BERLIN – Maintaining the town’s finances, improving its appearance and supporting its businesses are Mayor Zack Tyndall’s goals moving into the new year.
Tyndall, who served as a town councilman until he defeated incumbent Gee Williams in October’s election, said that moving into 2021, his focuses for Berlin are the budget, beautification and empowering the town’s businesses. During the past two months, he’s had countless meetings with Berlin’s department heads, adopting a hands-on approach to leading the town.
“It’s a lot of work,” Tyndall said, “but it’s rewarding work. The job is what you make it.”
Though Tyndall kicked off his tenure as mayor with a bit of controversy, eliminating the Lord’s Prayer at council meetings and removing “America’s Coolest Small Town” from municipal letterhead, looking back he says he wouldn’t change his actions. He said the title could still be used to promote Berlin economically whether it was on the town’s formal letterhead or not. As for the prayer, he said it was eliminated in the interest of inclusion and so as not to create a legal liability for the town. As a result of concerns he heard from citizens in the weeks after that decision, Tyndall is planning to add a moment of silence to the agenda going forward.
“It’ll give people an opportunity to say a prayer before the meeting or just to reflect on the business ahead,” he said.
The mayor said he spent the past two months meeting with town staff to understand each department’s needs and with council members to get a grasp of the issues in each of their districts. Moving forward, he wants to ensure the town remains the quaint, appealing municipality it currently is. That means increasing general maintenance, paying extra attention to things like the cleanliness of the town’s parks and the accessibility of its sidewalks.
“These are basic things but they’re things people see when they first enter our town,” Tyndall said.
Of course, the town’s finance’s dictate its efforts. Tyndall said he wanted to make to make sure the town stayed affordable.
“The Town of Berlin has some room to improve financially,” he said. “We’re not going to do that through cutting jobs or services.”
Instead he wants to find ways to creatively cut costs and said he was meeting weekly with the town’s finance department. He doesn’t want citizens to experience a tax increase in 2021.
“I see a way forward that doesn’t include a tax increase,” he said. “It’s really about putting a pen to paper.”
He acknowledged, however, that the town’s utility funds were not in good shape. He cited a recent report that indicated the inaccuracy of the town’s aging water meters was costing the municipality a significant amount of money. He said Jean Holloway of the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project Inc. would be working on a water and sewer rate study but that internally, the town was also looking at ways to cut costs and ensure the general fund was not subsidizing the enterprise funds.
“This is going to be a few years in before we see the utilities get to where they need to be,” Tyndall said.
His other key focus for the coming year is supporting Berlin’s business community, particularly as the impacts of COVID-19 are still being felt.
“Sometimes people don’t understand the role of the municipality when it comes to the business environment,” he said. “The town needs to create an environment where businesses can thrive.”
He wants the town to work side-by-side with the merchants and chamber of commerce to support existing businesses and attract new businesses. He believes one way to do that is to better promote opportunities afforded to local businesses by academic institutions such as Salisbury University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Though he recommends people plan as if COVID-19 will still be a concern, he’s hoping that the town’s annual events — which provide a big boost to Berlin’s shops and restaurants — will be able to move forward. Tyndall added that Berlin’s merchants had been invited to send a representative to event planning meetings hosted by the town in the future. While there will be no New Year’s Eve ball drop, the town’s other signature events could return in 2021.
When asked about the future of Heron Park, Tyndall said the town had to find a way to help offset the $200,000 required each year to cover the debt associated with the property.
“That’s a huge draw on the general fund,” Tyndall said.
Though the town hasn’t received any news regarding the demolition grant it was seeking to raze the large building on the property, that would be a good first step toward improving the parcel, Tyndall said. He added that the town also needed to find some other revenue producing opportunities for the site.