WEST OCEAN CITY – Unsanctioned special events, farming regulations and education funding were among the many concerns highlighted at a community stakeholder meeting with incoming Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson last week.
Last Friday, Senator Mary Beth Carozza hosted a meeting with Ferguson and representatives from key industries in Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties.
“The purpose of this meeting is to give the new incoming senate president, Senator Bill Ferguson, the opportunity to see the true cross section of my district, District 38 …,” Carozza said. “In order to do that, I am giving my key constituencies the opportunity to give brief presentations with their priorities and their challenges.”
Carozza said Ferguson was busy visiting senators and constituents from each district before he is officially sworn in as senate president.
“Some opted for one-on-ones, but I saw this as an opportunity to allow my constituents, the key economic drivers in this area, to tell their stories – how we are economic drivers, how we do contribute to the entire state of Maryland’s economy – and their challenges,” she said.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said he wanted to highlight issues threatening the resort community.
“I think we play a significant role in tourism throughout our state,” he said. “But it doesn’t come without a price and it doesn’t come without its challenges.”
Meehan said one of those challenges was the presence of the unofficial H20 International car show, an unsanctioned motorized special event that wreaked havoc in Ocean City in late September.
Two years ago, the town’s elected officials came before the state legislature to establish a special event zone – featuring reduced speeds and greater enforcement – for motorized events. Last week, however, Meehan shared the town’s intension to ask for additional provisions.
“We are going to be coming back and asking for some additional provisions to be added to that legislation,” he said, “just for the special event zone, just for those time periods and just for Ocean City.”
Meehan also highlighted efforts to have a proposed offshore wind farm moved farther off the coast.
“We have one chance to get it right,” he said. “Build the project, move it 33 miles off our coast … Let’s make it the poster child for wind farms.”
Those in the tourism industry also shared their concerns last week. Melanie Pursel, president and CEO of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, advocated for small businesses and the continuation of the J-1 Summer Work and Travel program, but called for changes to the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, or the paid sick leave bill.
“It really has been a challenge for us,” she said.
Ferguson also heard from Fish Tales owner Shawn Harmon, who highlighted the rising costs associated with the $15 minimum wage bill, and representatives from Atlantic General Hospital and Peninsula Regional Medical Center, who elaborated on health care challenges.
Representatives from the poultry industry also shared their concerns as Maryland prepares to move into the next phase of Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT) regulations, which were implemented as a way to identify the risk of phosphorous loss and prevent additional buildup of phosphorous in soils already saturated.
“I think there needs to be more science done that proves that PMT actually works,” Worcester County Farm Bureau President Alan Hudson said.
Wicomico County poultry farmer Michelle Chesnick said farmers have made significant strides to become environmentally conscious, but highlighted the financial implications of PMT regulations.
“When you do things like this you are impacting rural communities, you are impacting lives …,” she said.
Representatives with the commercial fishing industry told Ferguson a more permanent solution was needed for shoaling problems at the Ocean City Inlet and harbor.
“Several vessels have left us and relocated to New Jersey,” Southern Connection Seafood’s Merrill Campbell said. “This has resulted in a loss of millions of dollars in revenue.”
Commercial fisherman Sonny Gwin also highlighted the impacts of allocations and reallocations of various fish species.
“Allocations are the amount or quota that each state gets,” he said. “This is then divided among the commercial fishermen of Maryland. When the issue of reallocation is revisited, we want the reallocation to be fair and equitable for the commercial fishermen of Maryland, so we can continue to make a living and provide seafood to Maryland.”
Representing the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, outgoing Executive Director Frank Piorko said it was important to maintain funding for its various monitoring programs.
“Coastal bays is indeed a national treasure, and sometimes that a little bit overshadowed by the efforts of our big brother, the Chesapeake Bay, that’s a 64,000-square-mile watershed,” he said.
Somerset County Commission President Craig Mathies, Wicomico County Council President Larry Dodd and Worcester County Commission President Joe Mitrecic were also present at last week’s meeting.
In Worcester County, Mitrecic said statewide sprinkler requirements in new single-family homes have hurt home construction.
“It has hurt building in Worcester County …,” he said. “I believe in Sussex County they had 13 times as many permits for new homes last year as Worcester County.”
Mitrecic also shared concerns regarding the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations for improving the state public education system. He asked that any local funding changes go into effect in fiscal year 2022, giving county governments time to prepare their budgets.
“Kirwan scares us to death,” he said. “We look at it as an unfunded mandate. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to find out how much funding we have to put in until possibly March.”
Other issues discussed last week ranged from community development and tax policies to retirement and fire and EMS services.
Ferguson thanked the stakeholders for their input.
“At the end of the day, there’s so much more that binds us together than separates us …,” he said. “Despite some of our competitive disadvantages, which I know are very real, we do have an amazing state and we have unbelievable assets. Our best assets are our people. That’s been proven even more so here today.”
Ferguson noted the challenges that lie ahead in his tenure as senate president, but he said he was encouraged by the discussions.
“Following a senate president who’s been there for 33 years and has been the longest serving senate president in the history of the United States is no small task, but I have unbelievable confidence in folks like Mary Beth Carozza and my colleagues who care passionately about their communities,” he said. “… Our number one job next year is to prove that stability will remain, and we need to deliver a body that solves problems in thoughtful, meaningful ways that’s not about politics but solutions. That’s my hope moving forward, and that will only happen with your continued engagement.”