MAYOR AND COUNCIL
JANUARY 18, 2022
Mayor Foster called the meeting to order at 6:30 p.m. In attendance were Councilmembers Tim O’Brien, Tom Herz and Meghan Efland, 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 4, 2022. Mr. Herz moved to approve the minutes of the meeting of January 4, 2022, as presented, was seconded by Ms. Efland and carried unanimously.
Mayor Foster stated that the operating funds on hand amount was $ 2,424,100.16.
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.
Ms. Rebecca Flora, Ms. Rebecca Murphy and Mr. Sam Shoge and were present to discuss the formation of Upper Shore Community Development Partners. Ms. Flora stated that their organization was started to bring additional opportunities to the area and to work with existing organizations by bringing them together to avoid duplication of their efforts. Mr. Shoge stated that there were challenges the community was facing in advancing equity and the vision of this group was to have a community where all members of the community have equal access to housing and business opportunities.
Ms. Murphy stated that the Upper Shore Community Development Partners was formed to uplift every person in the community and focused on community-wide equity. She said she felt that there was an economic disparity in the area affecting housing and business opportunities. She said that proposed 501(c3) would help the disadvantaged population address a variety of issues from housing to training and beyond.
Ms. Flora stated that the issues and challenges were deep in rural areas but not as noticeable as you would see in more populated areas. Ms. Flora stated that concentrations of poverty exist, and she felt that some of the older housing developments are slow to renovate their rental units. She said that there were unique challenges in the area, and they would try to bring their expertise in housing and other areas to help those in need. Ms. Flora stated that the term “partners” was used in their title because this is a collaboration and they used “Upper Shore” because they would like to expand out of Chestertown into Kent County and include Queen Anne’s County. She said that a regional organization might be able to do more so they planned to begin in Chestertown and hopefully build on their success.
Ms. Murphy stated that they were proposing this entity as a collaborative endeavor and will include all levels of stakeholders on their board. She said that they would offer to partner with the group formed to oversee the ARPA funds and other volunteer committees of community stakeholders, experts and supporters. Ms. Murphy stated that they have spoken with an array of organizations in Chestertown and Kent County with a goal of creating alliances and strategic partnerships.
Ms. Murphy stated that their first focus would be to cultivate small business entrepreneurship with grants for business start-ups, planning and access to loans or direct funding, all while working with SCORE, the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street and the Upper Shore Regional Council. This partnership would remove the challenges faced by most new, small entrepreneurs by providing them access to experts such as lawyers and bookkeepers that they would need to be successful,.
Ms. Murphy stated that they planned to focus on home ownership by expanding capacity and assuming risk. They would collaborate with developers to work on multiple houses at once to allow for increased negotiating strength and work with existing organizations to help people prepare for home ownership. She said that she felt there was little help to guide people through the process of becoming a homeowner through down payment assistance, loans, and advice. Ms. Flora stated that finding a more efficient way to share data and explain it to potential owners was a big part of the partnership.
Ms. Murphy stated that a long-term priority was to become engaged in real estate development in the Town and County; to organize a database of available land and existing properties to buy; and to hold key properties to maintain control over how the community is developed. She said that by serving as a developer they could work with other non-profits to expand their pool of funding that would provide a long-term income stream to fund the operations of the organization in the future.
Ms. Murphy showed a timeline of the work that they have done to form the partnership and the needs they are focusing on to date. She said that she was looking forward to working with the Town on their programs.
Mr. Herz asked who they were speaking with at the County level when discussing the housing part of the program. Ms. Flora stated that on the real estate side they were not going to be overly aggressive right now because it takes time to build partnerships. She said that she thought this piece would happen as they worked on other aspects of the program. Ms. Murphy stated that she has been working with the Local Management Board and with Kent County Economic Development to date.
Mr. O’Brien stated that he was looking forward to learning more about their program and becoming involved in the future. Mayor Foster thanked the presenters for their presentation and applauded their creativity. Ms. Murphy stated that by helping organizations expand what they were able to do they would be able to move things forward. Ms. Flora stated that by working together they can get better results.
Mayor Foster asked if everyone might be going for the same grants. Ms. Flora stated that when you can apply for funding on a larger scale there are more resources available that can be tapped into. Ms. Murphy stated that a challenge in any community is that there is often a small pool of donors but being able to access Federal or State funding would allow them to lessen their reliance on the small but generous local pool.
Mayor Foster asked what the source for startup funds for office and staff would be until grants come in. Ms. Murphy stated that they were still working on that, but they have had assistance so far with the development of their program. Moving forward, they would like to access some federal funds coming to the community outside of the regular budget that were earmarked to be used for this purpose. Mr. Shoge stated that he was part of this project because it would be a force multiplier for the community on different distinct levels of need. He said that there were major federal funders specifically set aside to fund their initiatives and introduce them to this concept.
Mayor Foster stated that the Town was going to be extremely careful with the ARPA funds received as there was needed infrastructure in Chestertown. He asked what portion of the start-up funds they looking to receive. Ms. Murphy stated that at this point they did not know the amount of funding they were requesting but would like to have a budget together in a month or so. The goal was for all stakeholders to understand what the CDP would do for the community.
Mayor Foster stated that he would like to educate himself and the other Councilmembers and asked if they could identify other communities where this type of program has been beneficial. Ms. Flora stated that she would gather information and even set up conference calls if he wished. Ms. Efland stated that there was a major lack in grant writing and identifying grant opportunities in the community. She said that she would like to see other communities where this did work as it would give them an insight on what could be expected.
Chief Ron Dixon presented the police report for December 2021. He said that there was a 60% increase in calls for service in December. An arrest was made on an attempted rape allegation and after the suspect was released he was taken back into custody for violation of probation and will remain incarcerated until trial. Chief Dixon stated that he participated in a classroom gift exchange at Garnett Elementary School for the teachers and attended many other meetings and calls in the community in December. Chief Dixon stated that four (4) officers would be attending the Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) in February.
Mr. O’Brien asked if there was any update on the incident at 7-Eleven. Chief Dixon stated that he has potentially identified a suspect, but the investigation was ongoing with help from the Sheriff’s Office and the Kent County Narcotics Task Force. Mr. O’Brien asked if there was an anonymous tip line. Chief Dixon stated that there was an anonymous tip line for both calls and emails.
Mr. Herz asked how the officers were holding up in the face of increasing Covid numbers. Chief Dixon stated that everyone was taking extra precautions and were doing well. There were two incidents of infection in the office, but it had not spread any further to date. There were nine (9) officers on the force and three (3) vacancies. Mr. Herz thanked Chief Dixon for pursuing the Crisis Intervention Training.
Mr. Herz asked how the officers were trained and equipped to interact with a rape crisis. Chief Dixon stated that each officer is trained every three (3) years on sexual assault and victims’ rights. He said that referrals are made to counseling services and other resources available. He said that the incident in December was not random in any way.
Mr. O’Brien stated that he would like to revisit the Ordinance on skateboards in Town. He said that there were some ordinances that were outdated and need updating, and he thought this might be an opening to discuss some of the more outdated laws in Town. He said that he also had complaints on the plastic bag ordinance not being followed. Mayor Foster stated that he agreed some ordinance should be updated and said he would have this discussion placed on the next agenda.
Mr. O’Brien stated that a discussion should be on the next agenda regarding salary increases. Mayor Foster agreed.
Mayor Foster stated that Alice Ritchie resigned from the Historic District Commission and that the Commission was not at two (2) vacancies. Mr. Bogden stated that there were two (2) vacancies on the Recreation Commission as well. He said that a list of vacancies from each Commission and Committee would be posted.
Mayor Foster stated that he hoped people were able to reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King yesterday.
Mayor Foster stated that the Equity Advisory Committee has fulfilled its 16th month mission and many wonderful things have come out of it. He said that he would like to look for ways to continue the excellent work in the community moving forward. He encouraged members of the committee to speak before the Mayor and Council to discuss the accomplishments and what was needed to continue their efforts.
Mayor Foster stated that Covid outbreaks were happening and the Omicron variant is at its peak, noting that the highest rate of infection from Covid in Kent County was reached just last week and this week shows the second highest rate since the beginning of the pandemic. He said that mask wearing was critical in these times, as well as employing the other safeguards to prevent the transmission of Covid.
Mayor Foster stated that Mr. O’Brien asked that liaisons from the Council be put on other Town committees. He said that if members of the Council were interested they could do so, with caution, as committees are appointed to advise the Council. A member of the Council should not be putting forth opinions. He said that he would like to discuss it more at the next meeting.
Mayor Foster asked for Ward repots.
Ms. Efland stated that the YMCA had their grand opening last week and there were over 1400 members to date at the Chestertown location.
Ms. Efland stated that the Town crew has been doing a tremendous job keeping up with the weather.
Mr. Herz stated that 98 Cannon Street Riverside Grill caught fire and he said that it was terrible and a loss to our community. There was no update on the cause of the fire or when the restaurant will reopen.
Mr. Herz stated that Covid is running rampant and asked that people get vaccinated and wear masks. Mr. O’Brien stated that he was exposed to the virus, is vaccinated, and is now quarantining. He said that Garnett Elementary is going back to online learning because of a large outbreak at the school. He asked that residents check on their elderly neighbors who may need help. He said that first responders are overwhelmed and 911 should only be used for emergency calls.
Mr. O’Brien stated that his constituents could now reach him at email@example.com.
Mayor Foster stated that there were no requests from the public to attend but the Recreation Commission was present and would like to speak. He said that he was happy to listen to what had to be said but there would be no votes taken at this meeting. Mr. Bogden stated that the Council already approved the playground at Wilmer Park, and he was not surprised that the cost of the equipment went up since the approvals were given. He said that the contract has not been signed, which was an administrative issue. Mr. Bogden stated that he thought a fundraising campaign would be successful to raise the additional $30,000 necessary to purchase the equipment. He said that the contract must be signed, and that pricing will not be going down anytime soon. He asked that the contract be signed first thing in the morning. Mayor Foster stated that the current price of the playground equipment is $30,000 more than the budgeted amount for the project. He said that there was a series of hoops to go through at the County and State level before signing a contract and inflation played a part in the increase. In terms of delays, one of those delays was to make sure that they returned to the Recreation Commission to discuss options. He said that a unilateral decision could have been made but he thought the contract could be signed with the commitment for the Commission to raise funds and or match them with the ARPA funds. He said that he discussed this with Mr. de Mooy and Mr. Ingersoll who agreed. Mayor Foster stated it was not known until last week that ARPA funds could be used for this project.
Ms. Danielle Cudone asked for clarification on ARPA funds. Mayor Foster explained that the funds were given by the Federal Government to municipalities across the nation in response to Covid related losses, but the regulations had been relaxed to allow for more varied use of the funds in the community.
Mr. Nevin Dawson stated that he was unclear on fundraising because if the contract was signed tomorrow morning it put the Town on the hook for the costs. Mayor Foster stated that regardless of the outcome of fundraising he was confident that the Town would have the money for the installation of the playground.
Ms. Carol Niemand stated that she has spoken with Mayor Foster and Mr. Ingersoll regarding the homeless situation and said that they were addressing the issue at Shrewsbury Church for the time being. There were homeless being sponsored by the Church at the Driftwood Hotel. Rev. Henry Sabetti stated that the two (2) homeless men in Town are staying at the Driftwood compliments of a grant that Shrewsbury Church was able to find, and they would like to help other homeless in Chestertown and Kent County. He said that there were about a dozen homeless in the community with nowhere to go during daytime hours and they were looking to put together a program for housing and other forms of assistance. Mayor Foster asked how long the support will continue. Rev. Sabetti stated that Mr. Willie Gale was working on that, and the Driftwood had provided them a discount on room rates. He said that several residents at that establishment have had life challenges and seem to fall between the cracks as they are not able to access social services or the homeless shelter as it exists. There were also those under the influence of drugs and alcohol that have lost or cannot find housing. He said that the hotel is now having problems due to the population that frequents it.
Rev. Sabetti stated that there will be a meeting at the Driftwood on Friday, January 28th from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. where tables will be set up outside with brochures of services, food and other supplies. Chief Dixon stated that they are helping as best they can and there was a collection site in the vestibule at the police department for gloves, hats, and winter coats. Ms. Niemand stated that she was receiving a box of canned food for each of the residents and a warm meal on the weekend for the three (3) people they are housing.
Mr. Herz stated that there were several agencies performing an audit of homeless in the area. Mr. O’Brien asked that Rev. Sabetti reach out to him as he would like to learn more and find ways to help more with these issues moving forward.
Mr. Willie Gale stated that he created a presentation on how to move these people from the street. He said that everyone has different issues, and it is going to take direct intervention to have the program be successful, adding that that he reached out to many agencies who want to get involved. Mr. Gale said that the working poor will go to Social Services but the homeless population will not. He said that nobody wants to be homeless, but the people in this situation do not know how to change it.
Mr. Gale stated that extraction from the street was the first step and then it was important to get to know the person. He said that they need help in the way of finding a job or helping them with social security and/or disability and training them to live independently. He said that those in the Driftwood now need financial support until May because they may not make it any other way. He said that there was help from the private sector but without additional help he thought that it was only a matter of time until they were back on the street. He said that monitoring was necessary and someone had to oversee them on a day-to-day basis. Rev. Sabetti stated that he could not keep these men at the Driftwood without paying for them to stay there as it would cause a financial hardship for the owner. He said that he thought this was an endeavor the entire community could get behind.
Rev. Sabetti stated that he was looking into “Go Fund Me” and other opportunities for funding. He said that these people need a wholesome environment and some type of permanent housing. There was also a need to help with accessing services that the homeless just do not have. Mr. Herz stated that he was hoping the ARPA funds could be used, and the advisory committee was going to oversee it. He said that he would like this to be the first issue of the task force and asked that they connect with him to make the arrangements. Mayor Foster stated that the ARPA funds are a one-time payment and while people are sympathetic they are not able to continually fund an initiative of this nature. Mr. Gale stated that seed money was needed.
There being no further business, Mr. Herz moved to close the meeting at 9:04 p.m., was seconded by Ms. Efland and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan David Foster
Town Clerk Mayor