Worcester Towns Seek Funding Increases

SNOW HILL – Local municipalities are all seeking increased funding as Worcester County begins its annual budget process.

On Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners received budget requests from the county’s three municipalities as well as Ocean Pines. All are asking for additional funding this year.

Pocomoke officials said the town was struggling with infrastructure problems. Its four lift stations are failing, impacting wastewater operations, while the ground below the town’s riverside boardwalk is eroding. Addressing those problems is expected to cost close to $800,000. Though the town is seeking an unrestricted grant of the same $465,000 it received last year, officials said any additional funding would help address the infrastructure problems.

“Pocomoke’s taken a hard stance on revitalization and stuff down there,” City Manager Robert Cowger said. “We’ve got a long ways to go and as you know it takes a lot of money. You guys have a lot of expenses on your shoulders too so anything you can do we greatly appreciate it.”

Councilwoman Esther Troast agreed.

“We’re on the right road to success but money is going to hold back our progress,” she said.

When asked for details regarding the pump station failures, Cowger said that a failure Monday had resulted in the city having to bring in sewage trucks.

“That was about a $20,000 expense to us, just for that one incident,” he said. “Once they start backing up, if they get to the level they overflow in the streets, they start going down the storm drains. We’ve caught them many a time within six, eight inches or a foot of coming into the street.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked if the municipality had a maintenance plan in place.

“Unfortunately, I think in the past—as you know I’ve been the city manager for a year and a half—and I’ve inherited a lot of problems there,” he said. “In the past it’s pretty much been if it’s not broke don’t worry about it. If it breaks fix it. That’s been the mentality for the last many a years.”

Bertino indicated that was a concern.

“Why should the county pony up the money to assist?” he said.

Cowger replied that Pocomoke’s residents were county residents as well.

“As with the county you, can’t be responsible for what prior commissioners and stuff did,” Cowger said.

Troast agreed.

“We now have a very active, hands-on, let’s get this done council,” she said, adding that they were committed to fixing the infrastructure and creating a maintenance plan going forward.

Councilman George Tasker thanked the commissioners for their past contributions and praised Cowger for arranging for in-house infrastructure improvements to address water issues during the past year.

“We’re trying to show we’re willing to work ourselves and not always be asking for money,” he said.

Snow Hill leaders asked for an unrestricted grant of $500,000, $175,000 in lieu of taxes, $100,000 for road paving and $75,000 to help establish a butterfly pavilion in Sturgis Park. Mayor Steve Mathews said the pavilion could be a big draw.

“I think it’s a very exciting project,” he said.

Councilwoman Latoya Purnell thanked the commissioners for providing funding for the paving of Coulbourne Lane last year and asked them again to reconsider providing Snow Hill with proceeds from the slots at Ocean Downs.

“We do continue to champion the video lottery grant,” she said. “Right now currently us on the south side don’t receive it. We as Snow Hill are the county seat. We would like to have a bit of that so we can work on some extra projects.”

Mayor Gee Williams presented the budget request from Berlin. This year, the town is seeking a $500,000 unrestricted grant from the county.

Williams said the town had increased its funding to the Berlin Fire Company in response to the growing demands on the organization.

“The town will be instituting increases in our municipal property taxes, and our fees for sewer, water and stormwater,” Williams said. “Basically we’re leaving nothing untouched in terms of spreading the pain and meeting these increasing obligations, which are not just limited to public safety but with also the need to provide utilities and the basic infrastructure and services.”

Williams said the town was also cutting its budget by 10 percent.

“This will be the third year in a row we’ve reduced the town’s budget by 5 percent or more,” he said. “Even with the additional commitment from our town taxpayers and utility customers the Town of Berlin needs an increase in our annual grant from Worcester County.”

He said the $500,000 grant request was $35,000 higher than the town’s request last year. He added that the town remained committed to creating economic development opportunities going forward.

“Investment in economic development works…,” he said. “If you don’t have investment you don’t have the returns on that investment.”

Doug Parks, president of the Ocean Pines Association, said the homeowners association was seeking additional funding for public safety, roads and bridges and parks and recreation/tourism. He pointed out that calls for service to Ocean Pines’ police had increased.

“There’s a lot of growth in that 589 corridor,” he said.

He added that the association had miles of roads and bridges to maintain and that its array of recreation and tourism programs were open to anyone, not just Ocean Pines residents.

While representatives from Ocean City couldn’t be in attendance this week, they’re expected to present the resort’s budget request later this month. The letter submitted to the county by Mayor Rick Meehan requests an increase in the town’s unrestricted grant as well as additional funding for tourism and fire and ambulance.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.