Response To ‘Illegals’ Letter
Richard Ruzika’s letter (“Illegals Must Go Home” in the June 29 issue) begins by claiming that nobody knows how many “illegals” are here in the United States. Actually, there’s quite a bit of information about undocumented residents, if one is interested in facts. Studies report there are about 11 million residing in the US as of last year, down from the peak year of 2007.
Who are they? They are our neighbors. Contrary to the assertions in the letter (and tirelessly insisted on by our prevaricating president), very few of them are criminals or violent. Again, data show immigrants commit fewer crimes than non-immigrants. The vast majority are here to work and support their families. They pay taxes and do jobs others won’t do. Again, data show that after the first generation immigrants are net contributors to the economy.
And it’s not just dry numbers. I know well several families of undocumented residents on the Eastern Shore. They are hard-working, church going, lovely people, honest and reliable. The hate expressed toward people like them by some people (who no doubt are themselves descendants of immigrants, with papers or not) is unfair and presumably based on ignorance.
Coalition’s Work Laudable
We’ve all heard the campaign promises and talk from Washington about boosting the economic prospects of communities like ours. No one needs to sell us on our potential, but does this new administration and Congress actually understand what places like the Town of Berlin really need to prosper?
To help carry this message to Washington, I recently joined the First & Main (www.firstandmain.org) coalition, a new bipartisan group of more than 100 other local elected leaders representing small towns, cities or counties across 33 states. We call it First & Main for a simple reason: no matter the size of the town, if business and life is good on Main Street, there’s a good chance that the rest of the community is following suit. In the same way, when America’s smaller towns and cities like Berlin are prospering, so is the rest of the country.
Last week I joined First & Main’s other 107 elected leaders from communities much like ours across the country in sending a letter to members of Congress and the White House that had a simple message: We are counting on them to be a reliable partner and support our homegrown efforts to rebuild our downtowns, restore our economies, revitalize neighborhoods, attract new, job-creating investments, and improve opportunity for everyone.
We’re not looking for a handout, but our own firsthand experience here in Maryland shows us how federal programs and resources can make these things happen. There is a range of proven federal programs that can encourage the private sector to invest and are so important to our quality of life and the continued economic vitality of communities throughout Maryland.
But what if these federal resources were threatened?
After threats of severe cuts, the FY18 federal budget approved by Congress and signed by the President in April maintained and even strengthened many vital federal programs that help all of us drive prosperity in our communities, including critical Community Development Block Grants, cleanup assistance to revitalize degraded properties from the Environmental Protection Agency and Economic Development Grants from the Economic Development Agency. We are grateful for this commitment to local revitalization and growth.
Yet we also remain deeply concerned by plans to put this robust federal support for local communities back on the chopping block for next year and beyond.
We are keenly aware of concerns over the ballooning national deficit and the need to begin serious work towards a balanced federal budget. But our nation’s budget should not be balanced on the backs of local communities like ours. That kind of deficit reduction strategy is penny wise, but pound foolish.
Dollar for dollar, federal investments in local communities in Maryland, generate a far greater return on investment in terms of local revitalization and job creation than any other line item in the federal budget.
Make no mistake — we’re not asking for handouts. But, we are looking for a reliable federal partner to continue the progress we’ve begun in eliminating substandard properties, stabilizing neighborhoods, and cleaning up contaminated industrial sites to prepare them for new development. Local communities like ours continue to meet our challenges head-on, with creative and effective approaches to revitalization.
I am glad to be part of a growing coalition of local elected officials that’s urging all our federal leaders to focus on proven solutions that will stimulate the kind of economic growth that will create vibrant, healthy communities; bring prosperity to all of our residents, families, and workers; and produce a rising tide that lifts all boats in Maryland – and other rural areas, small towns and mid-sized cities across the country.
(The writer is the Town of Berlin’s mayor.)
As we celebrate Independence Day during our discordant times, we must remember the Fourth of July is not about loyalty or allegiance. It is all about Liberty. While patriotism can be the refuge of scoundrels, the value and worth of each and every citizen is vested in their Liberty, a birthright, declared in our Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights. In a world governed by human laws, our liberties place a value on our lives that eclipses local law.
A week ago, Worcester County held primary elections. In the county of approximately 40,000, there are 30,687 registered voters. Purportedly 26.9% of registered voter’s turned out. The last few days the winners have been thanking their supporters. Yet it is notable that no winner of a county wide race received 10% of the registered vote, three primary winners will default into office owing to lack of an opponent, and a number of commissioners and councilmen will run unopposed in November’s election. The apathy evident in low turnout and lack of active participation is affecting the legitimacy of our elections.
Low turnout reduces accountability, diminishes the credibility of government actions, and invites the permanent bureaucracy to make rules that do not reflect the desires of the people.
In Ocean City, where only 3% of the tax dollars come from voters, true representative government has been vacated. Moreover, this de minimis voter pool is pandered to with homestead discounts on property taxes. Has this lack of taxpayer oversight had a discernable effect? On first blush, no, but is that correct? How is government with such low direct accountability to the taxpayers working? What are the red flags from this diminished accountability, owing to a lack of taxpayer involvement?
This year the Ocean City Council borrowed the largest new bond in its history. The town issued $28 million of new debt primarily for the “Public Works Campus” and a third addition to the Convention Center. The town represented that they had $20 million of state funding lined up to complete the convention center, they did not have money lined up. Also our town politicians wrongly represented inadequate bids for buildings in the public works project without commitments. Both representations turned out to be false yet the monies were borrowed anyway and the town was put in more debt. Shouldn’t our local politicians have real commitments on funding from financial partners as well as firm bids for construction before putting the taxpayers in more debt? At the very least this violates the public trust. Is anyone watching? Does anyone care? Total Ocean City debt has gone from $50 million after the last recession to well over $100 million. What will it be in another five years?
Over the last two decades, our local politicians involved the town in four federal lawsuits over failed efforts to regulate the Boardwalk performers. All four court actions were ruled against the town. (Einstein is credited with saying “To repeat the same behavior and expect a different result is a sign of insanity”). Recently the town spent $476,614 on lawyers and two settlements of $15,000 for Mark Chase and $137,000 for Mr. Hassay [numbers provided by Town of Ocean City]. The town is facing another bill for its latest violations. Worse yet, almost half the legal expenses for these failed efforts were actually revenue to the city solicitor’s law firm, a clear conflict of interest. Is anyone watching? Does anyone care?
This year the Ocean City Mayor &Council, while groping for more taxes fines and fees, rather than cutting expenses, decided to sue the county to pay for services, like police and fire, the town has duplicated. In 35 years the Ocean City government has grown 20 times in size (source 1982/2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports). Yet the town’s resident population is unchanged and our guests have only doubled. Is this out of control growth in local government a wish of taxpayers? Is it even known?
Finally, go to “America’s Great Housing Divide” a study by zip code of house values from 2004 to 2015 issued by The Washington Post and enter our zip code. You will learn that our housing values were down, 17% lower than the 2004 level. Although values have moved up some they still lag. Is this destruction of our property values acceptable? In many surrounding areas values have surpassed the old highs. Check it out. Is this good governance? Do people care?
Thank God that we are still in a country of rights and liberties. Maybe the poor busker’s recent decision can remind us of what is at stake on Independence Day. Human rights and our welfare are related. But how long will it last without accountability and diligent oversight by the citizens, the taxpayers? Can our liberties survive in a country where apathy and disinterest are prevalent? I think not.