Mayor Says ‘Council Leadership Has Turned Its Back On Downtown’

SALISBURY — Just one day after Urban Salisbury, a Main Street Maryland agency charged with directing the revitalization of the downtown area, returned the portion of its funding dedicated by the City Council, Mayor Jim Ireton, Jr. blasted the elected officials for their lack of support for the agency.

On Tuesday, Urban Salisbury’s executive committee voted unanimously to reject the $35,000 dedicated to the organization in the fiscal year 2012 budget and returned the first installment check totaling $8,750 to the elected officials. Urban Salisbury, which derives its funding from several sources including an annual grant from the city, returned the funds suggesting the council’s perceived paltry donation reflected its lack of commitment to energizing the downtown area.

In a letter to Ireton on Tuesday, Urban Salisbury President Bruce Patterson explained the agency’s reasoning for returning the funding.

“Not only is the $35,000 offered by council about one-third of the amount needed to continue our record of success, the council’s restrictions on its use eliminates our ability to leverage the funds and violates our mandate as a Maryland Main Street agency,” the letter reads. “Again this year, the council chose to ignore our business plan and the problems of downtown. While their lack of vision and commitment is deplorable, it is also predictable.”

On Wednesday, Ireton and Urban Salisbury officials met with the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, and although no decision was made on the future of the agency, the mayor said later Salisbury’s status as a Main Street Maryland community was in jeopardy.

“We just got out of a meeting with the state and Maryland won’t say yet what they’re going to do,” he said. “But if Urban Salisbury closes its doors, Maryland is going to yank our Main Street designation. I guarantee that. Council leadership has turned its back on downtown.”

In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Ireton said his administration saved the Urban Salisbury program from the scrap heap nearly three years ago and pointed to the many success stories in the downtown area in the years since. He also called out the Council in general and Council President Terry Cohen specifically.

“Two-and-a-half years ago, my administration saved Urban Salisbury at a time when the previous administration wanted it axed,” he said. “For every dollar the City of Salisbury entrusted to Urban Salisbury, we saw a return of almost $3. This council’s action, to break its promise during a budget year, is indefensible.”

Ireton said the council’s decision to curtail the amount of funding dedicated to the program and its attempt to micromanage the agency flew in the face of common sense, given the return on the investment.

“It’s short-sighted to try to micromanage this,” he said. “We’re talking about a 280-percent return on the investment. Heck, at that rate I’d invest a million in it if we could. … It’s a culture of ‘no’. It’s a culture of ‘I’m not going to vote for anything or I’m not going to be in favor on anything.’ Downtown Salisbury just got punched in the stomach today by the Council president.”

Ireton said jeopardizing the Urban Salisbury program at a time when the downtown area is showing signs of recovery was shortsighted.

“We’ve had dozens of success stories come out of Urban Salisbury,” he said. “We have a lot of great things going on down there right now.”