Letter to Editor: Talbot County Revenue Cap Increase will Benefit Everyone

In a column that appeared in the March 18 Star-Democrat and the Talbot Spy, Councilmember Laura Price argues in favor of what she calls the “Price Penny Plan,” an increase of one cent in Talbot County’s current property tax rate, from 57.08Ȼ to 58.08Ȼ per $100 of assessed valuation. That’s an increase of slightly more than 1.75%, and would increase property tax revenues by about $672,112 a year.

That’s a good start. She also makes a good point about the education supplement: It benefits education alone, and no other county departments. But every department needs more money each year, and a meaningful increase in the revenue cap is needed to provide it. As I have said before, it might be tempting to think of calls for revenue cap reform as the whining of greedy teachers and school administrators. But as I’ve also said before, think again. An insufficient annual budget squeezes many county departments. An increase in property tax revenue would remind us that, as President John F. Kennedy once said, “A rising tide buoys all boats.” And since Ms. Price notes that, “the same services will cost more,” plenty of county departments (22 in fiscal year 2018, to be exact) could use that rising tide.

Granted, as Councilmember Price points out, education receives slightly more than half of the county’s annual budget. But every taxpayer is getting his money’s worth. For absolutely everyone has a vested interest in good public schools. Students and their parents are the most obvious stakeholders. Even those whose families are not in school have a horse in this race. In case of emergency, we all want firefighters, law enforcement and emergency medical services to be there when we need them. And we want them to be adequately staffed, trained and equipped. Adequate equipment includes, for example, police cars, ambulances and fire trucks that don’t break down on the way when you’re in distress. Adequate training begins long before public servants enter the police academy, EMT training or the fire academy: when they’re students in our public schools. The same is true of auto mechanics, nurses, computer technicians, and a host of other workers on whose specialized skills we all depend every day.

Talbot County is attractive to potential new residents because ours is the lowest property tax rate in the state. But beware of false economies. Savvy home buyers also appreciate the value of good schools and other public services. The current revenue cap, if not amended, will degrade the quality of our schools and other public services, making Talbot County less appealing – and home resale values commensurately lower.

This is no time to be penny wise and pound foolish. In fiscal year 2018, the final county budget came in $3,665,925 – 4.2% — below total department requests. So while the Price Penny Plan is a step in the right direction, $672,112 won’t cut it. (The “additional $3 million” the councilmember cites is based on four years of her plan.) A bolder step is needed. The County Council must find the political courage to put a larger increase in the revenue cap on the November ballot, and especially to close the CPI-U loophole.

Pete Howell
Easton

The David Hill Family Honored at Channel Marker’s 35th Anniversary Party

During Channel Marker’s 35 anniversary party held at the Easton Waterfowl Armory on March 3 , Executive Director Debbye Jackson, on behalf of the board and staff honored the family of Dr. David Hill for its exceptional family support of their son and brother who is a long time client and lives in a Channel Marker residence.

A large contingent of the Hill family were present to view a video that told the story of their love for Will.  “Not only does this family wholeheartedly support Will but they offer tremendous support of Channel Marker’s services to many adults and children in the Mid-Shore.”

Op-Ed: Talbot County Budget needs Moderate Growth by Laura Price

You may be wondering what all this talk is about our property tax revenue cap. What is it and why is this Council or anyone talking about asking our citizens to agree to an increase in property tax? Many years ago, Talbot County citizens voted to put in place a “revenue” cap (not a rate cap) of 2% or CPI-U (consumer price index), whichever is less to protect themselves from being taxed out of their homes due to property values rising so quickly. Talbot County did not have the Homestead Tax Credit which now provides protection and keeps our taxable assessment at a constant level for our primary residences.

Since then, times have changed, most notably, in 2010 when Talbot’s income tax revenues dropped from $31 million to $19 million, nearly a 40% drop in one year! That same year our property tax revenues were just under $28 million and the rate was 43 cents, the lowest in a decade. This was due to our revenue cap law that actually requires lowering the rates during times of increasing assessed values of real property in the County. It had been 55 cents in 2001 and is currently 57 cents in 2018.

I looked over my own property tax bills for the past 15 years. I was surprised by how much my total bill went down from 2003 (.553) to a low in 2010 (.432). My total payment decreased 18%! As a small government, fiscal conservative, I believe in low tax rates, but even I don’t think my property tax payment should go down. I’m happy if it stays the same. Today, in 2018, the rate and amount are almost exactly the same as 17 years ago. Think of all the additional resources that could have been put into our county had our rates simply remained the same. Then maybe we wouldn’t be talking today about this problem.

What else has changed? In 2012, the legislature in Annapolis passed a law that legally requires every county in the state to fund education each year in an amount that never decreases. No matter what happens in the economy or to county revenues or even if we found savings and efficiencies, we may NOT decrease the Board Of Education (BOE) budget ever.

I understand the principle. We all would like certainty in our budgets. We need to plan for the future and no one ever wants to have to live on less, but things change, economies change and tax revenues change. One assumes they will increase enough to meet our citizens’ needs. Sadly, this is not always the case.

So what else has changed? What is so dramatically different that a 1 or 2 percent revenue cap won’t be able to pay for? Education funding is always an issue. Each year the BOE asks for an increase, sometimes reasonable, sometimes staggering, and sometimes the state mandated escalator kicks in (up to 2.5%) but the 2012 Maintenance of Effort law does allow/mandate the county to break the tax cap solely to pay for increases in education funding. The county council has done just that 3 times in the past 5 years. The total property tax rate went up 5 cents per hundred, which is nearly a 10% increase in everyone’s property tax rate. This is not insignificant. This raised $3.7 million in additional property tax revenues, devoted solely to TCPS K-12 expenses. Total education funding is 52% of our budget or $43 million per year; this includes TCPS, Chesapeake College and debt service on county schools.

But these tax increases did nothing to help the other 48% of our county budget, which totals just over $40 million this year. So where does it all go? Public safety, including Sheriff, Emergency Services, Corrections and Volunteer Fire Departments are the largest at $17 million (20%). Even with this funding, Public Safety has significant unfunded, unmet needs to provide our citizens with the services they need and expect. Add in state mandated departments and our court system at $7.4 million (9%) and County functions which include Public Works, Planning & Permits at $5.8 million (7%), Health department at $2.4 million (3%), and our Roads department at $3.3 million (4%), which by the way used to be completely paid for by the state before funding was cut 90% about 9 years ago. That leaves about $4.8 million (6%) to pay for our Library, Parks & Recreation, Tourism & Economic Development and our Social Services and Aging programs. The grand total for FY18 is just over $83 million.

We have been able to provide all these county services within our property tax limits and only one small income tax rate increase in 2012 from 2.25% to 2.4%, after the economy plummeted. As the most fiscally conservative council member over the past 8 years, I have kept a keen eye on the budget and watched our expenditures, keeping them as efficient as possible, while meeting our essential needs.

The good news is our economy has recovered significantly. Our income tax revenues have come back to about $27 million per year, much improved over the $19m we dropped to, but still far from the high of over $31m. With a healthier economy does come an increase in costs, and the same services will cost more.

One of our main issues is keeping up with the costs of Public Safety and Emergency Services. As we have all seen recently, we must have a fully staffed and well equipped Sheriff’s Department to protect us. We need to have a more competitive salary scale because we are losing our most valuable and trained deputies to surrounding counties for better pay. The same thing is happening in our emergency services department. Our Paramedics and EMTs, who face intensive calls every day, are also lured away to nearby counties. With Talbot having the highest percentage of retirees of any county in the state, it is critical for us to continue this as our #1 priority. The request in this upcoming budget is approximately an additional $1 million and over the past decade, we have increased funding 60%; this need will continue to grow and outpace other county services.

At this point our biggest shortfall will be in capital expenses. Currently our annual debt service is about $3.9 million, but we have three big projects coming up quickly. The largest is Easton Elementary School which is currently in the design phase at a cost of $30 million. The debt service on that project alone will be approximately $2.4 million per year. The next project is a new Sheriff’s building. The county moved the Sheriff to our Talbot County Business Center temporarily to make room for a Central Booking facility that will allow law enforcement officers to get back on the road quickly. When that building comes down in the next 3-5 years for the airport, we will need to have a space ready for our Sheriff, at an approximate cost of $12 million, approximately $1 million per year for the debt service. Our Health department was identified many years ago as inadequate and should be replaced. The estimate is $8 million, about $650,000 per year in annual debt service. These three projects will add $4 million to our operating budget, doubling our annual debt service to $8 million. At this time, we have no revenue source to pay for them.

In coming up with a simple and reasonable way to solve our problem, my proposal (“The Price Penny Plan”) would be to do a penny increase per year + our 2% revenue cap and limit it to 4 years to keep the current cap in place. This would allow for some moderate growth in the budget to pay for these items specifically. It would cost the average $350k homeowner a modest $35 and a $1m homeowner about $100 per year. This could generate an additional $3 million plus the natural growth and get us closer to balancing our budget.

The citizens need to decide if they want the county to maintain or increase services and how much, if any, they are willing to pay. I, as your Councilmember, ask your help; to familiarize yourselves with our current budget and the future needs and revenue shortfalls. Let’s all try to figure out together how to move forward to keep Talbot County supported with the essential public services that you, the citizens deserve.

Laura Price is a member of the Talbot County Council

Tick, Tick, Tick: Talbot County Arts Council Grant Application Cutoff Is March 31

The Talbot County Arts Council reminds local arts organizations and programs about the deadline for applications for community arts development grants for arts activities that will occur between July 2018 and June 2019. The cutoff date for grant applications is March 31, and those selected will be notified by April 30.

The requested Arts Council funding must be matched on at least a one-for-one basis in cash by the requesting organization. An applicant must be either incorporated as a nonprofit in the State of Maryland, with IRS tax-exempt status, or government-related entity such as a library or parks and recreation department.

Application packets have been sent to organizations that received grants during the past two years. Packets are also available for downloading from the Arts Council=s website: www.talbotarts.org. Applications must be submitted electronically as email attachments in either Word or PDF format.

For further information or hard-copy application forms, contact the Talbot County Arts Council by phone 410-310-9812 or e-mail gearly@talbotarts.org.

Letter to Editor: Democrat Victory In PA Election – Does It Have Meaning for the 1st District?

 

The special election for Congress in the 18th district of Pennsylvania drew national attention by attracting intense high-profile campaigning from President Trump, and former Vice President Biden. This Democratic victory is widely viewed as having implications beyond local politics in at least two respects: it reflects an indication of a trend toward increasing Democratic party strength and diminishing support for President Trump.

The election to fill the vacated congressional seat was won by Conor Lamb, a young, military veteran with prior legal experience, but
politically he is a novice. He ran successfully to unseat Rick Saccone, an older politician seeking a fifth congressional representative term. Saccone allied himself closely with Trump and took positions on issues in line with far-right Republicans.

The voting history of Pennsylvania’s 18th district is also of interest. Despite having a slightly higher party registration of Democrats (46%) than Republicans (42%), the last eight elections have been won by Republicans. The 18th district is oddly drawn to include a large part of Pittsburgh, along with rural territory populated by workers in factories, often producing steel. Analysis of voting records there reveals frequent swing voters cro ssing party lines.

Also worth noting is the difference in financial support for each candidate in the 18th district. Saccone received surprisingly large external funding more than $10 million from national Republican sources, while external Democratic party funding for Lamb was less than $2 million. The difference in local fundraising between the two candidates was also significant. Lamb received local donations of approximately $4 million that were four-times greater than what Saccone was able to raise.

Are there direct similarities between the Pennsylvania 18th district election and the upcoming Maryland 1st district US. House of
Representatives election? It certainly would seem so.

The most obvious similarity is the effort of the Democratic party will be making to unseat an established Republican. Although we must wait until June for primary results, it already appears that the Democratic challenger will present local voters with very clear differences from the Republican right wing and Trump/Harris policies.

As of now, it looks like the Democrats will offer a field of four candidates in the ongoing primary process. One particular standout, with attributes similar to Pennsylvania’s Conor Lamb, is third-generation Marylander, Jesse Colvin. Colvin is a young war veteran who served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan with distinction as an Army Ranger. Following that he pursued a successful business career which he has interrupted to return to the service of his country.

The Pennsylvania 18th district election was indeed “special” in quite some ways, and its significance appears to have meaning for Maryland. One important lesson it teaches is the need to consider our own elections as “special” also — all of them. Voting is of primary importance. Citizen participation in shaping the direction of government is the most treasured element of our democracy.

Hugh (Jock) G. Beebe
Easton

Coastline Management Has Major Impact On Rising Seas – And Tides – In Our Bay

 

Global warming and sea-level rise are exacerbating coastal flooding, especially during high tides, but Professor Ming Li of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science says how we decide to protect our coasts against rising seas can make the difference between devastation and resilience.

“People think tides are driven by the moon and it never changes, but we found that when you raise the mean sea level, it’s also going to change the tides,” said Professor Ming Li of UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory. “Coastline management has huge implications in how the coastal locations react to changes in tides.”

Sea levels that rose a foot or less during the past 100 years could rise by 6 feet or more in this century—2 or 3 feet in the next 30 to 40 years. Long and convoluted coastlines along Chesapeake and Delaware bays present significant challenges for developing effective strategies to mitigate coastal flooding risks.

What you do with coastline management has huge implications in terms of how the tides in Chesapeake Bay respond to sea level rise.

Coastal inundation, or flooding, occurs when sea levels are higher than the normal extent of the tide. Estimates of future flooding events due to sea-level rise have been made by simply adding the expected sea-level rise to present-day tides. However, tides themselves are affected by changes in water depth, so sea-level rise will change the position of high or low tide. Recurrent flooding due to high tides is already a problem for low-lying areas on the Eastern Shore.

“Climate change is real; sea-level rise is happening,” said Li. “We have to understand it and plan for it right now.”

Ming Li

Ming Li and his team developed a numerical model to investigate the effects of sea-level rise on the tidal range in Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. The study calculated what would happen if seawalls were erected along the coastlines of Chesapeake and Delaware Bays to protect low-lying areas from flooding versus allowing the waters to take over the land. They found that hard shorelines, such as seawalls and levees, significantly exacerbate the height of the high tide, while more natural landscapes, such as marshland, minimized the tide height.

The yard around a home is flooded with standing water.

The researchers found that seawalls actually increased the tidal range, making high tide even higher than it would be without the wall. When vertical walls are added to coastline, the characteristics of tidal wave change due to the larger water depth. Allowing the water to flood existing land dissipated the water into new areas.

“Instead of going upstream, it’s going sideways,” says Li of tides against a natural shoreline. “The tidal wave energy is being dispersed.”

How governments respond to coastline management to defend communities from rising seas will have major implications. Li’s study shows different strategies have different consequences.

“What you do with coastline management has huge implications in terms of how the tides in Chesapeake Bay respond to sea-level rise,” said Li. “Allow them to flood low-lying areas, then the tidal range in the upper reaches of the estuary will decrease about 15%. If you try to build hard shorelines you’re going to amplify by 15%.”

For example, in big cities in the region, when high tide hit during peak sea level, the difference in flood waters between the hard and soft shorelines would be 18% in Baltimore, 11% in Washington, D.C., and 21% in Philadelphia.

“If we have a storm like Isabelle in 2100, when the sea level is higher, and have hard shore everywhere, the surge height will increase 4 feet, in addition to the 3-feet increase in the mean sea level due to sea-level rise” he said. “This is a very significant problem that has practical implications for those lying in low areas. It’s important for local people to pay attention and figure out how can we help each other.”

Amy Pelsinsky is Director of Communications for University Of Maryland Center For Environmental Science in Baltimore

Lecture: The Story of Old Trinity Church in Dorchester April 24

For over 300 years, Old Trinity Church in Dorchester County has been the home of generations of faithful Episcopalians, members of the only denomination ever to enjoy legal status in colonial Maryland. Its current rector, the Rev. Dan Dunlap, will present an engaging lecture and slide presentation on the history of the church, including its restoration in the 20th century. While the exact date of its construction is not known for certain, the Andrew Hepburn architectural survey states “possibly before 1680,” which would make it America’s oldest church still in active use.

Building on his knowledge of 17th century English history and colonization in the New World, Fr. Dan provides a remarkable visual history of the church in its greater context, bringing fresh appreciation to the times and the character of a people who were among the first to practice their Christian faith on the Eastern Shore. His slides also feature many images of the Garbisch family restoration in the 1950s, the source of much of what we know about the church today.

This free lecture will be held at Trinity Cathedral on Tuesday, April 24 at 7:00 pm. Refreshments will be served. Preservationists and historians alike will find the lecture and slides of this stunning church a unique experience.

The Rev. Dan Dunlap and his family moved to Dorchester County, Maryland in 2014. In addition to Old Trinity Church, Fr. Dan also serves John’s Chapel, Cornersville. He did his studies at Penn State University, Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA, Drew University, Madison, NJ, and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, where he received his doctorate in 2001. He went on to teach at various seminaries and colleges, most recently as Professor of Historical Theology and Dean of the Faculty at Houston Graduate School of Theology. Throughout his career he also has been actively engaged in church ministry, serving parishes in Philadelphia, PA, Exeter, England, and Tomball, TX. Lately he has enjoyed teaching for the Institute of Adult Learning at Chesapeake College (Cambridge Center) in the areas of Science & Religion and Christian History.

This lecture is being presented by All Faith Episcopal Chapel. For information, call 410 820 4264 or write patrick@dioceseofeaston.org. Trinity Cathedral is located 315 Goldsborough Street.

Republican Committee of Talbot County Commends Thomas Appointment

The Republican Central Committee of Talbot County (RCCTC) commends Wadella Chase Thomas of Easton on her appointment to serve on the Talbot County Board of Elections. Thomas was nominated by Governor Hogan and her appointment was affirmed with consent of the Maryland State Senate
.
RCCTC Chair Nick Panuzio said ”Wadella’s appointment is well deserved and reflects the very high regard she has earned through a lifetime of service in our community”.

That service includes 41 years as a teacher in Dorchester County Schools; following her graduation from Moton High School and Morgan State University. She also received a master’s degree at Salisbury University. Thomas currently serves as a member of the Core Leadership Team at Church of the King and as a Board member of the local Chapter of Lady Patriots. She has also served as an election judge and as legislative chair for the Mid Shore League of Republican Women.

Panuzio observed that Wadella’s background and experience will be a great asset in working with the professional staff at the local Board of Elections to execute their mission to provide all eligible citizens of the County convenient access to voter registration; to provide all registered voters accessible locations in which they may exercise their right to vote, to ensure uniformity of the election practices; to promote fair and equitable elections; and to maintain registration records, campaign fund reports, and other election-related data accurately and in a form that is accessible to the public.

Letter to the Editor: Andy Harris, Guns and the “Slippery Slope”

Congressman Andy Harris is locked and loaded on guns. I listened to his recent telephone town hall (he no longer does in person town halls) in which he advises his constituents that expanding gun background checks, raising the age of rifle purchases or banning assault style weapons would violate our Second Amendment right to bear arms. This was particularly astounding to me because he readily admitted that there is no Second Amendment violation resulting from the longstanding ban on automatic weapons or the 21 year age requirement to buy a handgun.

Why are the new proposed gun safety measures qualitatively different from these existing limitations on gun rights?

Harris’s position is entirely consistent with the NRA (which has contributed more than $20,000 to his campaigns), but finds scant support in judicial legal decisions, including Supreme Court’s landmark decision in U.S. v. Heller. In that case, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, explicitly states that the “Constitution leaves open a variety of regulatory tools to combating the problem of gun violence in this country.” Essentially, Harris’s position on guns relies on the “slippery slope” argument—any new gun safety laws will lead to the eventual elimination of the right of the individual to own guns.

In light of our mounting gun death toll, the slippery slope scare tactic is clearly losing sway with the American public. Indeed, the slippery slope seems to be in the other direction: The organized Parkland school students demanding action on guns, Senator Rubio’s break with the NRA on age limits, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, the Florida Republican Senate (voting for a 21 year age limit on gun purchases), even President Trump’s flirtation with Senator Feinstein’s effort to re-impose the ban on assault rifles. What this tells me is the slippery slope is paving the way for common sense gun legislation and Andy Harris’s exit as our Representative in the 1st District.

To draw upon one of the NRA’s favorite memes: WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO KEEP A BAD GUY FROM BUYING A GUN? IT’S A LOT OF GOOD GUYS WITH BALLOTS. (And let us not to forget the women and millennials leading this cause.)

Congressman Harris, we are locked and loaded for the midterm elections.

Warren Davis
Oxford, MD

Clifford Coppersmith to Become 6th President of Chesapeake College

The Chesapeake College Board of Trustees has selected Dr. Clifford P. Coppersmith to be the school’s sixth president. Dr. Coppersmith was chosen by a unanimous vote of the Trustees from a pool of 72 applicants in a nationwide search that was narrowed down to four finalists who visited the campus in late February.

Coppersmith, 55, is currently Dean of City College, an embedded community college within Montana State University Billings with 1,400 full and part-time students. He’s been the school’s chief executive officer in charge of academics, student affairs, finance and facilities since July 2015.

Dr. Clifford P. Coppersmith

Prior to City College, Coppersmith held several administrative and academic positions including over 19 years at two institutions: Pennsylvania College of Technology, a special mission affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University; and Utah State University – Eastern, formerly the College of Eastern Utah.

“Dr. Coppersmith’s background and experience were a great match for the qualifications and expectations established at the outset of our national search for a new president,” Chesapeake College Board of Trustees Chair Blenda Armistead said. “We were looking for someone with a proven track record in developing programs to address workforce needs in the community, and he brings that experience to the Mid-Shore. Dr. Coppersmith also understands and has extensive experience with the transfer mission of community colleges. As an individual who began his higher education in a community college in upstate New York, he is committed to ensuring that Chesapeake College will serve as a gateway to further education for all of our residents.”

Armistead noted Coppersmith’s ability to collaborate with public school leaders, local government, and business and industry partners to develop both credit and non-credit programs focused specifically on workforce needs. These have included programs in emergency management, nursing and allied health, computer science, metal and construction trades, diesel technology and automotive repair.

“Cliff has worked effectively with state and local government, and this was one of our priorities in our search for a new president,” she said.

“He understands the economic and social challenges in rural areas similar to the Shore. Moreover, the trustees are confident in his ability to strengthen the sense of community among all constituencies within the College, which was another expectation established for our new president.”

Community engagement will be among Coppersmith’s first priorities.

“Right off the bat, I want to establish those relationships and connections that are so critical to the success of the College,” he said. “I anticipate working closely with the members of the Board of Trustees, civic and public education leaders and the local business network to strengthen Chesapeake and its vital role in serving the five-county region as a center for higher education, cultural activities and economic development.”

Coppersmith met with the Board and participated in on-campus forums with students, faculty, staff and Mid-Shore community leaders last month.

“I had a great exchange with all those groups when I interviewed,” he said. “I was extremely impressed with the quality of the campus and its facilities and the engagement of the faculty and staff, and I considered my meeting with the students the highlight of the visit.”
Coppersmith and his wife Kathleen have strong personal connections to the region.

“Kathy and I are excited to return to a part of the world we love in which we’ve had many great experiences,” he said. “We were married in Kensington outside D.C.; spent the first night of our honeymoon in Chestertown; and for 11 years, the Chincoteague and Assateague Island seashores were our family’s favorite vacation spot. The Eastern Shore has been a special place for us for that reason and others.”

Born in the West Indies, Coppersmith said saltwater is in his blood. He looks forward to sailing, kayaking and canoeing on local waters and visiting the beach.

The Coppersmiths have three adult children – including two living in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – three grandchildren and close family members in Frederick and Northern Virginia.

A former commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard and an intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, Coppersmith believes strongly in executing the mission of the College which is critical to his vision for Chesapeake.

“It comes from my military background,” he explained. “Almost everything I do on a daily basis is premised on serving the mission of the school and its students. I’ve been successful in figuring out what the strengths of an institution are, what its mission is, and then connecting that to the community I serve.”

His service background also includes 45 years in scouting with the Boy Scouts of America.

Coppersmith holds four academic degrees: A doctorate in history and anthropology from Oklahoma State University; a master’s in history from St. Bonaventure University in New York State; a bachelor’s in political science and Latin American studies from Brigham Young University in Utah; and an associate in social science from Jamestown Community College in New York State.