MAYOR AND COUNCIL
FEBRUARY 7, 2022
Mayor Foster called the meeting to order at 6:53 p.m. In attendance were Councilmembers Tim O’Brien, Tom Herz, Jose Medrano, and Meghan Efland, W. S. Ingersoll (Town Manager), Kees de Mooy (Zoning Administrator), Jennifer Mulligan (Town Clerk), and guests.
Mayor Foster asked if there were any additions or corrections to the minutes of the Mayor and Council Meeting of January 18, 2022. Mr. Herz moved to approve the minutes of the meeting of January 18, 2022, as presented, was seconded by Mr. O’Brien, and carried unanimously.
Mayor Foster stated that the operating funds on hand amount was $ 2,328,224.13.
Mayor Foster asked for a motion to approve the payment of the bills. Ms. Efland moved to pay the bills as presented, was seconded by Mr. Herz, and carried unanimously.
Mr. O’Brien asked if the Visitors Center was part of Town Hall or an addition to Town Hall. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the Visitors Center was owned and built by the Town of Chestertown and accounted for separately similar to the Utilities Commission and the Marina. Though it was named the Kent County Visitors Center, it was not a County owned or operated entity.
Mayor Foster introduced Darran Tilghman of the Chestertown Environmental Committee for a presentation. Ms. Tilghman stated that the committee likes to give an update quarterly on their priorities and to see what they can do to help the Mayor and Council. Ms. Tilghman stated that Mr. O’Brien will be the liaison to the committee on behalf of the Council. She thanked the Council for allowing them to select a member to serve on the ARPA Task Force and said that they nominated Owen Bailey.
Ms. Tilghman stated that some of the things the committee was working on were the expansion of electrical vehicle charging stations in Chestertown, adding that Chestertown already have more charging stations than any small town on the Eastern Shore. They were also working to include solar energy and walkable and bikeable streets. Ms. Tilghman stated that they were expanding awareness of recycling pick-up in Town and drop off of unusual items that can be recycled at the Farmers Market. They were hoping to pair recycling cans next to all public trash cans. Ms. Tilghman stated that food security was important, and they were working to help people with SNAP benefits. Priorities were also to maintain and expand the tree canopy in Town and support the Riverfront Heritage Walk. The committee is investigating alternatives to mosquito spraying and an Ordinance supporting pollinator meadows in yards. They were also working on stormwater management issues. Ms. Tilghman stated that they would seek Sustainable Maryland certification and were working on the 2022 Earth Day Festival, trying to make it even better than last year’s event.
Ms. Efland stated that she would like to see a pamphlet distributed to the public outlining what can and cannot be recycled and the reasons why. Mayor Foster thanked Ms. Tilghman for all the work that they do. He said that he would like for the Environmental Committee to investigate the issue of the hazards of lead paint in historic buildings and reasons why modern replacement alternative materials might be allowed by the Historic District Commission for safety.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that he would like to schedule a special meeting from which the council would go into executive session to interview the final two (2) candidates for the position of Town Attorney. The Council decided to hold the special in-person meeting (not virtual due to the fact that meeting would have so few people and spacing would not be an issue) on Tuesday, February 15th at 5:30 p.m.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that the Town had recently dropped down to a low of thirty-three (33) employees, and he said that he thought that something had to be done to assist in retention of employees. He asked that the Council consider using ARPA funding to award a single payment premium pay to town employees and/or a percentage raise. Mr. Ingersoll stated that he was updating the 2012 Town Compensation Study but that will take time. He added that he personally would forgo any benefits that were awarded to the employees through a raise and/or bonus.
Mr. Ingersoll recommended a one-time $5,000.00 premium pay award to all employees using ARPA funds to compensate them for their work through the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that this would be an expenditure that is allowed under the ARPA guidelines for spending.
Mr. O’Brien stated that Mr. Ingersoll sent out information and agreed that this was an opportunity to adjust salaries as a cost-of-living increase now because the Town was behind in salaries. He said that in addition, a more in-depth conversation and adjustment could occur at budget time. Mayor Foster stated that if a cost-of-living adjustment was not given, the employees were earning less than they should be due to inflation.
Mr. Herz stated that a premium pay bonus would come out of the ARPA funds and asked if the salary increase would also come from those funds. Mr. Ingersoll stated that he proposed funding it from ARPA as well since it was permitted under ARPA until at least 2024.
Mr. Herz stated that he had concerns over using ARPA funding for salaries. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the salaries would not be perpetual, but it would put the employees back on track. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the Town would be able to afford the salaries after 2024 because of the recovery being experienced where assessments and building permits are up, the Town is more than holding its own on funds on hand and in the banks were unusually high. He said that the financial future looked bright for the Town. Ms. Efland stated that she would like to use general revenue funds to fund salary increases. Mayor Foster agreed.
Mr. Herz asked if there was a calculation done of the losses that Chestertown suffered during Covid. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the State government did the Town’s loss calculations for the Town after the Town submitted 2020 information under State request.
Mr. Medrano moved to approve a $5,000.00 bonus through the ARPA funds for Town employees. Mr. O’Brien seconded the motion for discussion purposes.
Mr. O’Brien stated that he was not comfortable with $5,000.00 across the board because he felt it was a significant sum above what other bonuses were given in other municipalities. He suggested $1,000.00 to $1,500.00. Mr. Medrano stated that these funds were not to be based on merit, but to help the employees recover from 2020 and similar packages were given to small businesses for their employees. He said that the employees made themselves available to serve during the pandemic and should be compensated for it. Mr. O’Brien stated that he understood that this was a thank you for work beyond, but he was not comfortable with $5,000.00.
Mr. Herz stated that he agreed something had to be done for employees for their work during the pandemic and said that he felt as though $5,000.00 was high and felt arbitrary. He said that the police already received emergency pay. Ms. Mulligan stated that the police officers received an additional $400.00 per month for 10 months in hazard pay that came from the Cares Act with the County sending the money to the Town, not from Town monies. No other departments in the Town government received any type of compensation to date.
Mayor Foster asked what the bonus was for the County employees. Ms. Mulligan stated that there was at least one round of bonuses last Christmas in the amount of $2,800.00 which matched what the police had been given to that date from the Cares Act. That was before ARPA funds came about.
Mr. O’Brien asked about matching the funding that was given by the County. Ms. Efland stated that she would agree to that and then look at another round of funding at budget time.
Mr. Medrano moved to amend his motion to allow for a $3,000.00 one-time bonus to all employees and to revisit the matter in the future to discuss a potential second round of payments, was seconded by Mr. Herz and carried unanimously.
Mr. Herz stated that he thought the Council was on the right track giving a baseline to each employee and then taking a harder look at how they want to provide additional funds to employees in the future.
Mr. O’Brien moved for an immediate cost of living increase of 5% across the board to employees out of the general fund, was seconded by Ms. Efland and carried unanimously.
Mr. O’Brien stated that he would like to discuss moving forward with additional adjustments at budget time. Ms. Efland stated that the COLA was at 5.9% for this year and the Town has not kept up with COLA percentage raises in past years. Mr. Medrano stated that he thought the increase was in an acceptable range at this time.
The Council thanked the employees for seeing the Town through the pandemic. Mayor Foster stated that the Sheriff’s Department were given a substantial increase with a 6% cost of living increase and then 12% on top of that. He said that Chief Dixon has done a marvelous job and the Town was going to have to see what they could do to retain employees in that department. Ms. Efland stated that this had to be looked at across the board for employees in all departments. Mayor Foster stated that the street crew salaries needed to be reviewed.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that the steps taken tonight were something that needed to be done and showed good faith. He said that the allegiance from the employees comes in several diverse ways.
Mr. Ingersoll stated that the next meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 22nd at 6:30 due to the President’s Holiday on Monday, February 21st.
Mayor Foster stated that he would like to think about going back to in person meetings soon, with provisions in place for limited attendance and following other Covid protocols. He said that he would also like to discuss the time that meetings will start.
Mayor Foster asked Mr. Herz to read a Proclamation declaring Monday, February 14th as Covid-19 Frontline Responder Day in Chestertown and Kent County, thanking first responders for their work during the Covid pandemic. Mr. Herz stated that all the municipalities in Kent County and the Kent County Commissioners were joining in with similar resolutions.
Mayor Foster read a Proclamation declaring Monday, February 7, 2022, as Chestertown Volunteer Firefighter Day, thanking all firefighters for their service, especially with the fires over the last few weeks in Town. He said that everyone should recognize how much the firefighters are depended upon in our community.
Mayor Foster stated that the next discussion was on the ARPA Task Force. He said that he asked each Councilmember what their priorities are for the funds.
Mayor Foster stated that he thought infrastructure should be focused on first. He said that the upgrades to the water plant are underway, and he would like to investigate a study on the underground piping system. Other ideas he had are to help the homeless population and the need for broadband in Town.
Mr. O’Brien stated that he would like to line up priorities for the Task Force. He said that he withdrew his request to revisit ordinances so that he could have time to look at the insurance issues that go along with them. He said that his priorities for ARPA funds are addressing stormwater issues and street repair. He said that cellphone and wi-fi connectivity are needed. Mr. O’Brien stated that safe pedestrian and bike passage are necessary to get to the YMCA, adding that some of the sidewalks in Town need repair. He said that Town Hall has immediate needs that should be met. Mr. O’Brien stated that the funds should be equitably distributed throughout Town. He also suggested a full-time grant writer and someone to oversee the ARPA funding.
Mr. Herz stated that he did not have specific projects in mind but said that he wanted to support his constituents and all residents in general, but he thought that they should prepare for what Covid may bring. He said that he thought that they should think of ways to use this money as a force-multiplier in Town by partnering with various groups to sensibly create affordable housing, or support businesses if there was another Covid shutdown. He said that this was a once in a lifetime situation and they had to think of ways to ease the burden of the general fund while thinking more broadly about how the funds could be used creatively and talking with the Health Department in ways to prepare for what may come next.
Mr. Medrano stated that it was good to prepare for potential future issues but thought if something of this nature happened again there would be more assistance from the federal and state level. He said that funds should be utilized to maximize safety in ways of infrastructure by installing sidewalk and curb or a temporary walkway for pedestrians and bicyclists, especially on Flatland Road from Coventry Farms to Cochran Glass. He said that he thought public bathrooms in the downtown were necessary in a suitable spot to be maintained by Town personnel. Mr. Medrano suggested establishing a fund for minority owned businesses for seed capital and/or a revolving loan system. Mr. Medrano stated that something in the Upper High Street area to create economic activity in the form of a commercial kitchen or other local products from vendors could be sold in a permanent open market. Establishing a permanent homeless shelter was another idea as was moving the Town street department to another area more suitable to their function.
Ms. Efland stated that the Family Dollar, Kim’s Nails and Beverly’s had been impacted by the large fire a couple of weeks ago. She thanked the first responders and others in Town that helped.
Ms. Efland stated that she thought that recommendations from the supervisors of all departments was needed first before money was spent. She said that street paving was needed throughout Town. Actions that promote strong and smart growth was important as well. She said that recreational or cultural venues and safe passage via walking and biking through Town was important.
Mr. Herz moved for the following slate of nominees be appointed to the ARPA Task Force:
Mayor’s Appointment: Charley Athey
First Ward: Sandra Bjorke
Kate Van Name
Second Ward: Bob Altieri
Third Ward: Ted Gallo
Fourth Ward: Myra Butler
The motion was seconded by Mr. O’Brien and carried unanimously.
Mr. Herz stated that the are still two (2) vacancies on the Task Force and there will be an additional member appointed by Mayor Foster and Mr. Medrano.
Mr. Herz stated that he would be on vacation for the next meeting, and he would like to meet with the Task Force sometime in early March. Mr. Foster stated that he would like clarification from the Town Attorney on how funds can and cannot be used.
There were no requests from the public to speak on the agenda.
There being no further business, Ms. Efland moved to close the meeting at 8:50 p.m., was seconded by Mr. O’Brien and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan David Foster
Town Clerk Mayor