Gren Whitman says :
Liz Smith: Thanks for your report/analysis of last Thursday’s Town Council meeting. Below is a list of budget-related questions that Mayor Jones was unable to answer — or refused to answer.
MR. JONES, in your letter to the Kent County News, you wrote: “We continue to explore ways to address budgetary concerns.”
QUESTION: What “ways” have you explored?
MR. JONES, in your letter to the Kent County News, you wrote: “While an ‘easy fix’ would be to raise taxes on our citizens, a majority of Council members are committed to first pursuing and exhausting every other possible option.”
QUESTION: Because this is the first we’ve heard of this, what options are you “pursuing”? What options are you “exhausting”?
MR. JONES, in your recent letter to the Kent County News, you stated: “Rock Hall currently faces the same challenges of municipalities throughout Maryland.”
QUESTION: Can you identify another town on the Eastern Shore with its credit frozen and which is facing having its loans called? Any other town in Maryland?
MR. JONES, in your most recent State of the Town address (May 17), you reported that the town’s finances are “challenged.” You also reported that the Town has a lower unrestricted reserve compared to prior years as well as an increasing amount of debt. You also reported that it is time to consider increasing the property tax rates and utility rates for the next fiscal year. Yet, on Facebook, you continue to post that you will fight against raising property taxes and utility rates.
QUESTION: So, which is it? Will you support raising property taxes as needed? Yes or no. Will you support raising utility rates as needed? Yes or no.
MR. JONES, in September 2015 (four years ago), you and Vice Mayor Kuechler were given a proposal to raise revenue from new sources. This estimate of $66,925 in new revenues included: Permits for Temporary Signs ($17,000); Using the Town Web Site ($3,625); Public Events Reimbursements ($10,300); Property Transfer Fees ($30,000); Campsite Rentals ($3,000); and Advertising Space at Town Ballparks ($3,000).
QUESTION: What steps have you taken to follow up on this proposal for new revenue?
MR. JONES, in your recent letter to the editor, you state that the reason the Town is in a financial mess is because of the cost of the upgrades to the clarifier and the Catholic Avenue project. However, those were planned expenses.
QUESTION: Why wasn’t any action taken at budget time to account for the increase in debt service?
MR. JONES, there are continuing complaints about brown water.
QUESTION: Why do I have to pay 30% more for brown water?
MR. JONES, that taken-out-of-service Town police vehicle is still parked in your driveway.
QUESTION: Have you purchased this car from the Town? If not, when does the Town plan to sell it? Actions are louder than words.
Painting over the rot is not a practice to be recommended and that’s pretty much my take away from the Town meeting on Thursday night. This subject actually came up and I’ll get to that.
For a change, this meeting was well attended. The reason being is that there are some weighty problems facing the Town and some good citizens were interested in answers. Word has finally surfaced that the Town is in dire financial circumstances. I will refer to Gren Whitman’s synopsis of that meeting to register my thoughts.
There will be a public hearing on February 14th at 7:30 to discuss proposed Ordinance 2019-01 which would “increase municipal water and sewer rates by 30 percent”. Why a 30 percent increase? Why not a 10 or 20 percent increase? Good question. When the Mayor and Council were queried they really couldn’t answer that one. Neither did the Town Manager. There was discussion and a vote taken to approve a study of the Town utilities by a firm called SERCAP. There wasn’t much information about SERCAP, but the study is apparently at no cost to the Town. This study will not provide answers about the need for the cost increase before the hearing on February 14th, so we’re still pondering that. Studies can be a very good thing but I often think that most members of this administration confuse a study with a solution.
It seems that there are many long overdue repair and maintenance problems that need attention at the wastewater treatment plant, the water plant, streets and the Municipal Building. A new roof at the loosely estimated cost of $25,000.00 is needed on the building. There was discussion of very expensive filters at the wastewater treatment plant. I seem to recall this from the Willis administration. Councilman Nesspor, explained that a lot of the current problems have been around for years. Interesting. Ronnie Fithian will present a detailed list of needed repairs and maintenance at the next Utilities Board meeting. Frankly, I think it’s pretty grim.
Mayor Jones admitted that the Town’s lender had been monitoring the financial condition of the municipality. What he didn’t quite admit is that the lender has closed the spigot on any further lending at this time. To the uninitiated, if the lender cuts you off – you’re in trouble. Add to this the fact that the auditor for the Town has expressed real concern about the financial picture. He is to submit the annual report, which was to be completed by Fall. Thus far, there is no report in hand. This seems unusual and perhaps, troubling.
Some of these issues came to light during the public comment portion of the meeting. A number of citizens were asking pointed and legitimate questions. Are property taxes going to be raised too? No real answer. Is the Town looking at alternative sources for financial advise and funding? Mayor Jones said he has talked to the Maryland Municipal League (MML) and they were going to help. Help how? No real answer. A citizen with quite a bit of municipal savvy offered to sit down and help with solutions. That didn’t go over well. It seemed that there wasn’t much input from the citizens and taxpayers that was appreciated. In fact, there was some open hostility from one Councilmember. I was reminded why I grew weary of Town meetings in the past.
Now, to painting over the rot. There is a little ark boat fishing shanty that sits at the intersection by the flashing light. In spite of maintenance some years back; the vessel is in precipitously deteriorating condition. The person who donated and dedicated this vessel some years ago made an offer to take it back, pay for a restoration and move it to their property on the harbor where it could still be open to the public. Given the Towns dire financial circumstances; it would seem like a win-win. The Town has no further cost or responsibility and the little ark boat gets a new life, while being made accessible for folks to enjoy. A Councilmember admitted that the Town had been painting over the rot but they would have to think about it. There was some vague statement about the museum board and it will likely sit until it crumbles.
What was palpable at this meeting was the shock and dismay from the newbies in the audience. They couldn’t believe the lack of professionalism; the defiance from Town leadership when questioned and the number of issues that were not being effectively addressed. To those of us who have been around this block for awhile; there were no surprises. It’s just business as usual at Town Hall.
If you think that governments run themselves – think again. We have an election coming in May. We need change.
Submitted y Liz Smith
January 10, 2019
Present: Jones, Kuechler, Andrews, Edwards, Nesspor (Fithian, Dempsey, Wilson, Porter)
ACTIONS TAKEN BY VOTE TO:
- Approve agenda for meeting
- Approve minutes from November 8, 2018
- Approve introduction of Ordinance 2019-01 that would “increase municipal water and sewer rates by 30%”; public hearing set for 7:30 p.m. February 14
- Approve utilities rate study by Sercap at no cost
- Approve diverting $1,000 surplus from Community Legacy Streetscape project to fund the Main Street Mural project
ACTIONS TAKEN WITHOUT VOTE TO:
- Not request a Washington College intern this year
- Table discussion re: Pirates & Wenches event transportation
- Resident Kelley Reuwer received Community Spirit award
- With new well now on line, Town has two major wells
- Ark boat’s donor offered to rehab/restore it, possibly re-locate it; Museum Board to discuss and report back; Marine Restoration possibly could help
- Equipment for new playground has been delivered
- Excessive runoff from pipe running under water plant has been diverted to ditch
- Replacing wastewater plant filters to be addressed at next Utilities meeting
- Fithian to present prioritized list of utilities project at next Utilities meeting
- Considerable discussion during audience participation regarding Town finances, property taxes, utilities rates, possible new sources of revenue, offers of pro bono assistance for Town management, how proposed 30% utilities rate was determined; none of these questions were resolved
- Jones reports he and Kuechler are working with Maryland Municipal League to identify additional revenue resources
- Annual financial audit report delayed after auditor’s request for an extension
Compiled by Gren Whitman
FULL MEETING CAN BE VIEWED @
BE THERE or BEWARE
Your presence is important …… at the Municipal Building
The Rock Hall Town Council meeting scheduled for this Thursday, January 10, will be important for two reasons:
• It’s expected that the Council will discuss and then set a date for a public hearing on the proposal from December 3 to increase water and sewer rates by 30 percent; and…..
• It’s also expected that the Council will receive and make public the Town’s financial audit for Fiscal Year 2018.
Both the rate hike and audit will focus attention on Rock Hall’s precarious financial situation and both matters will be central to the municipal election on May 4, 2019 for Mayor and two Council seats, only FOUR (4) months away.
To view meeting on Live Streaming go to…..
SORRY…. OUR rockhall.com website is not up to date and we cannot post a link at this time for the upcoming meeting…..
ROCK HALL’S NEXT ELECTION is MAY 4th
In this week’s Kent News, Art Kendall, former Rock Hall council member, announced he will run for mayor in the May election. Kendall brings with him a depth of fiscal and business experience along with his lifelong love of Rock Hall and its culture. He possesses a strong desire to take the town forward.
“I have watched the town deteriorate steadily since I last held office with much dismay. In May, we have our town elections and a chance to vote for the seats of the mayor and two council positions.”
Kendall’s Letter to the Editor dated January 2, 2019….
“To the editor: It is with great distress that I see the turmoil that our town of Rock Hall continues to have in our local government since our Mayor Jay Jacobs left office.
I have been told that he left office with $500,000 in reserves. Today, our town has no reserves and it struggles to pay its bills at our lowest peak in July.
Our basic core services have been reduced with pressure to reduce them more. Our utilities are in need of unaddressed and overdue maintenance. Our own laws are ignored by the mayor, the majority of the council and our town management.
When I was on the council a few years ago, I tried to address these items but met stern resistance to address or correct these issues. After a year and a half of serving as a lone voice on these problems, I could see that I could not make a substantial difference with our situations and resigned my position.
Now our town is forced to face just how bad our finances are as our local bank has cut off our ability to draw on our line of credit with indications that they might call in our current outstanding balance unless something is done. That does not surprise me at all.
As a former executive officer and director of that bank …”
Full article in the Kent News…
Kendall’s Resignation Letter of October 13, 2016
October 13, 2016
Mayor and Council
Town of Rock Hall
Rock Hall, MD 21601
Dear Council members,
Three years ago I listened to all the contention and antics going on with the Mayor and Council and as a life long citizen of Rock Hall I was very distressed. I would go to work in Easton and people around me would say “Rock Hall’s in the news again” and my toes would curl. Having always been proud of my hometown no matter what was said about it in the newspapers or in other parts of the county, I became a little less proud.
I listened to both sides of the disputes and frankly I heard things from both sides that bothered me. As the election drew near, I knew we needed change. I was concerned who would run against the current mayor and was told that Brian Jones may run. I was content with that and quietly supported him. I considered running for council but did not because I thought my wife would not support me in the decision. After the election I found out that my wife was OK with that and applied for this position. My reason was to get Rock Hall back on a smooth track.
Things went well after the “honeymoon” period but shortly I found that my expectations for the town did not align with others on the Council. I saw that we were not following our own laws and I repeatedly said that we should follow our laws or change them. Efforts to make these changes were met harshly. We were ignoring many chapters of the town code such as the ethics commission, vendor fees, and even Robert’s Rules of Order that three of the present Council adopted just a couple of years ago. We do not enforce the zoning ordinance and allow many issues to be ignored. Our Mayor has appointed and sworn in people on boards without the expressed approval of the Council as procedure dictates in the Code. Most distressing is the public acknowledgment of our Mayor and Vice Mayor that they do not consider our Town Code as law but just a “guideline”. Our Code and ordinances were vetted with public hearings and proper procedure and I have the most utmost respect for our laws.
Our financial picture shows a serious lack of reserves to the point of almost running out of Operating Funds during the lean summer months. Our reserve balance in that account dropped to around $8000 and $11,000 during the last two years. Prudent reserves for a budget of our size should be over $180,000 according to The Government Finance Officers Association information provided to me from the Maryland Municipal League. I tried to discuss this and suggested we develop a policy to decide on reserve targets and a five-year plan to get there but investigating this was soundly rejected. Our town had adequate reserves during the time of Jay Jacobs but our previous Council and this Council is not looking to build our financial stability.
Instead of trying to let things smooth out from all our past turmoil, our Mayor is constantly charging forward with his own agenda without consulting with the Council. This includes applying for grants, creating committees, holding special events, spending money and many other things. When someone opposes his ideas he lashes back. There is contention within many parts of our departments and much of it comes with the extra workload that is born upon our employees. It is certain that we will loose key and good people from our employee ranks just as we have lost key and good volunteers from our committees.
When I look towards the remainder of my appointed term I have tried to see how I could help in once again becoming a law abiding town, with a strong financial position, and happy employees I cannot see it. When I look beyond this term I cannot see it. So with this in mind, I hereby submit my resignation from the Rock Hall Town Council as of October 31, 2016.
Arthur E. Kendall