County Weighs In On Pending State Legislation

BERLIN – The Worcester County Commissioners agreed yesterday to voice their opposition to several pieces of legislation proposed at the state level, including a bill that would bring back the phosphorous management regulations pulled by Gov. Larry Hogan.

According to Bob Mitchell, the county’s director of environmental programs, Sen. Paul Pinsky from Prince George’s County has introduced a bill that would reenact the phosphorous management regulations previously proposed for Maryland.

“Sen. Pinsky’s bill mirrors what was proposed before,” Mitchell said. “This would entail a big change for our farmers.”

According to Mitchell, the proposed legislation would mostly affect farms with soil containing high phosphorous levels. It would force farmers to reduce or even eliminate the application of phosphorous to their fields. Instead of spreading manure as they have done in the past, many farmers will have to purchase inorganic commercial fertilizer instead. In addition to purchasing fertilizer, farmers will be faced with the costs associated with relocating their manure.

“Costs like those are pretty hard to absorb,” Mitchell said.

Commissioner Jim Bunting pointed out that not only would the legislation have a negative impact on local farmers, it would punish them for a problem they weren’t contributing to.

“Our nutrient management plans are working,” he said.

The commissioners agreed to draft a letter to send to state legislators outlining their opposition to Pinsky’s bill.

They also agreed to speak out against other legislation that would reallocate some of the county’s casino revenue to the Education Trust Fund.

“It’s a no brainer,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.

The legislation would decrease the county’s casino revenue by $298,584 in FY 2015 and by $284,951 in FY 2016. Harold Higgins, the county’s chief administrative officer, said county officials were counting on that money to cover the debt service for Worcester Technical High School. According to Higgins, the Education Trust Fund already receives 28 percent of the state’s video lottery terminal revenues.

At Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners did agree to send a letter in support of one piece of potential legislation.

Higgins said the proposed bill would establish a Class 9 craft distillery license in Worcester County. Such a license would allow an entity with a Class D beer, wine and liquor license to establish and operate a plant for distilling and bottling liquor. The legislation is expected to only affect Seacrets in Ocean City.

According to Mitrecic, with this change Seacrets would be able to move its craft distillery operation from Delaware to Maryland. He said the operation currently employed about 40 people.

“I can’t find any ill effects this will have on the county,” Mitrecic said.

Commissioner Bud Church agreed.

“I think it’s a plus-plus for Maryland,” he said. “It will bring jobs from Delaware to Maryland, which is not happening very often.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked whether the county’s other Class D liquor license holders could establish distilleries. Sonny Bloxom, the county’s attorney, said there were about six others with the same license. While the legislation would enable them to establish distilleries, they are not expected to.

“I don’t see any of the other places have the space to do it,” Mitrecic said.

Church, too, said he didn’t expect any other businesses to take advantage of the change.

“The other potential downside for them is the cost,” he said. “It’s an enormous investment.”