Worcester County Commissioners Chip Bertino and Jim Bunting had to get some things off their chest this week. They wanted to make it clear there was no “deal” made among the commissioners over the summer to obtain Commissioner Josh Nordstrom’s support for a room tax increase.
For a period of a few weeks this summer, it appeared Ocean City’s plan to increase the countywide room tax by half of a percentage point could be in jeopardy because Nordstrom had said he would not support it if his fellow commissioners were not willing to be more receptive to funding support for his southern district in the future. His abstention from the enabling room tax increase vote was a message. His vote on that actual increase itself was critical because the vote had to be unanimous.
When Nordstrom voted along with his fellow commissioners on a room tax increase without making any public comments, it raised some red flags among many. It was evident some sort of agreement, assurance or “deal” was made to gain Nordstrom’s vote. After the meeting, Nordstrom said he had gained enough support from his colleagues his district would get a better shake on future funding, potentially a share of casino table game revenue, that he was willing to vote for the room tax increase. What that was specifically was not known, but it would be discussed further at budget time.
I then opined in this space, “It’s going to be interesting to see what transpires in the spring involving a deal made among the Worcester County Commissioners. In exchange for his vote two weeks ago for a room tax increase, it’s clear Commissioner Josh Nordstrom was promised some funding for the south end of the county by his colleagues. … Perhaps it’s a conspiracy theory on my part, but I would not be surprised if a majority of the commissioners renege on this deal at budget time.”
The word “deal” rankled Bertino and Bunting because they said one never took place. Bertino said this week, “I didn’t make a promise in signature or in word that I was going to vote a certain way. In fact, that particular topic was never even discussed with me. … But no one up here, no one speaks for any one of the commissioners other than themselves.” Bunting, who read from this column in open session, added, “I want whoever wrote this line to know that I have not made a deal with anybody. I have not talked to anybody about making a deal. I will not make a deal.”
Nordstrom made it clear to his colleagues he was going to continue to stand up for his district.
“Neither of you have come and talked to me personally about this. You chose open session to do to do it which is unfortunate but that’s your right,” he said. “… To talk about how I am somehow falsely representing this board, this commission up here is untrue. Some of the things you’ve heard may or may not be true but none of them are illegal or immoral or have any negative connotations whatsoever. They just might be something you don’t approve of or don’t like. But I haven’t done anything wrong and I won’t do anything wrong. …”
I remain convinced Nordstrom was given assurances by some of his colleagues his requests for his district would at a minimum get more consideration in exchange for his support of the room tax increase. Bertino and Bunting certainly made it clear they were not a part of it. Commissioner Bud Church evidently knew about some private talks along those lines because Nordstrom asked him to sign an affidavit of support, which Church called “pretty far out of line.”
No matter the case, I must say it was refreshing to see the commissioners exchange in a dialogue like this in open session.
An online petition has been launched after last Friday’s nightmare on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The traffic backups at the bridge were so bad last week tolls were waived to allow for traffic to proceed at a reasonable rate. The summer-like traffic was unexpected by the state and likely a result of the warm weather forecast as well as the H2Oi motorists.
As of Thursday, the petition, “Bay Bridge Traffic – Find a better solution to alleviate traffic issues,” had about 2,300 signatures. One of the suggestions was instituting only electronic tolls rather than the current system, which is a hybrid of EZPass and traditional workers collecting the fees. The petition seemed to have an ally in Comptroller Peter Franchot. In a Facebook post yesterday after a Board of Public Works meeting Friday, one of Franchot’s suggestions to improve the situation was the, “Elimination of the traditional toll booths themselves, which naturally, and unnecessarily, slow traffic to a crawl. More and more tolled properties are transitioning to overhead cables which are capable of reading EZ Pass transponders and deduct value from passenger accounts, even at regular highway speeds. Why hang onto ’70s-era structures when better, proven technology is in the marketplace?”
Switching over to this system will certainly ease the commute for millions each year.