County Needs $57K To Keep Welcome Center Open

SNOW HILL – The fate of
the Pocomoke Welcome Center hangs on whether $57,000 can be found in next
year’s budget, which was all but finalized last week.

The state of Maryland
plans to close the heavily visited Welcome Center, at the Maryland-Virginia
state line, this summer if the county does not take over operations.

If the county can
identify a source in the budget for the thousands of dollars needed to keep the
Pocomoke Welcome Center open, the state will pitch in with a $50,000 grant.

The necessary $57,000 is
not in the budget now, county administrator Gerry Mason reminded the Worcester
County Commissioners Tuesday.

“The state is putting it
on the county again to assume the responsibility for a project that is theirs,”
said Commission President Bud Church.

“If we take it over,
they’ll never take it back,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

If the county does not
take over the Pocomoke Welcome Center and leaves it closed until the economy
recovers, the state of Maryland is more likely to re-open the welcome centers
under its own budget when the economy recovers, Boggs said.

“I think we should
decline,” said Boggs.

Commissioner Virgil
Shockley suggested opening the center only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, not
for four or seven days a week.

County staff only
explored opening the center for four or seven days a week, Mason said. A
three-day week would reduce costs, perhaps by about $10,000 to $12,000.

The Pocomoke Welcome
Center receives 400,000 visitors a year, said Commissioner Linda Busick.

“I think it’s a valuable
tourist site as far as serving the public,” said Busick. The center benefits
all of Worcester County, she added.

“I think we should at
least try it for a year and see how it goes,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

The money could come
from the increased county tourism budget, Gulyas proposed.

“That center definitely
benefits the whole county,” said Commissioner Bobby Cowger.

A lot of people in north
Worcester County donated money to make the center a reality, Cowger pointed

“We will be left with
funding the tourism center forever,” warned Boggs.

“It’s only for one year,
Judy. We can’t worry about next year,” Gulyas said.

The memorandum of
understanding with the state is only for one year, said county attorney Sonny

Cowger suggested adding
the expense of the Pocomoke Welcome Center to the budget, with the option to
change the allocation of funds later.

The commissioners voted
6 to 1 for Cowger’s motion, with Boggs voting against.

Shirley Pilchard, the
wife of the late Mark Pilchard, former member of the General Assembly and
former county commissioner who was instrumental in bringing the welcome center
to the county, asked the commissioners to keep the center open.

In honor of his work,
the welcome center was named after Mark Pilchard when it was built.

At Tuesday’s meeting,
Shirley Pilchard said that her concern is, if the welcome center closes except
for a few days a week, that the work the towns are doing to bring in visitors
is going to be lost.

“If nobody’s there to
tell them, they’re not going to go,” said Pilchard, citing Shad Landing State
Park, the Discovery Center and the MarVa Theater. That would hurt the local
bottom line, she felt.

“We’re going to take
away from the small businesses,” Pilchard said. “We need small businesses now.
Please do not do that to the county.”

Boggs said she thinks
the welcome center is valuable to the county, but added, “I’m just sick and
tired of the state forcing us to take their responsibility.”

Other counties are
absorbing the cost of their welcome centers because they know how beneficial
they are, said Pilchard.

“I know it brings a
great deal to Ocean City,” Gulyas said.

Pocomoke Mayor Mike
McDermott reported to the commissioners that the town council decided Monday
night to waive all utility costs on water and sewer for the welcome center to
help keep it open.

McDermott also said he
has talked to the county about the town providing staff one day a week at the
welcome center and will ask the mayors of Worcester County’s other three towns
to also staff the center one day per week.

“That center stands as a
beacon,” McDermott said. “The first thing you notice when you come across the
state line is not that you’re in Maryland but Worcester County.”