During last fall’s election season, all five mayoral candidates in Berlin vowed not to raise property taxes in their first year. Then-Councilman Zack Tyndall said, “I think it’s important for the people to understand that the role of the mayor is to one, set the tax rate, and two, present a balanced budget to the mayor and council. As the mayor you really have a lot of control over the amount of spending that’s done by the municipality. Granted there is going to be council review and input you have to take into consideration, but I didn’t see the necessity of the previous tax increase.”
The official public budget process gets underway next week with the mayor’s introduction of the proposed tax rate. Though Tyndall is proposing keeping the same tax rate for the next fiscal year, according to the meeting packet, it’s important to note the same 80-cent rate per $100 of assessed valuation will bring in an additional $101,593 due to property values increasing. To bring in the exact same amount of revenue as last year, the tax rate would need to fall to 77.8 cents. A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held on March 22. A reasonable question from Zoom attendees at the hearing would be what the town is planning to do with the new revenue of $101,593, the result of keeping the tax rate the same when property values increase.
Once the vaccines get to the local folks, they appear to be administered in a smart, efficient manner. Those who have bene fortunate enough to get vaccinated report a smooth and efficient process at the clinics offered by the health department, AGH and the pharmacies. The problem, as everyone knows, is there’s just not enough supply getting to Maryland and its jurisdictions.
For example, Worcester County on average is receiving about 300 doses a week of the state’s 98,000 weekly allocation. Health officials said this week there is enough manpower and practical ability to vaccinate 3,000 people a week. At the current rate of 300 doses per week (.31% of the state’s total weekly by the way), it will take more than three years to fully vaccinate the 50,000-plus Worcester County citizens. If the supply gets to about the 3,000-max weekly distribution, mark, it would take about five months. Complicating those estimates is the one dose vs. two dose requirements, of course. The bottom line is even if the current rate triples it’s going to be next year at the earliest before all county citizens are vaccinated. This is disturbing.
At this week’s County Commissioners meeting, issues with vaccine equity were discussed and the elected officials will write the governor’s office again raising concerns. Worcester County Emergency Services Director Billy Birch was blunt with the commissioners. The county is getting screwed by the state. “They’re not listening to the locals,” he said. “There’s jurisdictions that are equal to our size or smaller that are getting more allocations of doses than we’re getting. … The way I can equate it to you, is we have fire trucks but they’re holding back the water. They’re not giving us what resource we’re asking for.”
At the end of Tuesday’s press conference, Hogan was asked once again about what he would say to Marylanders who are agitated about the pace of the vaccinations and the severe lack of supply.
“Well, I completely understand the frustration. I’m frustrated. Everyone up here is frustrated …,” Hogan said. “There are about a million people who are currently eligible for the vaccine who we cannot schedule for a vaccine. But it’s not about a website or a process. It’s about the fact that there aren’t any vaccines. … the bottom line is, you can’t schedule appointments for vaccines that don’t exist. … It’s not a perfect process, but yes, I’m convinced that everyone is working as hard as they can and we’ve got as good or better a process than anybody else in the country.”
On the accountability front, I apologize for a mistake made in this space last week. Along with many others, I wrongly assumed President Biden’s revocation of a proclamation governing travel from foreign country impacted the summer workers who come to Ocean City each season.
Though he did revoke a similar proposition regarding foreign travel, Biden did not touch Proclamation 10052, which shuts down the summer work travel program until March 31. There was hope Biden would revoke this proclamation early in his term based on his pro-immigration take. With the latest COVID relief bill seemingly taking priority currently, Biden does not appear poised to act on this measure. The question now is whether he will simply let the proclamation expire or renew it. If he renews it, the foreign workers will not be here. Most in the know seem to think he will take no action, allowing it to expire.
This would be good news for Ocean City, but timing is of the utmost importance. One employer familiar with working with the foreign workers said this week if the proclamation expires and the embassies and the State Department work quickly the resort could see an influx of foreign workers by July. He said he estimated the best-case scenario would be half of the 4,000 typically seen here in a summer. This is better than nothing.
The timelines and volume of workers remain a guessing game at this point, but everyone in local tourism is rooting for Biden to revoke the proclamation as soon as possible because a few weeks will make a big difference.