limits.
Mr. Foster stated that this was a larger issue for Chestertown than any other Town in Kent County. Rock Hall was the only other town in the County with a police force (3 officers). He said that he spoke with the Mayor of Rock Hall and asked her to join Chestertown and was told that Rock Hall receives far more County services than Chestertown does.
Bishop Ronald Fisher stated that he was here tonight to stand with the Police Department and said that it was important for everyone to be mindful of what this is doing to the Department’s morale. He said that nobody wanted officers to become complicit because they have been put down or ostracized.
Mayor Cerino stated that there was a hearing scheduled for a Class B – Beer, Wine and
Liquor license for Zelda’s at 108 S. Cross Street on October 15, 2019 at 10 a.m. in the Kent County Commissioners Office.
Mayor Cerino stated that the Chestertown Tea Party Festival Committee was applying for a grant to the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area. Mr. Stetson moved to support the grant application to the Stories of the Chesapeake Areas Authority was seconded by Mr. Foster and passed with three (3) in favor. Rev. Tolliver and Ms. Kuiper recused themselves since they were both on the Tea Party Festival Committee.
Mayor Cerino stated that he would like to nominate John Hutchinson to the Planning Commission and said he would ask for a motion to appoint him at the next Mayor and Council meeting.
Mayor Cerino asked for a motion to appoint Dan Divilio to the Recreation Commission. Mr. Foster moved to appoint Dan Divilio to the Recreation Commission, was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino stated that he would like a motion to appoint Emily Genther to the Recreation Commission. Rev. Tolliver moved to appoint Emily Genther to the Recreation Commission, was seconded by Mr. Stetson and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino stated that he would like to nominate Ms. Connie Schroth to the Tree Committee. He would ask for a motion at the next meeting.
Mayor Cerino stated that he would like a motion to reappoint Ruth Menefee to the Tree Committee. Mr. Stetson moved to reappoint Ruth Menefee to the Tree Commission, was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino asked for a motion to appoint Cynthia Saunders to the Tree Committee. Ms. Kuiper moved to reappoint Cynthia Saunders to the Tree Committee, was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino asked for a motion to reappoint Lanny Parks to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Rev. Tolliver moved to reappoint Lanny Parks to the Zoning Board of Appeals, was seconded by Mr. Stetson and carried unanimously.
Mayor Cerino asked for Ward Reports.
Mr. Stetson stated that there were signs posted at the Dog Park thanking Wayne Rickert and Dave Slama of Rebuilding Together Kent County for their work on the exercise equipment. He said that the Dog Park needs lime and fertilizer and he was looking into prices. The Friends of the Dog Park will pay for the work.
Mr. Stetson stated that he was downtown this weekend and everyone seemed to enjoy the HP Festival.
Rev. Tolliver stated that the Carpenter Park at Washington Park is coming along nicely. He said that grass was growing in and the basketball court is now in place.
Rev. Tolliver stated that he attended the Bay Bridge Study presentation last week and it looked as though a final decision on a third bay bridge span would not be made for some time.
Rev. Tolliver stated that he was looking forward to a quarterly budget report and hoped he would get it in time for the next meeting. Mr. Ingersoll stated that they did not have all the figures in for the quarter yet.
Ms. Kuiper stated that the mural work has begun at East Coast Storage on Flatland Road. She said that Jimmy Reynolds was leading the charge on the art project being painted Kent County schoolchildren.
Ms. Kuiper stated that the annual Halloween parade will take place on November 2, 2019 at 10 a.m. Ms. Kuiper reminded the Council that they were asked to be judges at the parade. Mayor Cerino stated that he would not be able to judge due to Downrigging Weekend. Rev. Tolliver stated that he has an out of town engagement and would not be in attendance.
Ms. Kuiper stated that she needed volunteers for the Tea Party Festival.
Ms. Kuiper stated that Tom Martin from the Book Plate received an award for service from Comptroller Franchot followed by a nice reception.
Ms. Kuiper asked for donations to the Farmers Market for those in need through the “Go Fund Me” page.
Ms. Kuiper stated that she wanted Acting Chief Dolgos to know that he and the other officers were appreciated by the citizens of Chestertown and if she could make up in any way for what he had to sit through this evening she would.
Mr. Foster stated that he met with Acting Chief Dolgos last Tuesday, arriving 10 minutes after the Chestertown Spy article was released. He said that he could feel the anxiety of those in the office and was glad that he was there to talk the officers through it. He said that the discussions going on have nothing at all to do with performance or lack thereof, it was a discussion of finances.
Mr. Foster stated that he attended the MML meeting and discussed the tax differential with representative of other towns. He said that while there are only three (3) counties in Maryland that do not receive a differential or rebate there were some counties that received very little and believed that they were due more. He said that he spoke with Mayor Dawn Jacobs this morning who said that Rock Hall was watching with interest what happens with Chestertown on this matter.
There being no further business and no other questions or comments from the audience, Mr. Stetson moved to adjourn the meeting at 9:37 p.m., was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan Chris Cerino
Town Clerk Mayor