FY 2018 budget gets OK
CHESTERTOWN — The Kent County Commissioners unanimously adopted the county’s fiscal year 2018 budget and weighed in on submitted public comments during a meeting Tuesday.
The budget, which takes effect July 1, has a balanced general fund of about $49.5 million. Kent County will begin the new fiscal year with a fund balance of $7.1 million.
The commissioners also kept the property tax rate at $1.022 per $100 of assessed value and $2.555 per $100 assessed value for public utilities. There will be no increases to taxes or fees in FY 2018.
President William Pickrum said the commissioners received four written comments from citizens via email last week that “really decried” the budget, with each focusing on funding to Kent County Public Schools and the economic development office.
“Our schools are and should be an attraction to bring families and workers to our area,” Francoise Sullivan wrote.
Robbi Behr and Jessica Machuga wrote that they were disappointed in the commissioners’ “level of commitment” to education in the county.
A copy of the FY 2018 budget shows $18.4 million has been allocated for education, with the Kent County Board of Education receiving about $17.9 million and the remaining balance going to Chesapeake College and the Kent County Learning Center.
“It was exactly the amount of funds the school system did request,” Pickrum said.
Machuga and Kent County Arts Council President John Schratwieser both wrote that more businesses that can attract visitors and young families alike are needed in the county.
Schratwieser wrote that there appears to be “so much emphasis on providing primarily for the aging population.”
Machuga cited the recent closing of Chester 5 Theatres in Chestertown as a “big hit” to the area, because “we have nothing else to offer.”
Pickrum said the theater is within the town and thus not “a county issue.”
“It is unfortunate that someone made a business decision to close the Chester theater. But businesses make business decisions” Pickrum said. “We’re government, not a business.”
He said the “multi-million dollar” Worton Park is most likely one of the best “of its kind” and is highly accessible. He said the Kent County Parks and Recreation Department is receiving about $1.8 million in FY 2018.
“This board is not ignoring youth activities or activities for any of our other citizens. There’s a plethora of activities out there,” Pickrum said. “We do take recreation seriously.”
The budget shows that $248,428 has been allocated for economic development.
Sullivan wrote that to truly showcase the broadband fiber network being built throughout Kent County, the economic development office needs a strong and well-funded marketing campaign.
“The 1G (gigabit) service is critical to our future and to drawing these younger people/families ... but only if they know about it and only when it is up and functioning,” Schratwieser wrote.
“We’ve all made a big-to do about the fiber network coming to KC, but we cannot expect that merely putting the fiber in the ground is going to drive business here,” Behr wrote.
Commissioner Bill Short said the county’s $4.5 million commitment to the fiber network last year and its ongoing support of KRM Development Corp.’s Chestertown business campus project shows its dedication to boosting the local economy
“We’re addressing economic development and we’re addressing the school system to the best that we can, with the funds that we have,” he said.
Pickrum said with the theater closing, there is now a “void” that others could see as an “entrepreneurial opportunity” to pursue.
“Step up to the plate and fill it,” he said. “Economic development is not an overnight operation. In some cases, it’s generational.”
Also at the meeting, the commissioners held a public hearing on a proposed text amendment, previously submitted by Sultana Education Foundation. The amendment is to allow safe harbor for the foundation’s vessels during extreme weather, keeping them moored at a privately owned pier.
It also allows the extension of private pier standards exclusively for tall ships, in the “event of a hurricane or other severe weather-related threat.”
Apart from Sultana President Drew McMullen’s explanation of the amendment, there were no public com- ments. The commissioners will consider the amendment at their June 20 meeting.
The commissioners voted to waive the bidding process for remediation at the Nicholson landfill near Chestertown. This will allow the use of a flare system from Theia Air LLC to temporarily bring the site under Maryland Environment Service compliance, until a permanent solution is found.
Environmental Operations Division Chief Marty Holden and Ryan Rangel of McCrone Inc. attended the meeting. Holden said currently, there are issues with methane gas discharges at the landfill.
He said the flare system’s equipment vents the gas and burns it away. Rangel said the equipment will be pilot tested while his firm conducts a preliminary engineering report.
Holden said the cost to rent the equipment — $22,000 — is in his budget.
“As I’ve said before, Nicholson is the gift that keeps on giving,” Pickrum said.
The commissioners met with County Administrator Shelley Heller in a closed session to discuss personnel matters.
Kent County Commission President William Pickrum speaks about several public comments on the fiscal year 2018 budget during a meeting Tuesday.