State of the Town of Chestertown
STATE OF THE TOWN: 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.
The Town of Chestertown and the rest of the world have now endured a Covid 19 pandemic that has persisted for two years. This virus has been the dominant theme in every part of our lives. Its physical and mental impact on society will be felt long after the pandemic has passed.
We carried on with the guidance and help of the Kent County Health Department. Vaccinations were developed and administered to all who would accept them. Our bi-monthly Monday night meetings went virtual to the familiar “Zoom” format and only recently went back to meeting in person.
Toward the second half of 2021 we were finally able to enjoy a few events that had been cancelled in 2020. Events like the Jazz Festival, Downrigging Weekend, Santa’s Arrival at Thanksgiving, Christmas parade and Dickens Weekend were all successfully held.
A primary reason for this annual address is to give our citizens an understanding of the general financial health of our Town. Despite the recession, there has been a notable influx of homebuyers to Chestertown and the latest census shows that we have grown at 5% over the last 10 years while the surrounding county has decreased by that same amount. Last year’s audit showed significant gains in the fiscal year-end fund balance and revealed that property and income tax revenues had increased over the previous year. This is clear evidence of an upward trend in our local economy, as is the number of building permits for new infill construction on our streets, and strong property sales. The FY2021 audit for the Town of Chestertown was completed on October 28, 2021, by Lindsey & Associates, LLC of Towson, Maryland. The audit showed the Town to be in strong financial condition with total net assets over liabilities in all departments of $19,667,576, up from $19,034,763 in 2020.
The Town continues to retain 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.
On July 22, 2021, the Town received a major additional financial boost with the receipt the first half of its estimated portion of the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) of 2021. A check in the amount of $2,206,248.38 was received from the U. S. Treasury and deposited in an account separate from the Town’s General Fund account, for use in accordance with ARPA requirements. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress last March to alleviate impacts of Covid19 and the economic recession.
All Town departments: Administration, Executive, Police, Street, and Visitors Center are operating at or near full employment while fully completing their mission. The proprietary funds: Utilities Commission and Chestertown Marina, are staffed and operating within their budgets. All our departments deserve the respect of the community for the great job they do.
The Council experienced an unexpected challenge on April 6, 2021, when Mayor Chris Cerino resigned as Mayor. The Council elected me to finish out the Mayoral term and filled my vacancy in the First Ward with former Councilman Sam Shoge, who had moved to the First Ward after his term in Ward 3. It was a smooth transition and Sam’s past experience as a Councilman was a huge plus. Chris Cerino did an amazing job as Mayor as Chestertown. His steady guidance pushed the Town’s enormous task of rebuilding the ramshackle marina to its successful completion. He was a tough act to follow, and I would like to publicly thank him for his many years of service as Mayor and as a member of the Chestertown Planning and Zoning Commission.
A major issue that consumed a lot of Mayor Cerino’s time and mine has been the decades old oil spill at our local Hospital. In the spring of 2020, there was an unauthorized shut-down of the pump and treat system at the Hospital for almost 2-months and the previous consultant to the Hospital failed to notify either the Maryland Department of the Environment or the Town. The Hospital released the consultant in charge at that time and hired a new one: Gannett Fleming. Since then there have been several productive meetings between the Town, MDE, the Hospital and their consultants with substantial improvements in transparency. During these meetings the dialogue concerning a Pilot Shutdown proposal has continued with a three-fold focus: Protecting the Town Water Supply, Restoring Public Confidence, and Minimizing Unnecessary Expenditures. The Town has reviewed the proposed plan, carefully expressed our concerns and is now working to assure that our concerns are effectively incorporated in any final plan.
The following are some specific highlights of 2021
- NEW CONSTRUCTION: Four new single family detached homes and six new townhouse units were approved last year with a total reported value of $2,334,158. Major commercial construction continued in the Chestertown Business in 2021 with the Dixon Boss building and the new YMCA being completed by year’s end. In the Downtown, exciting reconstruction and expansion has continued on the three hundred block of High Street. The total value of all permits, large and small, commercial, and residential, totaled $14,206,370. There was a total of 195 building permits issued in 2021, which is fifty-three more than were issued in 2020.
- CHESTERTOWN MARINA: In 2021 our marina had a surprisingly good year during the pandemic, providing slips for 496 transient boater arrivals, including 793 overnight stays. The marina was also host to a very successful Downrigging program. Paul, our Marina Manager, continues to do a fantastic job working with new and returning boaters, establishing protocols for running the facility, and training a young and welcoming staff. This year we look forward to also hosting the Tea Party and Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival, along with a number of other special annual events. As of today, we have already booked five yacht club cruises for 2022 and the marina maintains an extensive waiting list of boaters desiring a seasonal slip.
- CHESTERTOWN BUSINESS CAMPUS: On the opposite end of town, Dixon Valve is doing spectacular things on its Business Park Campus. The Campus itself is a 79-acre parcel annexed by the Town in 2016 as part of Chestertown’s 1,187-acre Enterprise Zone. This year they finished their third major new facility: a 100,000-square-foot BOSS Manufacturing Building.
- YMCA: The 57,000 square foot YMCA recently completed on the corner of Scheeler Road and Haacke Drive is already a major addition to Chestertown and to Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties. Even Governor Hogan wanted to come and see our new YMCA.
- WILMER PARK: A Community Parks and Playground Grant was received in the amount of $160,000 for playground equipment to be installed at Wilmer Park. After intense scrutiny by the Recreation Commission and members of the community, a design was chosen by Burke Design and the playground installation should be finished in Spring of 2022.
- AJAX PARK: 2021 brought forth many discussions and debates on the small pocket park along the rail trail known as AJAX Park. After several meetings with the Recreation Commission and the neighbors surrounding the park itself, a compromise was reached to allow a sixty-six-foot court especially designed for younger players and an adjacent Tot Lot.
- RAIL TRAIL: Phase IV of the Rail Trail is under construction utilizing a Maryland Bikeways grant of $169,000 which was received to complete the last section of trail with a match that was much more affordable for the Town. This project was bid out in 2021 and is now being completed.
- FARMERS AND ARTISANS MARKET: The Farmers and Artisans Markets have continued their Saturday mornings on the streets from the upper part of the 200 block to the lower part of the 300 block of High Street. This expanded street arrangement allows the separation needed to meet Covid protocols and has created a popular attraction in the center of town. Our compliments to the managers of both markets.
- LONG RANGE STATUS OF THE HOSPITAL: We welcome Dennis Welsh and Laura Wilson, the new staff brought into help transform our hospital into a facility better tailored to the needs of a rural area with an aging population, but the local “Save the Hospital” group still expresses their concern about the disappearing functions at the hospital center…
- CURB APPEAL, GARDEN CLUB: This was another banner year for Curb Appeal and the Garden Club. Even though Covid19 stopped so many things from happening in Town, Curb Appeal and the Garden Club still had the Town looking spectacular all year long.
- POLICE DEPARTMENT: Acting Chief Dolgos retired in September after 30-years of valuable service to our community. After narrowing down 38 applications for the Chief of Police position, the Town was fortunate to hire Ronald Dixon who was sworn in on September 29, 2021 and hit the ground running. He has continued to show the Town that he is the right man for the job.
- EQUITY ADVISORY COMMITTEE: The Equity Advisory Committee fulfilled its 14-month charge which assisted the Mayor and Council with the implementation of Chestertown Unites Against Racism, a comprehensive program designed to 1) educate the community about its history pertaining to race relations, 2) pursue legislative reforms that address systematic racism in the community, and 3) promote unity, equity, and inclusivity amongst all residents. We thank this committee for their hard work and will continue to pursue these goals.
- REDISTRICTING COMMITTEE AND RESULTS: The Mayor and Council appointed an eight-member Redistricting Committee in February 2020 to study the existing ward boundaries, populations, race population by ward, and recommend a fair and balanced reapportionment of the four wards. Although 2020 Census was still not completed when they were expected, the Redistricting Committee completed their work on March 15, 2021 and their recommendations were accepted by the Council. An ordinance creating the new ward boundaries was introduced on April 5, 2021 and enacted on April 19.
- PUBLIC ARTS DONATION: The Town of Chestertown accepted twenty-four art sculptures through a generous private donation. The sculptures will be received gradually over the upcoming years 2022 and 2023 and a Public Art Committee was established to oversee the complexities of receiving the art and placing it throughout town in appropriate locations.
- ARPA ADVISORY TASK FORCE: After receiving the first installment of the promised $4.4 million in ARPA funds, the Mayor and Council formed an ARPA Advisory Committee on December 6, 2021, to assist in reaching out to the community, evaluating proposals, and making recommendations for the best use of some of those funds.
- VISITORS CENTER: After being shuttered until May 2021 due to Covid, the Visitors Center is back up and running, having hosted over 3,800 visitors since June. July saw the most visitors with 667 and we hope the numbers of visitors continue to increase with decline of Covid.
- STAFFING: The Town typically has thirty-eight full time employees and three part time positions. In 2021, we worked with only thirty-four full-time positions filled. Our employees do an amazing job of providing services to all 5000+ taxpayers living on 25 miles of roads.
REQUESTS OF THE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS: The Mayor and Council continued to follow a formal process of asking the Kent County Commissioners to consider two major requests:
- TAX DIFFERENTIAL/TAX REBATE:
While Chestertown greatly appreciates $42,000 provided by Kent County as a “grant in aid” this year, the Maryland Department of Legislative Services reports that Kent County is one of only 3 counties in Maryland that does not provide a Tax Differential or Tax Rebate. The other 2 such counties being Worcester County, home to Ocean City, and Wicomico County, home to the city of Salisbury. Unfortunately, the current “grant in aid” is far short of the estimated million plus dollars that Chestertown residents save the county each year by paying for our own Street Maintenance and Public Safety while paying the same county tax rate as everyone else.
The purpose of Tax Differentials and Tax Rebates in Maryland is to compensate for the double taxation incurred by residents of its municipalities when they pay both Municipal Taxes and the full tax rate for County services but typically do not receive equivalent Street Maintenance and Public Safety Services from the County.
- HOTEL TAX FOR AIR BnBs: Another meaningful loss of revenues to the Town (and to the hotels, motels and registered Bed and Breakfasts in Chestertown) is the loss of hotel tax fees that many Airbnb’s are not paying to Kent County. Not only do these private short-term rentals generally avoid the hotel tax payments, but they also take rental business away from businesses that dutifully pay that tax. At Kent County’s request, the Town passed Ordinance 04-2020 Establishing Chapter 138 Registration of Non-Owner-Occupied Short-Term Rentals requiring anyone running an Airbnb or other private short-term rental to register with the Town as the first step to paying the Hotel Tax to Kent County. This tax is then reimbursed to the Town of Chestertown and is used to help fund the tourist operations at the Visitor’s Center.
GOALS FOR 2022:
- Keep tax rates stable while maintaining our chartered service responsibilities
- Continue to stress and ensure that racism cannot continue in our community
- Protect the Town’s drinking water wells at all costs
- Work with business community to improve local economy and enhance employment options
- Collaborate closely with Washington College faculty, staff, and students to help make Chestertown a real college town rather than simply a College within a Town
- Aggressively market the Chestertown Marina and work with downtown business owners to develop cross-marketing strategies to encourage visiting boaters to patronize their stores
- Revitalize and support our events, festivals, and celebrations that bring our Town to life
- Repave or repair streets as part of an efficient comprehensive, long-term plan
- Work with Washington College to design and identify funding for a waterfront walk along the Chester River on College-owned lands between Wilmer Park and Radcliffe Creek
- Work with the medical community, Eastern Shore delegation, Kent County Commissioners, and local residents to advocate for retention of vital services at our local Hospital
- Pursue funding for construction of a true Community Playground in Bailey Park
- Work with leadership in the Chestertown Police Department to chart a course that ensures the best public safety that is financially sustainable
- Improve collaboration with other local governments in our area
- Develop strategic plans to continue improving the quality and efficiency of town services
- Survive during COVID 19 and assist our Town in getting vaccinated against COVID