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Berlin Citizens Gather To Discuss Route 113 Safety; Group Circulating Petition To Present To State Highway

Concerned citizens are pictured at the Flower Street Community Center on Tuesday evening discussing safety improvements for Route 113. Photo by Travis Brown

BERLIN — In the wake of a tragedy that ended one young life and devastated at least two more, residents in Berlin are calling for safety improvements on Route 113 and pushing for a closer community to help advocate for them.
Last week while driving on Route 113, Maryland State Trooper Nicholas Hager, 21, struck brothers Tymeir D. Dennis, 16, and Tyheym D. Bowen, whose age was not released but who had just graduated from Stephen Decatur High School (SDHS) last spring. Dennis, a junior at SDHS, was pronounced dead shortly following the collision, while Bowen was flown to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center for treatment. Bowen is reportedly recovering from his injuries.
On Tuesday, residents and community officials held an awareness meeting to discuss what changes are needed for the stretch of Route 113 that crosses through Berlin. A petition was also circulated, which attributed seven fatal accidents to Route 113 since 2000 and called for a lower speed limit and the installation of crosswalks. Safety Committee Member Patricia Dufendach began the meeting with a moment of silence and an offering of condolences to the brothers’ family.
“This is not only a loss to their family but to our whole community. And we need to respond as one community,” she said. “We’re here to share our thoughts and concerns about safety on 113.”
The current problems on Route 113 are likely to get worse with further dualization of the highway, continued Dufendach. Therefore, the committee is circulating a petition calling for a reduced speed limit as Route 113 crosses Berlin, as well as countdown crosswalks at the intersections of Bay Street and Route 113 and Old Ocean City Boulevard and Route 113.
Attendees at the meeting were encouraged to add their own suggestions and many did. Common recommendations include better lighting at intersections, pedestrian warning signs and a stoplight at Germantown Road.
Resident Chrissy Knight proposed installing a “Welcome to Berlin, Please Slow Down,” billboard along Route 113. Resident Bryan Russo encouraged the town to look at what nearby Ocean City has down with its Walk Smart Ocean City campaign.
“We don’t have to look far to find the solution because in Ocean City they had pedestrian accident problems for the better part of several summers,” he said. “And this past year they launched a big ‘Walk Smart’ campaign.”
The campaign included signage, advertising and even a mascot. Dufendach agreed that a Walk Smart Berlin had potential.
While most residents favor a reduced speed limit on Route 113 through Berlin, exactly how much the current 50 mph limit should be cut was up for debate. Councilman Dean Burrell called for a reduction to 35 mph, but Police Chief Arnold Downing warned that the limit can’t be arbitrarily dropped. The State Highway Administration (SHA) has committed to performing a speed survey in the area and Downing’s advice was to wait for those results.
“The speed itself, if you try to artificially lower it, you’re going to have people going 35 over and those sorts of things,” he said. “So it’s a flow of traffic and what it should be. So they’ll come back and say this is what the flow of traffic should be. And the study itself should be able to take care of the actual number.”
SHA is expected in front of the Mayor and Council at the Dec. 3 meeting, when it will review the town’s requests with any improvement projects likely to start over the spring or summer. In the meantime, Downing said that the town can still designate walking areas so that pedestrians don’t cross Route 113 at random spots.
“We can go ahead and tell folks, ‘this is where you need to be walking,’ and I think that will help things,” he said.
Drivers should also lead by example and slow down as they cross through Berlin, according to Councilwoman Lisa Hall. Burrell agreed.
“We can do what’s right. We can drive our own personal cars 45 or 35 [mph],” he said.
As the safety suggestions continued to mount, resident Gabe Purnell reminded those in attendance that it’s not just about signs and lights but about a community being united in a common goal. He considers Route 113 in a way symbolic of historic troubles that go beyond pedestrian safety and touch on the racial tensions of years past.
“If you look at 113, and I hate to bring this up but it’s history, and we need to understand our history or else we’ll repeat it again, as so many people have said,” Purnell said. “[Route] 113, if you look at it, it precisely separates the communities, whites on one side and blacks on the other. And we’re paying dearly today for that.”
The statement was met with a chorus of agreement from the audience. Dufendach admitted that it’s something that has long troubled her, but a problem she sees as surmountable. Crosswalks would better connect each side of Route 113 for walkers and bikers. A united response from the town to last week’s tragedy is its own display of connectivity, Dufendach said.
“We have to know where we’ve been but we can move forward and join ourselves back together,” she promised.
There were other questions asked at the meeting about the investigation into last week’s accident, including how fast the trooper was driving, that the committee was unable to answer. But Dufendach assured residents that once all of the facts were clear she had every confidence in the State Police to make that information available.
The town will compile the suggestions offered this week and present them to SHA next month. The safety petition is currently circulating throughout the town and residents are encouraged to contact SHA and their own elected representatives, both state and local.

YMCA Looking To Utilize Landfill For Outdoor Uses

SNOW HILL — The Lower Shore Family YMCA would like to use the Pocomoke landfill for nature paths, rope courses and bike trails. The Worcester County Commission is supportive of the concept, but nervous about any extended activity on top of the actual landfill itself, which could be dangerous given the persistent venting of methane gas.
“It’s a win-win situation for everybody because we’ll take that landfill and make a positive thing out of it, not that it isn’t now,” said YMCA representative Hob Mason.
The YMCA is looking for “active recreational facilities” like bike trails and walking paths, noted John Tustin, director of public works. He was in favor of the idea, but with limits.
“We suggested that if they were to approach the County Commissioners for some type of lease arrangement for the use of the landfill property that they limit the request to the use of the forested areas of the property only,” he wrote in a memo to the commission.
There is a safety issue involving any activity on the landfill, which constantly vents methane gas that is created by the decomposing mass.
“I think that they’re very worthy programs,” Commission Judy Boggs said of the YMCA’s request, “but there are issues involved with the landfill that may put some people in danger.”
Darl Kolar of EA Engineering further elaborated on the fear that too much activity could be risky on top of the landfill.
“It’s the gas, mainly, as the county has indicated,” he said. “There are vents there for a reason.”
An explosion or collapse is unlikely, but not impossible. The landfill mound does already see some traffic from county employees. Additionally, it is used by local students for cross country practice to simulate hilly terrain. But that activity is minor, said Tustin.
“They practice on the landfill once a week and that was approved years ago,” he said. “But that’s a short-term hour, hour and a half operation.”
It is also well controlled, added County Attorney Sonny Bloxom.
The YMCA is aware of the concerns. Representative Josh Nordstrum said he wants to work for a solution.
“We’re not sure about the science of the mound and what the potential pitfalls are and certainly the dangers there,” he said. “But if there is no danger for people to ride over the mound we would think that everybody in this room would be in favor of allowing the YMCA to makes some trails there.”
The YMCA will meet further with Tustin and Pocomoke Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw to discuss risks and are expected to return to the commissioners with a compromise.

Young Professionals Gearing Up For Giving Campaign

Young

BERLIN — The Young Professionals Committee of Ocean City is preparing for its third annual United Christmas Spirit Campaign (UCSC), which has seen increased support this year from business partners.
UCSC provides 50 local kids with breakfast at Outback Steakhouse and shopping with a chaperone at Wal-Mart on Dec. 7. The event is modeled on similar holiday charity shopping tours but has been shaped by the Young Professionals to be a unique experience for not only the children but all of the volunteers involved.
“Out of creating a bond for the young professionals and the community, that idea was developed and we had great, tremendous support, with everybody helping different aspects of getting this going,” said Phillip Cheung, co-chair for UCSC. “And we put our own twist to how we do this project with some learning moments, some teachable moments, knowing that it’s easy for someone to write a check for $20 and be done with it but to actually be here and give-up three hours of your time on Saturday morning is more valuable.”
UCSC is exactly the kind of community outreach that Wal-Mart wants to be involved with, according to the Route 50 Wal-Mart Store Manager Jim Kime. The store has been involved with the program since its inception but has recently more than tripled their annual donation from $300 in 2012 to $1,000 this year.
“It was a great success for the community, the kids and our store and our associates just really wanted to be a part of it,” he explained. “And we talked about it all year long here at the store and we just wanted to be a bigger part of it this year which is why we made a larger donation this year.”
Wal-Mart has relationships with a number of charitable organizations and Kime acknowledged that the late-fall and early-winter is probably the most important for many of those groups.
“The needs come out more at the holidays than any other time during the year,” he said.
With United Christmas, there are a lot of moving parts, with about 70 volunteers serving as chaperones and helpers for the 50 children involved. The day starts with a check-in at Outback in West Ocean City, followed by a bus ride to Wal-Mart where kids will shop for the holidays using money donated to the program, then head over to an activity room and then finally back to Outback for breakfast.
To cover the cost, including $100 for each child and chaperone to shop with, the Young Professional committee, which is associated with the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, sets an annual goal of $5,000, which looks reachable and perhaps even surpassed, thanks in part to Wal-Mart’s $1,000 donation, according to President Anna Giles. The group is also close to achieving the minimum of 70 volunteers needed to run the large event, though more help is always appreciated.
“We could always use more volunteers. We’re doing okay right now with volunteers but we can never have too many,” said Giles.
This is one of a few community outreach initiatives by the Young Professionals committee, which the members hope to expand over the next few years. The committee is relatively new but growing steadily.
“We come together for developing leadership skills, developing networking skills, organizational skills and bringing folks in year after year to be able to take on these duties to raise money and organize these kinds of events, which help us professionally grow,” Cheung said.
Charitable outreach is the “spirit of Ocean City,” he added, though the committee also has an eye on the other parts of Worcester County.
For more information on donating or volunteering, contact Cheung at 410-524-2720 or send an email to KTurner@bankofdelmarva.com

One Year After Fire, Waterman’s Back With Modern Look, Changes

One B

BERLIN — A West Ocean City staple since 1982, Waterman’s Seafood Co. re-opened this month after a one-year hiatus for renovations following a fire back in October of 2012.
The physical look of Waterman’s has undergone some dramatic changes during that time, including a much brighter and more modern interior and exterior, an expanded menu and a new banquet room.
The fire hit the restaurant hard, according to co-owner Jamy Davy, who bought into Waterman’s in 2004. But despite having to be closed for a year to rebuild there was a silver lining since the damage resulted in the decision to modernize the entire operation.
“Oct. 5 of last year we had an electrical fire,” Davy said. “It started out between it being a 30-year-old wooden building with the water and the smoke and the flame damage, the more we got into it the more we realized it was just time for an overhaul.”
For decades, Waterman’s had a distinct style. The exterior and interior featured a lot of wood, lighting was soft and all-you-can-eat crabs were a favorite. The new restaurant will keep the soul of the original, Davy promised, but looks and feels fresher.
One A“We came up with a design to try to modernize it so we could be here another 30 years. Rather than try to put it back together, we decided to take a step in a different direction a little bit,” he said. “When you came in before, it was a lot more of a crab house feel. It had the wood everywhere, wooden tables and the old wood booths that had been here 30 years and of course all of that stuff got ruined.”
Those wooden tables have been replaced with sleek stainless steel, the furniture has been upgraded and everything is more colorful and vivid. Seascape-inspired art lines the walls, which are much brighter and better lit than before. A new banquet room was installed on Waterman’s second floor, which was previously only used for overflow seating.
“We renovated the upstairs and put in a banquet room so now we can do private parties,” said Davy. “Most of the time the upstairs sat empty seven or eight months out of the year, so we wanted to utilize that space so we made sure we can do between 70 and 100 people up in a banquet room and rent that out for different events.”
The upstairs sports bar has also seen some re-design with an outside entrance added to make coming and going easier.
From a culinary angle, the menu has been modernized a bit as well. Old favorites like all-you-can-eat crabs, steamed shrimp and fried chicken aren’t going anywhere, but Waterman’s will be focusing on new entrees and more steamed and boiled options for people who are looking for a healthier dining experience.
“People are about portion control and fresh food. That’s just kind of the trend,” Davy said. “So we’re trying to do some more offerings.”
There should be something at Waterman’s now for returning life-long customers and those who have never visited before, he continued.
“We made the conscious effort to say, ‘okay, what can we do to be more competitive?’” he said. “There are a lot of people doing a lot of stuff right and if you don’t change and keep up with trends your clientele tends to go away.”
It was tough to give up on an entire year of business during renovations, admitted Davy, but in the long-term should be worth it. Waterman’s has been updated in a big way and is now ready for the next 30 years of customers. Davy believes it’s coming at a good time, with West Ocean City becoming “its own little entity” outside of Ocean City’s shadow.
As the community continues to evolve, Davy is confident that the newly renovated Waterman’s will carry on as a popular seafood destination in West Ocean City. Between the carry-out seafood market, sports bar, restaurant and new banquet room, he’s predicting a busy first year back that will be highlighted on Friday, Nov. 1 with a ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony organized by the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce at 4 p.m.

One Year After Fire, Waterman’s Back With New Look, Many Changes

1 watermans

BERLIN — A West Ocean City staple since 1982, Waterman’s Seafood Co. re-opened this month after a one-year hiatus for renovations following a fire back in October of 2012.

The physical look of Waterman’s has undergone some dramatic changes during that time, including a much brighter and more modern interior and exterior, an expanded menu and a new banquet room.

The fire hit the restaurant hard, according to co-owner Jamy Davy, who bought into Waterman’s in 2004. But despite having to be closed for a year to rebuild there was a silver lining since the damage resulted in the decision to modernize the entire operation.

“Oct. 5 of last year we had an electrical fire,” Davy said. “It started out between it being a 30-year-old wooden building with the water and the smoke and the flame damage, the more we got into it the more we realized it was just time for an overhaul.”

For decades, Waterman’s had a distinct style. The exterior and interior featured a lot of wood, lighting was soft and all-you-can-eat crabs were a favorite. The new restaurant will keep the soul of the original, Davy promised, but looks and feels fresher.

“We came up with a design to try to modernize it so we could be here another 30 years. Rather than try to put it back together, we decided to take a step in a different direction a little bit,” he said. “When you came in before, it was a lot more of a crab house feel. It had the wood everywhere, wooden tables and the old wood booths that had been here 30 years and of course all of that stuff got ruined.”

Those wooden tables have been replaced with sleek stainless steel, the furniture has been upgraded and everything is more colorful and vivid. Seascape-inspired art lines the walls, which are much brighter and better lit than before. A new banquet room was installed on Waterman’s second floor, which was previously only used for overflow seating.

“We renovated the upstairs and put in a banquet room so now we can do private parties,” said Davy. “Most of the time the upstairs sat empty seven or eight months out of the year, so we wanted to utilize that space so we made sure we can do between 70 and 100 people up in a banquet room and rent that out for different events.”

The upstairs sports bar has also seen some re-design with an outside entrance added to make coming and going easier.

From a culinary angle, the menu has been modernized a bit as well. Old favorites like all-you-can-eat crabs, steamed shrimp and fried chicken aren’t going anywhere, but Waterman’s will be focusing on new entrees and more steamed and boiled options for people who are looking for a healthier dining experience.

“People are about portion control and fresh food. That’s just kind of the trend,” Davy said. “So we’re trying to do some more offerings.”

There should be something at Waterman’s now for returning life-long customers and those who have never visited before, he continued.

“We made the conscious effort to say, ‘okay, what can we do to be more competitive?’” he said. “There are a lot of people doing a lot of stuff right and if you don’t change and keep up with trends your clientele tends to go away.”

It was tough to give up on an entire year of business during renovations, admitted Davy, but in the long-term should be worth it. Waterman’s has been updated in a big way and is now ready for the next 30 years of customers. Davy believes it’s coming at a good time, with West Ocean City becoming “its own little entity” outside of Ocean City’s shadow.

As the community continues to evolve, Davy is confident that the newly renovated Waterman’s will carry on as a popular seafood destination in West Ocean City. Between the carry-out seafood market, sports bar, restaurant and new banquet room, he’s predicting a busy first year back that will be highlighted on Friday, Nov. 1 with a ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony organized by the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.

 

City Mulls Funding Options For Employee Salary Hikes

SALISBURY — A number of cost reduction efforts and revenue boosts were examined by the Salisbury City Council this week with the goal of finding a way to fund a city-wide employee pay increase.
City administration was able to put together a plan that would cover the pay increases, though members of the council questioned whether some were necessary or possibly even damaging to the relationship between Salisbury and Wicomico County.
There may have been some dispute over how pay raises would be financed, but there was unanimous agreement from Mayor Jim Ireton and the council members at Monday’s work session that an increase is a necessity.
“We’ve balanced the budget the last six years on the backs of our employees with our furloughs, with frozen positions,” said Ireton. “The amount of money they’ve given up over the last several years, that’s their retirement, that’s all of the things moving forward.”
The pay increase is based on the results of a study concluded in August by Evergreen Solutions, LLC, which found that city employees are about 14-percent below market averages in salary and that the current policy is “no longer competitive with its overall ranges and structures.” In response, Evergreen suggested a three-step, nearly $750,000 plan to make Salisbury more competitive in attracting and retaining employees.
Using that study as a starting point, Ireton explained that the city’s Human Resources Department further analyzed the numbers and came up with a slightly modified plan that would require a $698,846 compensation increase over a longer time frame from the general fund. Of that, $450,832 would go toward increasing minimum salary and step increases for employees with $248,014 funneled toward making existing salaries more comparable to the public sector market.
Only $225,416 would be applied in Fiscal Year 2014 and would be used for the minimum and step portion of the increase.
To cover the nearly $700,000 compensation increase for the remainder of this year and next year, $1,016,000 would be generated from the general fund. Besides the $1,016,000 that would come from the general fund, $424,991 would be pulled from expense reductions from the water and sewer fund for a combined $1,440,991, which would fund the pay increase for the remainder of FY13 through FY14. The water and sewer fund would come with an additional compensation increase for employees of $344,089, bringing that total up to $1,042,935.
The numbers may be slightly different than what Evergreen pitched, said Ireton, but the effects should be felt by more employees.
“The amount that we are recommending today is less than Evergreen’s recommendation and there also is a plan that covers all of our employees,” the mayor said. “We looked at all of our employees and not just the ones that were bench marked by Evergreen.”
The new plan would guarantee all employees at least a 2-percent raise, with those in areas like public works, who have gone the longest with the lowest rates, seeing a higher bump. There would also be a reorganization of pay steps to keep the city more competitive in the years to come.
Such a pay increase is past due, according to Councilwoman Shanie Shields, who was enthusiastic about moving forward.
“I want to dance,” she said. “I’m happy.”
Council President Jake Day was also in favor of the pay bump.
“In principle, I think there is nothing worse than showing your team that you’re not concerned with them and you don’t value them and under-compensate,” he said. “And I think that’s true in any business or any organization and I think that’s true here. Not only do we owe our employees but we should have the best team possible and to motivate them we should have fair compensation.”
How the city would fund it was Day’s concern. Day took issue with one of the cost reductions, deferring repairs for the River Walk, and one of the revenue increases, taking over fire inspections from the county.
“I just wonder if that’s really the best place to raise revenue in order to implement this plan,” Day said.
The takeover of fire inspection services, a projected $150,000 revenue increase, especially concerned Day. The service is currently run by the county, and while Day acknowledged that the city might want to start a dialogue and perhaps eventually perform that role, taking the service over for quick revenue might sour things between Wicomico and Salisbury.
“I don’t think we’re in a position where we know enough to say that needs to be implemented at the expense of our relationship with the county or the relationship that we’re trying to form with the county and the direction we’re trying to head with them,” Day said.
Day recommended removing the fire service inspection from the list of new revenue sources and also questioned the savings coming from deferring River Walk. The project wouldn’t be delayed but bonding on it could be, saving the city $119,000 in FY14.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell also had some questions about the funding sources but not to the degree that Day did. Bond flexibility with River Walk could be advantageous, she admitted, but if the current bond rates jump then the city will lose money in the long run by waiting. Mitchell also had some concerns with fire service inspections, though more so with the fact they are not required regularly post-construction than whether the city or the county should be the one conducting them. A city takeover could be complicated, she added.
Councilman Tim Spies had his own funding suggestions and encouraged administration to further explore the revenue from speed enforcement cameras and how that money could be used. The revenue is only supposed to be applied to public safety, he continued, but that can be a broad term.
The most important thing, said Ireton, is finally giving employees a raise, especially those in departments like public works who are some of the lowest earning in the city. Mitchell agreed, saying that even the most loyal employee might jump ship if Salisbury falls too far behind.
“When it comes down to it, they’ve got to feed their families,” she said.
The topic is expected to re-appear at another work session in the near future, though it’s possible that the council could agree to take it right to a legislative session.

New Business Needed In Wicomico To Calm Economic Woes

SALISBURY — A new strategy is needed to get Wicomico County out of some rough economic waters, according to a financial sustainability study discussed this week.
Conducted by the Sage Policy Group, Inc., the report argues against either tax increases or spending cuts and instead urges the county to find ways to become more attractive to business and to improve quality of life for residents.
“They analyzed our revenue trends. They then studied our tax capacity relative to our tax effort,” Wayne Strausburg, director of administration, told the Wicomico County Council Tuesday.
Wicomico “finds itself in an extraordinarily difficult position,” began the report’s summary section. Despite having the highest income tax allowable under state law and being fourth out of 24 in property tax collection, once county and municipal taxes are considered, the county still struggles with funding. Because of this, there has been an increased reliance on state and federal support to fund things like county education instead of using local money.
“The implication is that Wicomico County has already exhausted much of its capacity to raise revenue through taxes,” read the report. “There are also limits to future tax increases.”
Though more funding is needed, taxes are already too high, according to members of several focus groups that Sage met with. One tax in particular, a tax on business inventory, proved especially unpopular.
“Stakeholders unanimously agreed that the county should not raise taxes,” read the study. “Many believe that the inventory tax should be eliminated or adjusted.”
At this point in reviewing the report, Strausburg pointed out to the council that, compared to neighboring counties like Talbot and Worcester, Wicomico struggles with a lower assessable property base per capita. Wicomico weighs in at a rate of $768, compared to $2,619 for Talbot and $3,658 for Worcester.
Councilman Bob Culver suggested that the discrepancy in values could be partially explained by Wicomico’s farmland being undervalued. However, Strausburg reminded the council that Talbot and Worcester also have a lot of agriculture-zoned land and thus should be an “apples to apples” comparison for Wicomico, in his opinion.
Even with tax worries, residents oppose spending cuts.
“At the same time, additional spending cuts appear roughly as problematic,” noted the report. “If anything, there needs to be greater investment in quality of life, human capital formation and community appearance.”
Improved aesthetics and quality of life would not only help residents but would appeal to new businesses as well. An influx of fresh private investment is the only solution Sage could find to bring much needed revenue into Wicomico without cutting spending or raising taxes.
“The ultimate solution is to radically increase the level of private sector investment and grow the local economy and associated tax base,” they reported. “Of course, this will require a regional approach, including partnerships with regional and state economic development agencies, such as the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, among others.”
Making the county more attractive to business won’t be an overnight fix. Sage suggested that a good early step would be to begin to reduce subsidized housing in Salisbury, particularly downtown.
“For downtown Salisbury to be successful, it will need to have a more targeted focus. Community leaders should emphasis arts and entertainment, and should focus on keeping people downtown after work. Participants cited Berlin, Md. and Harrisonburg, Va. as examples worthy of emulation,” the report read.
Increases in crime and political infighting were two more things that Sage found troubled residents. The increase in recent years of subsidized housing was one perceived cause of the uptick in crime, according to the report. The occasionally hostile political climate was blamed for a “lack of transparency in respect to spending,” in Wicomico.
Other recommendations made by Sage include eliminating the inventory tax for businesses that relocate to Wicomico and phasing the tax out over the next five years for all existing business as well. Wicomico’s infamous revenue cap could also use some tweaking, according to the report. In order to keep up with inflation it should increase by either 2 percent or by the Implicit Price Deflator (IPD) for state and local consumption expenditures.
The study reinforced the need to make Salisbury more accessible and attractive and suggested a small businesses incubator downtown as well as more staff for local economic development agencies. The elimination of duplicated services between county and municipalities was also advised.
The council plans to use the findings of the study in the future as part of long-term development in Wicomico County.

Whaleyville’s Oasis ‘A Nice Little Get Away’

Whaleyville

WHALEYVILLE — Only about two months from celebrating its seven-year anniversary, Oasis Bar ‘N’ Grill and owner Bobby Riccio are looking to continue to grow the restaurant and focus on special events, including the expansion of the popular Bikes to the Beach program.
Riccio is the first to admit that Oasis’ popularity was never a sure thing when he took over the property. A former police officer, Riccio had noticed that the building and 4.5-acre lot in Whaleyville was for sale while he was out directing traffic. Though he didn’t have any bar or restaurant experience, Riccio said that the property really called to him and he decided to take a chance.
“For me, it was a gamble but it was a life experience,” he said.
It seemed like the gamble might have been a losing one at first. Oasis opened in December of 2006, months before the typical summer rush that brings visitors to the Eastern Shore. Now that he’s more seasoned, Riccio acknowledges that it was an unconventional move.
“Who opens a business on Dec. 1, right before the holidays, the dead of winter, out here after the summer is over?” he asked. “Looking back, if I ever do a bar again I would do almost everything the opposite of what I did.”
The following 18 months were tough, Riccio continued, especially since the bars that had been on the property before Oasis had “rough and tumble” reputations, potentially intimidating customers and causing the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) to keep extra eyes on the place. But eventually people started to see that Oasis would be different than anything Whaleyville had seen before, said Riccio.
“I’m not inventing the wheel. I’m just making it run much smoother, much better, much more efficient,” he said.
By bringing on an experienced and creative staff, like manager Craig Morse, Riccio was able to quickly learn what he needed in the bar and restaurant business.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. He’s been with me the whole time,” Riccio said of Morse.
With the same gambling spirit that moved a police officer to become a bar owner, Riccio began to experiment with the establishment’s image, arriving at the restaurant’s current nickname: The Redneck Riviera.
“It’s out here and you’re in the country. It’s still close enough to Ocean City and Salisbury but it’s a nice little get away,” said Riccio.
Oasis has carved out a niche with outdoor events, being among the first establishments in the area to promote craft beer on a big scale and for being a biker friendly bar that has been able to avoid that “rough and tumble” label that past establishments had to deal with.
Riccio is especially proud of the duality of Oasis. On one hand, it’s very much a biker’s bar and is one of two host locations for Bikes to the Beach events in the autumn and spring, with the third annual spring rally scheduled for April. But at the same time, Oasis is also a laid-back restaurant that everyone will find welcoming.
“It’s not pretentious, prices are reasonable and it’s friendly,” he said.
While Riccio has been steadily expanding Oasis from the beginning, enlarging his outdoor space and performing renovations inside, his main focus right now is in fostering the Bikes to the Beach event, especially the spring portion.
“I really think for the spring rally, we want to get it to the level of the fall rally,” he said.
Along with major sponsors like Fishtales and Jack Daniels and fellow host location Hooper’s Crab House, Oasis is a big supporter of Bikes to the Beach, which is unique, he continued, in that it puts a large emphasis on local bikers.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without [OC BikeFest and Delmarva Bike Week] and we like to think they wouldn’t be able to do it without us, he said. “But we take more of a localized approach … We need to concentrate on the local businesses and our core value is making sure that these localized businesses continue to grow.”
By expanding the spring piece of Bikes to the Beach, Riccio hopes to pad out the traditional shoulder months in the Ocean City area. If the April Bikes to the Beach event becomes an area staple, Riccio believes the boost to businesses would be strong not just for Oasis but for all of its neighbors as well.

County Gets $300K For After School Programs

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Public School (WCPS) system is one of 22 programs in the state to get a portion of $6.8 million in after school grants from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).
Worcester’s slice of the pie amounts to $300,000, which educators said will be used to bolster student programs at Snow Hill Middle School (SHMS) and Pocomoke Middle School (PMS).
The $300,000 isn’t coming completely out of the blue but was far from guaranteed, according to Tamara Mills, coordinator of instruction for after school academies.
“We had applied back in the spring. Of course, the grant process is becoming much more rigorous so it was a pleasant surprise when we found out that we were awarded one of the grants,” she said.
There’s an uncertainty going into every year with state grants. WCPS had to scramble last year to make up funding for some of their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) after school programs when anticipated grants were discontinued without explanation. Worcester was able to keep the programs afloat through inter-department budget transfers as well as requesting additional monies from the Worcester County Commission.
The programs are in good shape so far this year, though, with the confirmation of the MSDE grant this week.
“This grant will allow us to keep from having to limit any of our programs and allow us some flexibility to move forward with some of our STEM initiatives,” said Mills.
The kind of programs that WCPS will be focusing on this year include a Science Olympiad where students will have a chance to explore the county’s new generation science standards.
“They’re given projects and challenges and then they’ll compete in solving those problems,” Mills said, “so that’s a really fun activity that we’re excited about and that we can use this grant money for.”
There will also be a continuation of the Sea Perch underwater robotics program, which is in conjuncture with the Naval Academy, and a new emphasis on understanding alternative energy, specifically with wind power, which Mills said will be a pillar of after school academies this year and will spill over into summer STEM programs.
“We’re very excited about the possibilities of seeing what the kids can do in that arena,” said Mills.
The $300,000 will be applied to SHMS and PMS after school programs for grades 6 to 8. There are similar programs at Stephen Decatur Middle School (SDMS) that won’t be affected by the grant but Mills said that they already have healthy funding.
“We’ve been fortunate that our community has been a big support,” she said.
The funding is coming from MSDE through the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant Program (CCLC). The grants are directed towards schools that are either high poverty or identified for improvement. One indicator looked at to gauge poverty level is the ratio of students on FARMS (Free and Reduced Meals) which is above average at both SHMS and PMS.
The goal of the funding across the state is to better tie-in what’s being learned in the classroom with what is being offered after schools, according to a release from MDE.
“The purpose of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is to create centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities that support what is learned in the classroom,” it read.
After school academies at WCPS meet Monday through Thursday 24 weeks out of the year, with a connected four-week summer program.

Pines Plaza Utility Extension Project Moves Ahead

OCEAN PINES — A planned extension of Worcester County water and sewer services to Ocean Pines advanced this week with the completion of a financial feasibility study and the awarding of a $415,569 contract for the project to A.P. Croll and Sons, Inc.
The feasibility study was approved back in July, with Jessica Ramsay, enterprise fund controller, sharing the results with the Worcester County Commission this week. Pines Plaza construction costs for the extension are listed at $510,000, while an Ocean Pines equity contribution brings the total project cost up to $1,950,000.
The county will shoulder much of the initial burden for the water and sewer extension with the costs recouped over time as businesses in Pines Plaza buy into the service area. The $510,000 will be borrowed from the general fund and repaid with an “upfront local share (one-time payment) of $5,100 per EDU,” according to Ramsay, based on 100 EDUs. The $1,440,000 equity contribution will be financed through Ocean Pines over 15 years at a 3.25-percent interest rate.
With the study concluded, Ramsay deemed the project “financially feasible,” prompting the commission to move to the next stage where they considered bids from four contractors. The bids were unusual in that the low bidder, A.P. Croll and Sons, Inc, beat the next lowest bid by over $120,000 in what was otherwise a close field.
“I’m very uncomfortable with this,” said Commissioner Jim Bunting.
The gap between A.P.’s $415,569 bid to extend water and sewer and the next closest, Teal Construction, Inc, at $537,000 was abnormal, he continued, and the individual bid spec prices for gravity sewer pipe and water mains, for example, varied a lot between bidders. Commissioner Virgil Shockley had noticed the same thing.
“It was all over the place. If you go through here and separate these bids, pipe that should be costing within the same amount by $1,000 was $6,000, $8,000 all over,” he said.
Public Works Director John Tustin acknowledged the discrepancy and admitted that A.P. might require some extra observation but that they have done good work in the past for other clients.
“In discussions with local clients that have worked with A.P. Croll, they are qualified to complete this work,” Tustin told the commission. “However, they have a history of requesting change orders and must be continually reminded to keep their documentation in order and to monitor their schedule.”
Tustin also pointed out that the engineer’s estimate for the project, which should encompass some 1,600 linear feet of gravity sewer and 2,300 linear feet of eight-inch waterline, came in at $500,000 so that, while A.P.’s bid is low, it’s “still in that ballpark.”
Shockley and Bunting remained wary but did vote with the rest of the commission to unanimously approve acceptance of the bid. Commission President Bud Church gave Tustin a message to pass along to A.P.
“I would suggest that you tell them there was a lot of discussion, a lot of concern and before they push for anything they better make sure they’re right,” said Church.
Commissioner Judy Boggs, who represents Ocean Pines, said she was glad to see the project moving forward. A water and sewer extension to the plaza has been in the pipeline for some time with the expectation that the county’s involvement is necessary to get the ball rolling and that private business will eventually pay for the system once it’s online and that the expansion will also attract new business to the area.
The next stop in the process will be a public hearing on the project scheduled for Nov. 5.