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.
Chestertown has suffered setbacks and made real progress. The State of our Town is Very Good!!!
2022 will always be remembered as the year that the Covid 19 fog that enshrouded our Town for almost three years finally lifted. Though the pandemic was not eradicated, there was an audible sigh of relief. Covid left enormous scars, but a certain cautious optimism has finally returned.
Our sincere thanks go out to the Kent County Health Department, institutions, and laboratories, which provided for our safety, trained us in safe practices, delivered vaccines, and thus found a way to slow the destructive march of Covid 19.
One of the early decisions made by the Council last year was to begin to meet in person again. Though the virtual meetings gave us a chance to make progress during a difficult period, it is always preferable to meet face-to-face when making important local decisions and conducting government business.
The historical rationale for an annual State of the Town address was to provide the citizens with a picture of the financial health of our Town. The Town’s 2022 audit showed dramatic gains in the fiscal year-end fund balance over the year before. Though these gains were primarily due to the receipt of over $2,200,000 of ARPA funding in 2021, even when those funds are removed from the equation, there is still evidence that income tax and state shared tax revenues are exceeding the past year’s high numbers and that real estate tax numbers are solid. In fact, the assessable base of the Town is sure to be favorably impacted by the record 31 new single-family homes built in one subdivision alone in 2022. D. R. Horton built the homes in “The Village at Chestertown” near the YMCA off Scheeler Road. After each house was completed, landscaping crews added amenities to the new homes creating an attractive streetscape. Town wide there were 37 new residential units, which was more than in all the rest of the county. Overall, there were 182 permits handled by our staff last year, totaling over $12,000,000 in value and yielding permit and inspection fees of over $90,000.
Brook Meadows I and II assisted apartment projects on Flatland Road, completed their comprehensive renovations of both projects, including more than 30 housing units in 2022.
For the interest of Town residential property owners, The Town continues to retain the Homestead Property Tax limit, 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.
All Town departments: Administration, Executive, Police, Street, and the Visitors Center operate 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 community’s respect for their great work.
Progress in Dealing with the Oil Spill A perennial concern of the Town has been the remediation of the oil spilled in the 1980s from a leaking underground storage tank under the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown. Two years ago, the environmental consultant charged with overseeing this process for the Hospital failed to notice that the recovery system was not functioning, thus further aggravating the negotiations surrounding the clean-up process. However, after the Hospital released the consultant in charge and hired a new one: Gannett Fleming, those negotiations substantially improved. Since then, there have been several productive meetings between the Town, the Maryland Department of Environment, the Hospital, and their consultants, with major improvements in transparency and trust. 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 and expressed our concerns. In the meantime, the Hospital allowed the Chestertown Utilities Commission to conduct our own Subsurface Investigation on the property using a private company (Apex). This study did not discover any additional problems, and we are presently in the midst of a Pilot Shutdown study which will be closely monitored.
Two Major Fires: At Washington Square Shopping Center, a fire claimed the Family Dollar Store and damaged two adjacent stores. By midyear, Washington Square was purchased by new owners whose plans for an innovative mixed-use residential and commercial facility had undergone initial review by the Chestertown Planning Commission and received preliminary concept approvals. Unfortunately, there is still no progress to report after the fire at the 98 Cannon Restaurant that also took place last winter. This is particularly serious because the condition of the restaurant also adversely impacts our marina, which surrounds the restaurant. Furthermore, our current understanding is that the restaurant will not be rebuilt by its present owner and is being offered for sale in its severely damaged condition.
The recycling program has encountered several major setbacks; buyers for recycled waste have gone down, costs have gone up, and the number of qualified vendors has declined dramatically. As a result, recycling igloos were placed in Town until a new recycling contractor could be found.
The following are some other specific highlights during the past year:
YMCA. 2022 was an exciting year for indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities in Chestertown. The new 57,000-square-foot YMCA held its grand opening with 1400 members enrolled. In November, the Council committed $5000 toward membership funding at the YMCA for local individuals who needed financial assistance to join.
The Town recreational parks: Wilmer, Bailey, Ajax, and Carpenter, were all enhanced in some way this year. In Wilmer Park, a sparkling new playground was completed and dedicated in August. It was named “Aunt Sarah’s Playground” in honor of a revered resident of South Queen Street nearby. Also, kayak storage racks were funded and built next to the launch area by the Pavilion and at the Marina. Along the Rail Trail, a colorful tot lot was built and named “All Aboard Park” to evoke the spirit of the train station and rail line that were in use for over 100 years nearby. In Carpenter Park, a grant was awarded through a county program to fund a new playset there. Lastly, in Bailey Park, a new pedestrian and biking entrance trail is now being constructed at the intersection of Rolling Road and Greenwood Avenue.
Main Street continues to advance the stature of the Town through annual events, grants, and initiatives. Their director, Nina Fleegle, launched a new website for Main Street Chestertown with a feature for trip planning and a walking map. They also implemented new marketing strategies, including digital ads, through a grant they received that was over $100,000. In conjunction with the Town, Main Street received a grant for security cameras in strategic locations in Downtown and along our waterfront. The cameras will connect with the police monitoring software.
A multi-street paving project bid in May of 2022. The bid was awarded to David A. Bramble, Inc. for a total of $913,995. The Town paved several major streets, like Haacke, Hadaway, Richard Drive, and Dixon Drive but had to pause the paving project because of the massive increase in the cost of oil brought on by the war in Ukraine.
Heron Point The Town passed Resolution 03-2022 to support the reissuance of a conduit bond to benefit the Heron Point Community.
Farmers Market Under the leadership of Market Manager Julie Medrano, our farmers market continues to expand and is much larger and far more popular now than before the Pandemic.
Curb Appeal and the Garden Club continue their efforts to beautify our town not only in the public parks but by establishing and maintaining the spectacular “Good Seeds Garden at Garnett Elementary School.
The Environmental Committee continues to advise and assist the town on a wide range of issues, including electric charging stations, recycling, mosquito management, and protecting our natural resources. This year they also inaugurated the Chestertown Environmental Award and named Ford Schumann as the first recipient for his decades-long work on recycling.
Sultana The Town supported the Sultana Education Foundation’s applications to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and the Maryland State Department of Education for Funding support for the Lawrence Wetlands Preserve and staff housing.
Chestertown Police Department All police officers will be required by state law to have body armor cameras by 2025. The department received a quote from Axon for 13 cameras, which would be leased over five years, for $20,156 annually, most of which will be covered by grants.
Public Arts Committee Eight of twenty-four (24) art sculptures, generously donated by private anonymous individuals, were placed in town under the supervision of the Public Arts Committee. Ultimately the 24 sculptures will be placed in Wilmer Park, Bailey Park, Fountain Park, Carpenter Park, Remembrance Park, at the Cerino Center, Gateway Park, the High Street crossing of the Rail Trail, the Kent County Libra ry, Garnett Elementary, Sumner Hall, the Kent County Arts Building, at The Bank at 211 High Street and in the privately owned pocket park at 105 South Cross Street.
The ARPA Advisory Task Force was formed 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. Kate Van Name was named Chairperson by the Council, and the committee began meeting on March 15. The Task Force met extensively during the rest of the year, receiving 34 letters of intent requesting a total of $5.8 million—far above the amount set aside for their recommendations. The Task Force carefully evaluated the proposals and provided final recommendations to the Mayor and Council regarding the use of $1.8 million received by Chestertown under the American Rescue Plan Act for various nonprofit organizations within our community.
Strategic Plan The Council began developing a new Strategic Plan for our town in the March of 2022 and culminated in a weekend strategic planning session on November 12 & 13, 2022. Elizabeth Watson facilitated an extensive survey distributed town-wide to nonprofit organizations within the town, town departments, and town staff. Survey topics included such issues as a safe and healthy community; a clean and healthy environment; a vibrant and inclusive community; affordable housing; a livable community; a thriving local economy; a connected community; a financially resilient town. Specific Items included stormwater management initiatives, trash and recycling, a town equity plan, a transportation plan, economic development plans for broadband access, and a comprehensive capital plan review. Also included was the subject of the town’s grant capacity; a tax differential for municipal residents in Kent County; how to make Council meetings more efficient; procedures for updating the strategic plan; and ways for the Town to advocate with state and federal representatives.
Our Festivals: With the Deepest Gratitude to all our Wonderful Volunteers
- Tea Party – Just 11 Days from now
- Legacy Day
- Down Rigging
The Mayor and Council continued to follow a formal process of asking the Kent County Commissioners to consider two significant requests:
- TAX DIFFERENTIAL/TAX REBATE:
The Maryland Department of Legislative Services reports that Kent County remains one of only three counties in Maryland that imposes double taxation on its citizens who live in municipalities and still fails to compensate them by providing a Tax Differential or Tax Rebate. This Double Taxation occurs when municipal residents are taxed for county services they do not receive, such as Street Maintenance and Public Safety Services, and then are taxed a second time to provide those same services in their municipalities. Virtually every other county in Maryland with municipalities has at least conducted an objective study to determine appropriate compensation, and it is time for Kent County to sit down with its municipalities to do the same.
- HOTEL TAX FOR AIR BnBs:
Another significant 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 rentals away from businesses that dutifully pay that tax. Therefore, 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 2023:
- Keep tax rates stable while maintaining our chartered service responsibilities.
- Continue to stress and ensure that racism must be overcome in our community.
- Aggressively seek grants to carry out and expand our ability to serve the public, create jobs, and fund capital projects beyond the normal reach of our town’s tax base.
- Protect the Town’s drinking water wells at all costs while providing potable water at an affordable rate.
- Work with the business community to improve the local economy, enhance employment opportunities, and help ensure their continued financial health.
- Cultivate a close relationship with Washington College to make Chestertown a united community that welcomes new citizens each year.
- Connect the Chestertown Marina’s visiting boaters with downtown stores and services.
- Support our events, festivals, and other celebrations that bring our Town to life.
- Continue to repave streets as part of a comprehensive, long-term plan.
- Work with Washington College to complete the waterfront walk along the Chester River on town and college properties from Wilmer Park to Radcliffe Creek.
- Continue work with the medical community, the Eastern Shore delegation, the County Commissioners, and residents to advocate for the retention of vital services at our local hospital.
- Pursue funding for the planning and construction of a true community playground at Bailey Park.
- Work with 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 to our mutual benefit.
- Carry out our newly adopted Strategic Plan.