Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – March 15, 2019

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – March 15, 2019

It appears schools in Maryland will head back before Labor Day in the near future. It could even occur as early as this summer.

With this week’s legislative action, many school systems will quickly get to work on revising their existing school calendars for the 2019-20 school year. In fact, many school systems on the western shore most likely already have calendars drawn up for a pre-Labor Day start date based on their awareness the legislation to undo the governor’s start date mandate would easily cruise with a veto-proof majority.

While he talks tough on the matter, the fact is Republican Gov. Larry Hogan does not have the power to beat the Democratic-controlled legislature on this matter. Even if he is successful in getting a statewide referendum put on the ballot for the next election, which would be in 2020 at its earliest, it will likely only be a temporary thing. His term expires in 2022 and the General Assembly can still overrule the referendum results.

I admit to not being entirely convinced the post-Labor Day school start is a huge economic boost for Ocean City. Clearly, it has a positive impact on the bottom line of Ocean City businesses. It’s too early to tell for me, but it’s important to realize schools in Pennsylvania start before Labor Day. Therefore, the economic impact is limited to our state’s families. While the economic implications are debatable, what is clear is the repulsive claims from school officials that a post-Labor Day start somehow places impoverished kids in peril of falling behind similar students in other states. I find that to be nonsense.

Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to seeing what Hogan’s plans are to try and battle the legislature on this front. In the meantime, the tough talk from Comptroller Peter Franchot and Hogan against the state’s Democratic decision makers will continue.

“This is just politics at its worst. As if it isn’t bad enough that members of the legislature are attempting to reverse our common sense initiative to start school after Labor Day, they are now using heavy-handed tactics to unfairly influence the ballot process and any petition to bring this issue directly to Maryland voters,” said Hogan.

The legislation attempting to add some harsher penalties to Ocean City’s current special event zone was expected to clear the General Assembly with ease. It was viewed as a “local courtesy bill,” but the reality is it was a failure.

Despite testimony in support of it from local legislators, government officials, trade groups and others, the bill never made it out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. As a result, the companion bill was pulled from a similar committee in the House.

While everyone should be disappointed in this effort, it appears there is a precedent in place in Annapolis. It appears bills generally do not see significant changes the initial year after being passed. Next year it will likely stand a better chance.

“While I believe we made a strong case at the hearing for the need to expand the violations under the current law, the committee members were not inclined to increase penalties again this year after granting approval for the special events zone last year,” Senator Mary Beth Carozza said. “We are disappointed with the committee’s decision, but we have left the door open to go back again next session and push for the increased penalties.”

I don’t agree with those who say sell Berlin Falls Park to help town government deal with its financial troubles. While criticism of the town’s fiscal woes and the planned tax and fee increases should continue to be heaped on the town’s elected and appointed officials, I’m not ready to conclude the acquisition of the old chicken plant property is the biggest reason the town is where it is today.

First, selling the property is not an easy matter and will not help with this fiscal year’s budget woes. It’s not as simple as saying sell the land so taxes and fees won’t skyrocket. Additionally, there were months of opportunities for Berlin citizens to weigh in on this expensive acquisition before it was purchased. There was little to no opposition expressed.

Berlin Falls Park is basically an outdoor spot to walk and exercise. It’s not beautiful in its current state, but it’s open space with potential. It’s also property within the control of the town. When it was on the open market, the town had no control over what that huge piece of property was going to be used for in the future. Those of us who have lived here long enough remember well the days of the dead chicken smell from Hudson Foods. It was a bad situation for Berlin and a constant source of complaints. There were days when being outside was disgusting.

The town is going to have to spend a lot of money to get the property into a suitable open space that will be a source of pride for the community. It’s going to take years. I think those who are unhappy with the park and the perceived lack of progress or direction need to understand they can be part of its future. There is an active Berlin Falls Park Advisory Committee in existence. It meets regularly and wants to hear what town citizens have to say. You can find a lot of information on the town’s website about the park along with various studies and plans including an interpretive plan spelling out some exciting possibilities.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.