It seemed like a long shot all week, but Ocean City and Worcester County governments worked diligently with state elected representatives and trade associations to take a stab at outdoor dining for this holiday weekend. It was a well-coordinated effort, but it was clearly too much too soon for Gov. Larry Hogan. It was no surprise given Hogan’s commitment to a slow reopening of the economy.
Senator Mary Beth Carozza, who Hogan campaigned for robustly in 2018 to defeat incumbent Jim Mathias, provided the most hope for outdoor dining during a Worcester County Commissioners meeting last week. In support of the commissioners sending a letter to the governor advocating for outdoor dining throughout the county, Carozza said, “It’s clear that the governor is providing flexibility to you at the local level on future reopening decisions … wanting to take advantage of that local control and leaving it up to local jurisdictions to make the next wave of reopening decisions I believe is very helpful for the commissioners to support the effort to allow for the outdoor seating. I can assure you those protocols are already in place. Operators while they’ve been closed have been working on those protocols. Many of those protocols we offered at the local level were included in the recommendations that were passed to the governor’s task force. They’re in coordination with the National Restaurant Association. We don’t have to start from scratch. We can take many of the protocols that have already been created, to package it in a way to support Worcester County government’s request. I think that would make a very strong case. It would also be consistent with the governor’s own recovery plan.”
The senator reiterated those comments in a Facebook post Tuesday, resulting in what was probably false hope for many restaurateurs in the area. State Comptroller Peter Franchot joined the fray this week, saying at a Board of Public Works meeting with Hogan, “To state the obvious, outdoor seating is far safer than indoor seating, and my fear is that if we don’t make this commonsense policy adjustment sooner rather than later, we won’t have a restaurant industry left to save.”
In the end, the governor did not bite, saying only in a statement through his office to WMAR television, “The governor will continue to monitor the key metrics and follow the plan outlined in the Roadmap to Recovery.”
Based on his recovery plan and stated time table for the phases, I figure the earliest Hogan will move areas of the state into the second phase would be next Friday, May 29. Once the state was in phase one, he said if the key health indicators – deaths, hospitalizations and acute care bed usage – remained on the decline or at least were stabilized for two weeks phase two would be enacted. Restaurants are included in phase two with restrictions, according to his plan. A reasonable expectation would be for outdoor seating to be permitted in phase two with 50% interior capacity. Delaware restaurants can open June 1 with 30% inside capacity and consideration for limited outside seating.
Contrary to what was reported last week, Worcester County officials made it clear this week they never made an official pledge to Atlantic General Hospital’s capital campaign. I wrote last week the county was wrong to “renege” on its campaign commitment in year four of five. While I still believe the county should be criticized for cutting the hospital out entirely from its budget, it’s important to note the county did not have a pledge toward the hospital’s capital campaign.
Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino articulated the county’s position and dispute of the coverage last week, specifically that county was pulling out of its capital campaign pledge. The county maintains it never made a pledge, but it’s clear the county did support the capital efforts of the hospital with three consecutive $100,000 contributions in its last three budgets. Letters from the county support the claim and it appears an assumption was made by the hospital. In each of its letters to the hospital over the last three years, the wording is clear the county was providing a “one-time” capital grant to the hospital of $100,000.
Though the county zeroed out the hospital, the Ocean City Mayor and Council did the right thing this week and committed in its to budget provide its fourth $100,000 installment of its five-year, $500,000 pledge.
Included in the Town of Berlin’s electric bills this week was an interesting look at what customers are saving with their average monthly bills.
For many years, town residents were paying much more for electric service through the town than nearby folks who used other utilities like Choptank or Delmarva Power. For instance, based on average monthly bill usage of 1,000 kWh, town residents in 2008 were paying $179.84/month. For the same usage now in Berlin, residents are paying $122.53/month, a 47% reduction from 12 years ago.
For comparison’s sake, according to the flyer in the mail, the town included what the monthly bills for the same usage would be for competitors Delmarva Power (as of December 2019, $147.44, 16% more) and Choptank (as of March, $145, 15% more).