MDOT of­fi­cials pay an­nual visit to the county

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By DO­RIAN MITCHELL dmitchell@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — The Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers dis­cussed trans­porta­tion, taxes and leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties at their meet­ing Tues­day night.

Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion Deputy Sec­re­tary Jim Ports Jr. at­tended the meet­ing, along with other state of­fi­cials. The visit was part of MDOT’s an­nual Con­sol­i­dated Trans­porta­tion Pro­gram tour for a draft of a six-year cap­i­tal bud­get.

Ports said Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has pledged about $15 bil­lion to improve the state’s trans­porta­tion. For Kent County that in­cludes about $2.2 mil­lion in high­way user rev­enues, $10,000 in high­way safety grants and $195,000 in cap­i­tal as­sis­tance to pub­lic trans­porta­tion provider Del­marva Com­mu­nity Ser­vice.

Ports said the State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion is ded­i­cat­ing about $18.8 mil­lion for resur­fac­ing projects in the county. The projects in­clude resur­fac­ing state Routes 213, which has been com­pleted, 298, 292 and 566.

“Thanks to Gov. Ho­gan’s com­mit­ment, we’ve hit our tar­get in­vest­ment and Mary­lan­ders are reap­ing the re­wards,” Ports said.

One is­sue Del. Jay Ja­cobs, R-36-Kent, and State Sen. Steve Her­shey, R-36-Up­per Shore, raised re­garded the sta­tus of a pro­posed by­pass cross­ing that would serve as an al­ter­nate to the Ch­ester River bridge. Ja­cobs said it has been a pri­or­ity for the county for many years and a let­ter re­gard­ing that need was sent last year to the MDOT.

“When I was first elected in 1994, they were talk­ing about that by­pass then,” Com­mis­sioner Ron Fithian said. “It was an is­sue 23 years ago and it cer­tainly hasn’t got­ten any bet­ter today. It is an im­por­tant is­sue to us be­cause the sit­u­a­tion isn’t get­ting any bet­ter.”

Ports said the Ch­ester River bridge on Route 213 is clas­si­fied as “func­tion­ally ob­so­lete,” which means though it might not meet sev­eral mod­ern stan­dards — like the width of its lanes — it still is not con­sid­ered “a dan­ger to cross.”

Greg Holsey, SHA District 2 en­gi­neer, said there is no new in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the pro­posed by­pass. He said that the Ch­ester River bridge un­der­went de­tailed re­pairs last year and sev­eral in­spec­tions found it to be in “fair con­di­tion.”

He said a pos­si­ble op­tion would be to com­pletely “re­ha­bil­i­tate” the bridge, which would cost about $43 mil­lion. An­other op­tion would build a re­place­ment bridge, which would cost about $80 mil­lion to $90 mil­lion.

Holsey said the by­pass cou­pled with re­build­ing the ex­ist­ing Ch­ester River bridge is es­ti­mated to cost from $482 mil­lion to $638 mil­lion.

“So you’re say­ing our chances of get­ting a by­pass are slim-to-none right?” Com­mis­sioner Bill Short said. “If that’s the case, there’s no sense blow­ing smoke any­more. Our cit­i­zens need to know.”

Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino said the by­pass is a pri­or­ity for the town as well. He said other coun­ties be­sides Kent rely on be­ing able to cross the Ch­ester River and that can cause heavy traf­fic flows.

“If it’s not go­ing to hap­pen, we need to have an open and hon­est dis­cus­sion,” Cerino said. “So please, just be hon­est with us and if you have to, say ‘ You guys need to look at other op­tions.’”

Also at the meet­ing, of­fi­cials from Chestertown, Bet­ter­ton, Galena and Milling­ton ap­peared be­fore the com­mis­sion­ers to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of re­in­stat­ing tax re­bates for the county’s five in­cor­po­rated towns.

Pres­i­dent Wil­liam Pick­rum and of­fi­cials from Rock Hall were not present.

Act­ing as speaker, Cerino said the re­quest is to com­pen­sate town tax­pay­ers for the “repli­ca­tion of ser­vices” the dif­fer­ent towns pro­vide — such as law en­force­ment and road re­pairs — that oth­er­wise would come out of the county’s op­er­at­ing bud­get.

“It’s the right thing to do, se­ri­ously. It’s the right and fair thing to do,” Chestertown Coun­cil­man Marty Stet­son told the com­mis­sion­ers. “If you think about it, you’ll un­der­stand what I’m say­ing.”

Milling­ton Coun­cil­man Kevin Hem­stock said the town re­ceives a “lit­tle” re­bate from Queen Anne’s County, due to hav­ing nine prop­er­ties in the county.

Short said the county has been gift­ing yard waste and stump grind­ing and mulching ser­vices to the town for years. He said the cost is about $35,000 to $40,000 to do so.

“I don’t want to raise taxes for my cit­i­zens. But if we do, you can ex­pect a $35,000 or so bill,” Short told town rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Cerino said if Chestertown was to dis­solve its po­lice force and road crews, Kent County would then have to raise its taxes to cover those ser­vices.

“If we didn’t have a roads crews, that’s about 15 miles of road you’d have to main­tain,” he said. “That’s around $500,000 I the­o­ret­i­cally save you guys. So you throw us a bone for stump grind­ing, sure, but we’re pay­ing half a mil­lion for some­thing Kent, Queen Anne’s and oth­ers use.”

Fithian said that the county rec­og­nizes the is­sue and wanted to dis­cuss it be­fore the next bud­get cy­cle be­gins.

Also at the meet­ing, Ja­cobs, Her­shey, Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s, and Del. Jeff Ghrist, R-36-Caro­line, dis­cussed leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives with the com­mis­sion­ers. The Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly be­gins in Jan­uary.

Fithian said one pri­or­ity is to ob­tain more fund­ing for the Kent County school district.

Ja­cobs said the del­e­ga­tion’s “fin­gers are crossed” and that they will be work­ing to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion at this year’s ses­sion.

“Ev­ery lit­tle bit helps, as we all know,” he said. “Our last two years have been good for Kent County, so we’re hope­ful.”

Other pri­or­i­ties Fithian and Short men­tioned were in­creas­ing the salaries of Kent County Or­phans’ Court judges and pos­si­ble amend­ments to liquor li­cense re­stric­tions for restau­rants, such as the ra­tio be­tween serv­ing food and al­co­hol.

PHOTO BY DO­RIAN MITCHELL

Mary­land Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion Deputy Sec­re­tary Jim Ports Jr. speaks about high­way projects dur­ing the Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers’ meet­ing Tues­day.

PHOTO BY DO­RIAN MITCHELL

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Galena, Bet­ter­ton, Milling­ton and Chestertown lis­ten as Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino, cen­ter, talks about pos­si­ble tax re­bates dur­ing a Kent County Com­mis­sion­ers’ meet­ing Tues­day.

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