Agendas, 2024, Mayor and Council, Town Agendas & Minutes|

STATE OF THE TOWN OF CHESTERTOWN

2024

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 builds on a solid foundation and continues to move forward. 

The State of our Town is Thriving!

I want to sincerely thank all those who have helped make this past year successful.  This includes county and state elected officials, members of our Council, our wonderful staff, and the myriad of volunteers who devote so much time to all our activities.  We could not have done it without you.

The historical rationale for an annual State of the Town address is to provide the citizens with a picture of the financial health of our Town.  In 2023, the Town’s overall financial picture was strong, with a consistent revenue stream sufficient to meet our operational and capital project costs.  Following residential growth that started in 2022, the assessable base of the town further grew as new single and multi-family housing was built and improved around town, including in the historic district.  In fact, Town-wide, there were 37 new residential units, which was more than in all the rest of the county.  Overall, there were 243 permits handled by our staff last year, totaling over $12,000,000 in value and yielding permit and inspection fees of $84,743. 

American Rescue Plan Act: In 2023, we began allocating the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that had been awarded to several local non-profit organizations to improve and expand opportunities for economic development, community investment, housing, and education for town and county residents and businesses. Chestertown’s implementation of this program was remarkable for at least two reasons:

  1. The Mayor and Council agreed to allocate up to 45% of the funds we received to local nonprofit organizations serving our community and
  2. We sought recommendations from a citizens’ advisory task force in determining the organizations and the amount to be allocated.

A summary of the American Rescue Plan funds allocation is attached as Appendix A.

Comprehensive Plan Update: The Chestertown Planning Commission initiated a plan update on July 19th. Until the comprehensive plan review and update are completed, all upcoming meetings of the Planning Commission will start at 6:30 p.m. Special meetings may be arranged as needed.

Maryland’s Land Use Article states that planning commissions have the function and duty to update their municipality’s comprehensive plan at a minimum every ten years and present it to the local legislative or governing body for its consideration and adoption. Chestertown’s Comprehensive Plan serves as a guide to public and private actions and decisions to ensure the development of public and private property in appropriate relationships. Public participation and input are vital to ensuring the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan consists of sections dealing with land use, housing, transportation, community facilities, mineral resources, development regulations, areas of critical state concern, sensitive areas, fisheries, implementation, development capacity analysis, municipal growth, and water resources. Public participation is strongly encouraged.

The Planning Commission annual report is attached as Appendix B.

The curbside recycling program was suspended in 2022 for several reasons, including a significant cost increase and the limited number of potential users.  While engaging with potential vendors remains a priority, finding the right partner for this program has been difficult. Residents are reminded of the recycle bins available on Morgnec Road and encouraged to use them for their household recyclables.  

 

The following are some other specific highlights during the past year:

 

Water Plant Grant: In August, Chestertown received notification that the Town’s request for a Maryland Department of the Environment grant exceeding $7,000,000 to rehabilitate the existing Water Treatment Plant was approved. As part of the grant, monies have been allocated for the PFAS/PFOS removal process to be incorporated into the Water Plant Engineering Redesign and construction project.

Marina Dredging Grant: The Town was awarded a $726,800 grant from the Department of Natural Resources to do maintenance dredging at the Marina. The project will be put out to bid this summer, and dredging will only occur after the Marina shuts down for the winter. The dredged material will be taken to the wastewater treatment plant spoils area at the north end of the second treatment pond, which is no longer used.

Community Parks and Playgrounds Grant:(Applied for in August – pending decision in May 2024) The town staff applied for a Department of Natural Resources grant totaling $264,089 to install two playground structures for children 2-5 and 5-12 at Louisa d’Andelot Carpenter Park to augment the recreational opportunities in the historic African American neighborhood of Washington Park. The playground will feature shaded climbing, balancing, hanging, dexterity, and sliding equipment mounted on a pervious rubber surface that provides fall protection. If funded, the playground equipment will be supplied and installed by All Recreation of Virginia. Project completion is scheduled for September 30, 2024.

State Highway Administration Stakeholder Group and Pedestrian Public Safety: Throughout the year, the town has participated in monthly stakeholder meetings with State Highway Administration District 2 representatives. The town’s delegation included two interested residents, the mayor, the chief of police, and the town manager. The group’s discussions include long-term projects requiring the state staff to research and advocate for funding for several immediate improvements, such as approval to place speed feedback signs in the state right of way. 

Farmers and Artisan Market: Under the leadership of Market Manager Julie Medrano, our farmers’ market continues to expand and grow in popularity every year. The artisan market provides local artists and crafters the opportunity to display their products for sale and for the general enjoyment of the public. Thank you to Rhonda Grover for her management of the artisans’ market. 

The Environmental Committee, a regular participant at the town farmers’ market, continues to advise and assist the town on various issues. In 2023, they took the lead in supporting mosquito management efforts by providing environmentally responsible materials to replace the town’s previous insecticide spraying program. They were instrumental in advancing the town’s research into energy efficiency and renewable energy sources for cost savings at the town capital facilities.

Chestertown Heritage Trail: In 2023, progress continued on this valuable recreational, educational, and environmental project. Working with our partners, Washington College, and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, Phase I, the trail’s design neared completion by year’s end. The Chestertown Heritage Trail is a transformative project to improve public access to the picturesque wetlands along the Chester River, foster cultural and historical education, and invigorate the regional economy. Over two decades in the making, this project is firmly rooted in the Chestertown Comprehensive Plan and the Public Arts Master Plan. It has garnered endorsements from the Chestertown Town Council and previous panels of Kent County Commissioners.

Sultana: The Lawrence Wetlands Preserve and staff housing project was completed in 2023 and brought expanded educational and recreational opportunities.  The Lawrence Wetlands Preserve (LWP) is an 8.5-acre urban nature center featuring a variety of ecosystems, including upland forest, swamp, marsh, shrublands, meadows, and a freshwater pond. The Preserve is located just outside the Historic District in Chestertown within easy walking distance of the Sultana Foundation’s Holt Education Center. LWP programs enable students to explore freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems while learning how land use in the watershed ultimately impacts the health of Chesapeake Bay. The Preserve is also an ideal site for implementing student-led action projects.   

Chestertown Police Department: Among the department’s 2023 highlights are receiving an award from the Sante Group as the Kent County Agency of the Year for their work with Crisis Intervention Training, participating in Special Olympics Maryland events, and hosting the first-ever Law Enforcement Torch Run in Kent County. Implementing the body-worn camera program and receipt of several grants will help better protect Chestertown. As Chief Dixon says, while there have been struggles, especially with staffing levels, the positive far outweighs the negative.  

The 2023 Annual Police Report is attached as Appendix C.

Strategic Plan:  Councilmember Tim Obrien and local Planning Consultant Elizabeth Watson led the development of a Strategic Planning Process. In January, the mayor and council received the final results of the three-year Strategic Plan questionnaire. Respondents included 41 organizations and addressed topics such as infrastructure, housing, transportation, energy, and the environment, as well as a variety of town concerns such as staffing and budgeting. The final analysis yielded over 750 responses coded by issues raised in each respondent’s answer. The Mayor & Council are grateful to all for the effort involved in providing ideas and perspectives that guided their deliberations. By mid-year, staff began working on addressing the goals outlined in the Strategic Plan.

The final questionnaire results are attached in The final report questionnaire responses as Appendix D.

COG\ESAM Achievements: Councilmember Tom Herz and Rock Hall Mayor James Cook have made major accomplishments in revitalizing the Kent County Council of Governments (COG) as well as the Eastern Shore Association of Municipalities. These developments will enable all our organizations to learn more from each other and operate more efficiently.

Main Street: Main Street Chestertown is one of the town government’s most valued partners.  Their success in advancing business development and growth and sponsoring signature community events such as First Friday and the Holiday Parade are essential for the town’s economic, social, and cultural growth.  Their 2023 annual report describes in more detail their specific impact; in 2023, Main Street Chestertown began the process of developing a downtown master plan to address community needs such as street-side tree canopy, better signage and lighting, and integrating pedestrian and bicycling with vehicular transportation. Opportunities for community participation in developing this plan will occur throughout 2024. 

2023 Annual Main Street Report attached as Appendix E.

Town Management: After nearly 40 years of faithful service, our Town Manager, Bill Ingersoll, retired last Spring. While we appreciate all that Bill has done for our town, we are also very pleased with our new Town Manager, Larry DiRe. Larry also has extensive experience in town management, including two towns on the Delmarva Peninsula and a Master’s in Public Administration.  He has hit the ground running in Chestertown and has already purchased and moved into a new home.

Our Festivals: With the deepest gratitude to all our wonderful volunteers, we are fortunate to have five major festivals each year.  These activities celebrate our history, bring new visitors and shoppers to our town, and bring joy to children of all ages. 

  • Tea Party
  • Juneteenth
  • Legacy Day
  • Down Rigging
  • Dickens of a Christmas

 

Ongoing Consultation between Chestertown and Kent County:

The Mayor and Council continued to follow a formal process of asking the Kent County Commissioners and the Kent County School Board to consider three significant requests:

  1. 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.

  1. Short Term Rentals:

Another significant loss of revenues to the town is the loss of hotel tax fees that many Airbnb’s and other short-term rentals are not paying in Kent County.  Not only do many of these private 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.  Recently, the county has taken steps to help address this problem, and we are actively considering stronger regulations.

  1. Replacement of the Old Middle School with a New Middle School in Chestertown:

After the School Board and its consultants determined that replacing rather than rehabilitating our Middle School would be more cost-effective, the central question became choosing the best location for the school.  We were very pleased with the thorough and objective selection process used, followed by majority support from the County Commissioners and a unanimous decision by the School Board to build the new Middle School in Chestertown. The next step, of course, is to assist the County in raising money for that school.

GOALS for 2024:

  • 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 efficiently 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 help ensure their financial health, improve the local economy, and enhance employment opportunities.
  • 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 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.
  • Coordinate 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 planning and construction of a true community playground at Bailey Park.
  • Work with 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 to our mutual benefit.
  • Carry out our newly adopted Strategic Plan.

 

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