If it’s true that tax increases are rarely given much thought in election years, it stands to reason that elected officials should not consider pay raises during those years either. The County Commissioners appear to be on this track. There has not been a public discussion on the topic, but tax increases appear to be off the table in Snow Hill as the commissioners seem intent on looking to other means to balance their budget and address an immediate deficit in the current budget. This week, the commissioners decided to formally reject giving themselves a 12.5-percent raise. Currently, the commissioners receive $25,000 per year in salary and another $3,000 for mileage and job-related expenses ($250 per month). The planned raise, the last of which occurred five years ago and was the result of an automatic provision approved back in 2005, would raise the annual salary to $28,125.
This was obviously the logical move here. From the comments heard this week, the commissioners seem genuinely aware this is not the right time to give themselves more money, particularly when county employees are not expected to get any boost in compensation and could even be told to take a certain number of furlough days. Even if this was not the case, I think commissioner pay should not exceed the current $25,000 a year and $3,000 for expenses. That’s solid pay for what is a volunteer job, and there should be a ceiling in place.
As is often the case this time of year, the rumor mill has been working overtime, producing a lot of gems about the future of the Marlin Moon Grille, which has been seeking a new home since closing down and moving out of its former Francis Scott Key Motel home last year. Owner Gary Beach put to rest the rumors a couple weeks ago when he reported on Facebook that he and his team would soon be taking over a West Ocean City restaurant and managing it for the season. In that initial post, Beach confirmed he had hoped to build his own restaurant on property in West Ocean City, but the deal fell through. Back on Facebook this week, Beach announced he would be taking over management of Micky Fins in West Ocean City and expects to be open in early March. The restaurant will remain open under the same name. He intimated he’s still searching for a new site for the Marlin Moon Grille.
This has not been a good week for the Maryland Department of the Environment, which has come under fire for its poor handling of a complaint involving a county poultry farm.
Last month, the Waterkeepers Alliance filed notice of a lawsuit for Clean Water Act violations on the farm. Aerial photos clearly show a mound of material, believed to be manure of some type or treated sewage, located near a ditch that leads directly to the Pocomoke River. There were manmade trenches leading directly from the mound to the ditch. The Alliance contends water quality tests show high levels of pollution.
For weeks, it has been speculated that MDE never followed up and conducted its own tests after hearing from the Waterkeepers, despite comments from a spokesperson saying it had taken samples and run tests. It was confirmed this week that MDE has not conducted any of its own tests, even though it reported to the media that it had. Finally, MDE owned up to it and said visual inspections have taken place, but the property owners have not allowed state inspectors on site to take samples. MDE said a search warrant would be obtained if it the property owner does not acquiesce in short order.
The key issue here is the farm holds a permit issued by MDE that allows it to be in the poultry business. It’s disturbing that the property owners can reject inspectors. Clearly, there’s something awry in the inspection and compliance process at MDE. Here we have a formal challenge from a respectable environmental group, justified by legitimate water quality samples, and MDE is dragging its feet because it’s unclear of what process to take or is simply not willing to force the issue. Either way, it’s handled this situation poorly from the start.