CHESTERTOWN MAYOR AND COUNCIL
MAY 2, 2023
Mayor Foster called the meeting to order at 12:12 p.m. In attendance were Councilmembers Tim O’Brien, Tom Herz, Jose Medrano, and Meghan Efland (by remote), and W. S. Ingersoll, Town Manager, Amanda Miller, Director of Finances, and Lynda Thomas, Town Clerk and guests.
Ms. Miller reviewed the budget for the Marina. She noted that there was a surplus of $640 and no 2023-2024 budget requests for the Marina were submitted. The Town is still covering the debt service for the original bond payment to purchase the marina and the general fund is still paying the USDA balloon payment for the latest renovations.
Mr. O’Brien asked how much the Marina’s budget decreased since the 98 Cannon fire. Ms. Miller noted that not enough time between renovations, Covid, and other factors to allow for a full year of data to determine. Mr. Ingersoll stated that there had been no decline in slip rentals.
Ms. Miller reviewed the budget for Utilities. She noted there is a surplus of $4569 before factoring in depreciation. If the water and sewer rates were to increase by 5%, it would net a little over $80,000 which, still would not level out the utility budget.
Ms. Miller stated that she would work on calculations for a water and sewer rate increase with projections of five (5), seven (7) and ten (10) percent to present at the next meeting.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that when homeowners call for a water or sewer line repair, the Town charges the property owner a maximum of $1,500. If the property owner calls an outside company, like David A. Bramble, the charged would be close to $7,500. The labor, the copper, the materials, and the road repair are being heavily subsidized which after several repairs, the Town takes a big hit. He stated that the rate increase would not cover the loss of funds for line repairs. The rate increase only covers the increasing costs of chemicals, equipment, products, and hardware that is used to treat the water and sewer.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that there were $1.2 million in ARPA funds set aside for the Richard Drive utility building. The Town would get a long-term loan for the remaining amount.
Ms. Miller noted that a six percent (6%) raise was not factored into the utilities budget but funding for two (2) certified vacancies was factored in.
Ms. Miller reviewed the budget for the general fund. She noted it had balanced budget with a $1,000 surplus. That includes:
- a six percent (6%) raise across the board;
- funding for the Town Manager position;
- funding for three (3) Chestertown Police Department (CPD) officers, with full benefits;
- curbside recycling for 800 stops at $115,200;
- raise for the trash collector;
- $6000 raise for Julie Medrano, Farmer’s Market Manager;
- Tax differential study at $3000;
- Single audit for the ARPA funding;
- All vacancies are fully funded with benefits for families;
- 15% increase for property and liability insurance;
- Workman’s compensation;
- CPD overtime at $45,000; which was adjusted down from $65,000;
- $9000 increase budgeted for the trash collector
Ms. Miller noted that the furnace at the town hall building will need to be replaced. Mr. Ingersoll stated that it should cost between $25,000 to $30,000.
Mr. Herz asked if the public safety budget went up 17.5%. Ms. Miller noted that last year she had vacancies in the budget, and the Mayor and Council had decided to use the money for salary increases. She noted there were four (4) salaries being funded in this budget, which come with full benefits and a 37% pension.
Mr. Herz asked if the Town pays for Chestertown Police Department (CPD) academy. Chief Dixon stated that they have never had to pay for academy since he has been with the Town but that may change in FY2024 and that $10,000 was budgeted for training and education. He noted that full academy is $3,800.
Chief Dixon stated that the CPD A/C unit is over twenty (20) years old and recently had a service checkup. The technician reported that parts are hard to find and the freon is no longer available and there is no conversion. The technician gave a cost of about $40,000 to replace. Chief Dixon stated the unit is running fine right now but it is something that needs to be budgeted.
Chief Dixon stated that the CPD has a leak caused by a roof/siding/gutter issue and received an estimate for $100,000 to fix. Mr. Ingersoll asked about putting out a Request for Proposal (RFP) now and get it repaired before the next budget cycle.
Mr. Foster asked how many county employees currently had offices at the CPD and do they pay to use the space. Chief Dixon reported that there were two (2) county employees from the Sheriff Office Narcotics Taskforce and two (2) Maryland State Troopers assigned to the taskforce with offices at CPD. The Narcotics taskforce pays for the office phone and internet connection and supplies a bottled water system which is at a cost of about $400 a month. He noted that the Natural Resources Police (NRP) have offices but uses the space infrequently and that there was no agreement for reimbursement or funding.
Mr. Ingersoll asked Chief Dixon if he needed vehicles. The Chief stated they have three (3) vehicles that are aging out (2008, 2010, 2012) and one vehicle currently at the shop that just had a new electronic component installed, and it still won’t start. He stated three (3) new vehicles would be ideal. Ms. Miller noted that a CPD vehicle cost roughly, $40,000 plus another $20,000 to outfit that vehicle and that there were no vehicle replacements in the budget.
Chief Dixon stated that he would be satisfied with ten (10) officers, but there is a need for twelve (12) officers and the numbers back that up. Currently, the department has nine (9) until Sgt. Lozar retires at the end of May. There is one (1) applicant getting ready to graduate and is about to come on board and another applicant that is uncertified and would graduate sometime in December. Ms. Miller stated she had budgeted for those two (2) officers plus two (2) more. Mr. Herz asked Chief Dixon if it was feasible to remove one (1) officer position to fund the purchase of a car. Chief Dixon agreed with this option.
Ms. Miller noted that $15,000 was budgeted for the 2024, July 4th fireworks. Mr. Foster stated that they could look into getting the community to provide donations for 2024 fireworks.
Ms. Elfland asked about paving and Ms. Miller stated that street paving was not in the budget. Mr. Ingersoll stated that he would like to pave streets under the existing contract, now that prices have dropped back down, and designate unspent surplus for this these projects.
Mr. Ingersoll noted that the street sweeper has been repaired twice at a cost of $15,000 each time and is limping along and needs to be replaced. Mr. Sappington stated it would cost $335,000 to replace the street sweeper.
Ms. Miller reviewed the requests from the community groups and asked how they wanted to fund them with the $8,000 surplus. She asked if the groups that had been awarded ARPA funds, should they be funded more. Ms. Miller stated that in speaking with the accountant, there should be $1.5 million in the capital account. The Town has only $500,000 in the capital account. She stated that if the Town gives out money to groups that already received ARPA, the Town will not have a surplus. She noted that not that long ago, they didn’t know if they would make payroll and does not want to experience that again.
Ms. Efland asked about the Enterprise Zone tax phase in. Ms. Miller stated that the Town should get $43,000 in September.
Mr. O’Brien stated that he felt it was a luxury to fund the County Visitor Center at $100,000 a year. He stated that he would love to move all of that and hire a person to go after grants. He stated that we should be asking the County for funding the visitor center. He is happy to support it during peak season but there is no one in there in the winter. He stated that he feels there’s no reason a person should be sitting there marking who comes in and not have them being paid to be a grant writer at the same time. It’s a luxury we can’t afford. Mr. Foster asked how much the County actually pays? Mr. Ingersoll stated that the County pays 100% of the hotel tax, an average of $165,000, to the Town, so that the Town could perform tourism which started in 2002. He feels that it would be simpler to change the name to the Chestertown Visitor Center and that the center does serve a necessary purpose.
Mr. O’Brien stated that he would like to have somebody full time, going after grants, going after funding. He stated that he feels like we’re missing out on a lot of opportunities for infrastructure. If we’re going to have someone in there waving at people who generally use the restroom, why not have them as a full-time employee doing something? He stated it’s just a warm body in there, honestly. He stated, it’s a beautiful center but it’s not giving us $100,000 worth of benefit, we need extra bodies to help the administration to do stuff.
Mr. Herz stated that he feels those comments minimizes what the Visitor Center brings to Chestertown. It may not be perfect, but we should be careful about saying that the people in the visitor center are doing absolutely nothing. Mr. O’Brien stated that they are doing wonderful job but it’s a luxury and that the crowd of people coming in there are specifically there to use the restroom. He stated that the Town has so many other priorities and should ask the county to fund the visitor center for six months. He stated that we should be getting more benefit for the person who is there eight (8) hours a day when they literally have minimal interactions with a lot of people.
Mr. Foster stated that he agrees, it is a luxury. The person who is work in the visitor center is outstanding, but questions, is it worth $100,000 value. Ms. Miller stated that three (3) part-time employees are funded at $39,600 and the upstairs is rented out at $22,800 a year.
Mr. Herz stated that the fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget for the visitor center is $90,000. If you take out the rental income, that is roughly $70,000, net cost to the Town. The Town is bringing in $177,000 in hotel tax. We cannot go to the county and ask them to split the $65,000. Ms. Miller noted that the County could possibly take the 100% hotel tax off the table.
Mr. O’Brien stated that he would like to close the visitor center and rent out the whole building as an income and use that money to pay a full-time employee, in town hall, to be doing all of the extra supplemental work that is necessary to bring in more grant income and help relieve the pressure on everybody.
Mr. Foster stated that before they vote to close the visitor center, he would like to know whether the hotel tax is really tied to it.
Mr. Foster asked if there was enough work for a full-time grant writer and what other grant opportunities can be brought in. Ms. Miller stated that hiring a grant writer that would also help staff was a good idea.
Ms. Miller stated that curbside recycling was in the budget for 800 households at $115,200. Ms. She noted that the recycling setup at Vault storage is going well and are no longer getting a lot of calls asking when curbside is starting. Mr. O’Brien stated that curbside recycling is an excessive amount of money that does not benefit all the residents. The Do-It-Yourself recycling is working at the moment. He would like to look into charging for the service. Mr. Foster feels there is a demand for curbside recycling. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the company has said they would offer curbside directly to the town residents and charge the same $12 a month. Ms. Miller asked if they think people will still want curbside recycling if they must pay for it.
There being no further business, Councilman Herz moved to adjourn the meeting at 2:26 pm. The motion was seconded by Councilwoman Efland and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Lynda Thomas, Town Clerk David Foster, Mayor
May 2, 2023
The Mayor and Council will hold a budget workshop session on
Tuesday, May 2nd beginning at 12:00 p.m. in Town Hall.
The public is welcome to attend.