BERLIN – Updates on new development, Route 589 changes and county finances highlighted a community meeting hosted by Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino.
On Saturday, Bertino hosted his 14th town hall meeting since being elected in 2014 to represent Ocean Pines voters as a commissioner. Bertino kicked off the meeting by addressing the county’s $6.7 million budget shortfall, which he said would be discussed at upcoming budget work sessions.
“We’ll be looking at ways to close that gap,” he told a crowd of about 75 people.
Bertino said the budget as proposed included “a lot of asks” by department heads as well as increased requests from local municipalities. He said he believed that was a result of the county’s decision last year to provide Snow Hill with funding for road paving. He pointed out that he and Commissioner Jim Bunting, who was also in attendance Saturday, had not supported providing that funding.
“I don’t think it’s the county’s responsibility to pay for that,” he said. “Now this year we’ve set ourselves up because now another town has come to us for infrastructure.”
He said in Pocomoke certain infrastructure needs had been neglected for 40 years and now the town was asking for county funding to help address those issues.
“I don’t think that’s right,” he said, adding that he and Bunting would not be voting in support of funding for that.
As far as new development, Bertino said two additional businesses that would be coming to Route 50 near Home Depot included Aspen Dental and a Verizon retail store. On Route 589, Bertino said the Atlantic General Hospital development moving forward just south of Ocean Pines would include medical offices as well as an independent assisted living facility.
Bertino said the developer would be required to widen Route 589 in front of the parcel.
“One of the things that’s going to be part of this project here is they’re going to be widening 589 in front of this new facility,” he said. “Quite truthfully, this is my take — this is not official — but what I think is happening is the state’s not going to pony up any money to widen 589. As more developers come in they’re going to force them to pay for the renovations … The last conversation we had with the State Highway Administration, we’re looking at 20-25 years before they claim they would have the funding for this.”
He also said that he’d asked State Highway Administration officials about the traffic circle proposed at the north gate of Ocean Pines. Bertino said he’d been advised that even if the circle was approved it’d be a few years off because of funding constraints.
“I don’t know how you all feel but I see some major problems with that…,” Bertino said, adding that a circle would lengthen the wait for vehicles trying to get onto Route 589 from Ocean Parkway. “If you have a circle there Saturday on Fourth of July, I think we’re going to be waiting quite a while. You may want to keep your eyes and ears open for that.”
Guest speakers at Saturday’s meeting included Lynne Barton, principal of Stephen Decatur Middle School, as well as Worcester County State’s Attorney Kris Heiser and Chief Deputy Mark Titanski. Titanski outlined the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office’s commitment to protecting local schools and fighting the opioid epidemic. He also highlighted the department’s efforts to work cooperatively with other local law enforcement agencies. When asked about the office’s view on the Second Amendment, Titanski said Sheriff Matt Crisafulli believed in common sense gun laws. He said that while there were those who believed all guns should be illegal and those who believed citizens should be able to have any guns they wanted, there was a middle ground.
“We could sit here and talk about what gun laws could come up and we could spend days on it,” he said. “I will tell you that the sheriff’s not going to enforce any laws that haven’t been vetted, that haven’t been discussed with the state’s attorney’s office.”
Titanski added that gun laws became a hot topic every spring.
“It’s a tough subject,” Titanski said. “Let me bring it to you like this. Drugs are illegal. Heroin’s illegal. We’re not going to go to everyone’s house and knock down their doors and look for heroin in everyone’s house just because it’s illegal. If certain guns were ever made illegal, I would not see the sheriff’s office knocking down doors looking for guns. That’s not what we’re about. That’s not what we do. I would refer to our previous statement that the sheriff’s main mission is to keep everyone that lives here as safe as possible. Sometimes protecting people means protecting them from crime, and it can also mean protecting them from the federal government and lawmakers that want to enact laws that are unconstitutional. That’s something that’s always going to be done at a state level or at a federal level.”