BERLIN – Longtime
incumbent District 4 Worcester County Commissioner Virgil Shockley will face
challenger Tommy Tucker, a retired high school principal, in the District 4
Democratic primary Sept. 14.
The Dispatch spoke with
both candidates this week for an overview on their positions.
With three terms as commissioner already, Schockley, a farmer and school bus
driver, wants to come back for a fourth term for one main reason – to ensure
the Snow Hill High School (SHHS) renovation and expansion is completed.
He even has a way to pay
for it without raising taxes or seeking other sources of revenue. The county
will pay off two bonds in the next few seven years, and the money already dedicated
to those bonds could then be switched over to bond payments on the SHHS
project, he said.
The county built or
renovated five other schools in the last 12 years, he noted.
People are genuinely
concerned about keeping their jobs, paying bills and maintaining their quality
of life in this economy, Shockley said.
Over the last several
years, he said, the commissioners have been financially conservative and
managed to maintain good schools, public safety and other services.
“Times are tight. We’re
going to live within our means. We’re going to cut back where we can cut back.
We’re going to save where we can save,” Shockley said. “We’re going to tough it
While county employees,
including teachers, have not received any kind of raise for two years, the
county has not gone to mass lay-offs or furlough days, unlike other
The county has also
absorbed 90 percent of the increase in health insurance costs instead of
passing the increase along to the employees, Shockley said, saving them money.
The upcoming budget year
is going to be rough, according to Shockley. “I’m not raising property taxes.
We’re going to live within our means,” Shockley said.
The county needs to take
a serious look at how small businesses are handled and how the county can
promote and support small business, Shockley believes. Perhaps, he said, small
businesses can be given some kind of break in their start up year.
The county also needs to
look at business regulations and really think about whether it needs each one,
He supports water
quality and environmental improvement measures, but he is concerned that the
finger is often pointed at farmers for tainting local waters through farm
The levels of nutrients
in local waters have gone down since the 1990s when farmers were required to
implement nutrient management strategies, Shockley said, with numbers going up
only when the building boom began in 2004. Farmers now follow even stricter
regulations, and are doing their part, Shockley said.
“I’m just an old country
boy and I appreciate the opportunity to serve,” Shockley said. “If you like
what you’ve had for the last 12 years, my name’s on the ballot.”
Tommy Tucker: A
former educator, Tucker got into the commissioner race because of his concerns
about the sagging economy.
Young people do not
return to Worcester County after college because they cannot find work here,
Tucker said. If the county had more industry, those young people would be able
to come back home, and the businesses would contribute to the county’s tax
base. The county needs to recruit more tech businesses and light industry.
creating a citizens business advocacy committee to promote Worcester County to
businesses across the country.
“Why are we losing jobs
and why aren’t we replacing those jobs?” Tucker asked.
The county economic
development program needs more accountability, he felt, and to be more
The county is seen as
unfriendly to business, and could take some lessons from the towns, such as
Berlin, Pocomoke and Ocean City. In the county, business owners have to jump
through too many hoops, he felt.
“We might want to
reexamine what it takes to get started,” Tucker said.
The county needs to look
for ways to increase the assessable base, he feels, and one way to do that is
to make it easier to start a business.
Affordable housing is
also a concern, since many people who would like to live and work in Worcester
County cannot afford to live here. The county needs to make a case to local
developers for starter homes, he said.
“We can’t get the jobs
without having the housing and we can’t get the housing unless we have the
jobs,” said Tucker.
People need to be better
educated on improving and maintaining the local environment, said Tucker. The
county should also mandate recycling and educate citizens on the benefits.
Taxes make the county
work, Tucker said, and the county might need to reduce services if revenues
continue to be down or maintain services by raising taxes.
“That’s a quick fix. I
don’t see that as serving the needs of the people,” Tucker said.
Raising taxes would be a
last resort for Tucker, though, he said, that is not completely off the table.
Department heads, Tucker
said, need to look for more cuts, he said. The county should also consider not
replacing some employees when they retire.