For months, the public has not been privy to exactly how bad things are with the county’s finances. In this instance, there’s no reason for conspiracy theories here. It’s just that nobody truly knows how grave the shortfall between revenues and expenditures is going to be for the next fiscal year. I was hearing the county was looking at a $10 million deficit, but this week it was said it’s more like $11.1 million, a number that will likely balloon over the next couple months as more untimely bad news rolls in. The only thing that could be the saving grace is the federal government’s stimulus package, which could trickle down to the county and the local school system. Consequently, all departments, with the exception of the Board of Education, may be asked to cut another 2 percent from their spending plans for the next fiscal year. That would be on top of the 3-percent cut already ordered back in November.
Even if the commissioners approve this further spending cut, word is this will not be enough to balance the county’s budget. With a tax rate increase off the table, as it should be, other options are going to have to be explored. One such tack is employee furloughs. County Commission President Louise Gulyas said some sort of furlough program should be introduced. She said most county employees she runs into have told her they are just happy to have a job and understand the reality of the times. Employee furloughs are never popular, but county finances are looking bleak and the commissioners seem willing to explore all options that do not include a tax increase. To do otherwise would be inappropriate.
There was good news this week on the Atlantic Hotel front. Rampant speculation has ensued since the first of the year when the former operators of the restaurant, bar and hotel were forced to close down for financial reasons. Over the last couple weeks, with construction workers routinely spotted on the scene, it was widely assumed business was about to return to the famed hotel. Word this week is Ocean City restaurateur John Fager will be taking over the operation. This is great news to us here in Berlin. "The hotel" needs some experience, and Fager lends instant credibility to the new operation. He has a familiarity with Berlin and understands what will work here and what will not. It’s been sad to see the hotel dark over the last seven weeks. When the hotel and The Globe are both open for business, Berlin is a better place to visit and live and surrounding businesses see an increase in sales, and it looks like those days will soon return and just in time for spring.
Speaking of Berlin, the town has been featured in an online poll, “America’s Coolest Small Towns,” coordinated by Budget Travel magazine and its online version. Apparently, 152 nominations were made and the list was narrowed to 22. Other than Berlin, as far as in the region, Onancock, Va., Huntingdon, Pa. and Jim Thorpe, Pa. made the list. It’s unrealistic to think Berlin will win this contest, but it’s important to make a good showing. As of Wednesday, Berlin was in seventh place with 273 votes (out of a total 9,824). The top 10 consisted of Owego, N.Y., 2,603 votes; Huntingdon, Pa., 1,838; Grinnel, Iowa, 1,397; Rocklane, Me., 1,066; Silverton, Ore., 591; Onancock, Va., 551; Berlin, 273; Port Royal, S.C., 268; Dubois, Wy., 262; and Eureka Springs, Ark., 175; Have you been to any of these? I can say I have been two other than Berlin – Onancock and Port Royal, S.C.
Media outlets around Maryland have been having fun with the proposed ban on text messaging while driving. For example, The Baltimore Sun in an editorial, headlined “TXT to RIP”, wrote, “Commuters in a hurry may think it’s fine to multi-task while LOL with both thumbs. But it’s hardly worth it if they end up RIP.” This legislation was introduced last year and nearly became law, and it’s apparently close to a certainty and it seems appropriate, though I acknowledge I do text and drive every once in a while but a law would discourage me.