Painting Over The Rot

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



One response to “Painting Over The Rot”

  1. 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.