I am seeking election to the town commission because we need a course correction. That was true before the coronavirus pandemic and is even more evident now.
We are facing the worst economy since the Great Depression. We can hope for a quick recovery, but, as a single industry town, we are likely to lag behind more diversified areas.
Other than property taxes, tourism is our primary source of revenue. Yet the town’s budget, adopted in the midst of this crisis, anticipates a mere 25-percent drop in tourist traffic at a time when all events have been cancelled.
We need a more realistic approach starting with suspension of all new spending initiatives, until we have a better handle on the pandemic’s lasting impact. That includes the new town office project. In the face of financial uncertainty, the majority commissioners are pushing ahead with a $3.1-million-dollar building that’s too big, too expensive and in the wrong place.
Our new budget commits us to an unsustainable level of spending and even dips into the town’s reserve funds. On our current course, the town’s 835 taxable properties will bear the entire load as tourism revenue declines. This is a direct threat to property values and quality of life.
We can do better. It is time for evolutionary change. We can preserve what we appreciate most about our special town and use that history and charm to build for the future. Because we are a one-industry town, opportunities for our younger generations are limited. But we can change that as the world around us changes. Big cities are no longer the magnets they once were for young entrepreneurs. The pandemic now has city dwellers eyeing the suburbs and beyond as safer places to live and work. We have a chance to turn that trend to our advantage.
I propose that the town seek state Enterprise Zone designation to offer loans and tax incentives to entrepreneurs who are willing to set up shop here. We have much to offer a younger workforce. We have many of the amenities they seek in large cities: restaurants, brew pubs, entertainment, cultural attractions and quality of life. But, we also offer a lower cost of living, and a safer, more sanitary environment, with easy access to recreation in the great outdoors.
The town of St. Michaels spends tens of thousands of dollars a year marketing itself as a tourist destination. I propose allocating part of that budget toward attracting new businesses and new opportunities. We should continue to support the tourism industry, doing all we can to help our current businesses and museums as they struggle to recover. And we should invest in new attractions to attract more visitors. But we also need to diversify our economy.
I am running for town commissioner because I believe we can do better. It is time for a fresh approach in these challenging circumstances. I will bring integrity and innovation to the office, and I will serve independently. I will push for a new and stronger code of ethics for public officials. I pledge my loyalty, not to outside interests or my own, but to the taxpayers and stakeholders of the town I love. Together we will keep St. Michaels strong.