SNOW HILL – A one-year lease between Worcester County and the Berlin Lions Club will ensure local children continue to have the use of ballfields adjacent to the Northern Worcester Athletic Complex.
The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a one-year $50,000 lease with the Berlin Lions Club for the use of the fields next to the county’s athletic complex on Route 113. The lease is intended to give the county and the Berlin Lions Club time to negotiate a long-term solution for the use of the fields.
“We thought it best not to rush through this process to purchase the land,” Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins said.
The commissioners were presented Tuesday with a one-year lease for the fields located on Berlin Lions Club property next to the county’s fields. The lease would give the Berlin Lions Club $50,000 for the use of the fields. In the past, the county has leased the fields for $5,000 a year and subsequently leased them to the Berlin Little League.
Commissioner Josh Nordstrom asked what had changed in the last month or so, since the lease was first discussed by the commissioners.
“Generally, this agreement is based on the lease that’s been in effect for the past almost 20 years,” said Roscoe Leslie, the county’s attorney. “It’s more or less the same.”
Nordstrom expressed concern about the cost.
“Paying this amount of money per year I don’t think is tenable,” he said. “But I certainly favor keeping Berlin Little League right where it is as long as we possibly can.”
He went on to ask why the county hadn’t tried to buy the property. Two years ago, the potential purchase of the property, using Program Open Space funds, was included in a Worcester County Recreation and Parks five-year plan. At that time, there was talk of certain convenience stores being interested in the property.
Higgins said Tuesday the county didn’t want to rush through the purchasing process.
“I think there are too many things at play with COVID and what’s going to happen in the next three, four, five months,” Higgins said, adding that staff thought a one-year extension was the best solution.
Commissioner Chip Bertino pointed out that while the language in the lease might be similar to the language in past leases, the amount was significantly higher.
Higgins said that was because staff had been advised another entity was willing to pay the Lions Club $84,000 to lease the land. Because the county spends $50,000 a year on a youth program in Pocomoke, Higgins said he thought that was a fair figure to pay in Berlin.
“We thought $50,000 gave us that year’s time to negotiate,” he said.
When asked if that $50,000 would go toward the purchase price if the county did buy the land, Higgins confirmed that it would.
“We heard you loud and clear at the last meeting,” he said.
Jack Mumford III, president of the Berlin Lions Club, offered a statement from the organization following Tuesday’s vote by the commissioners.
“The Berlin Lions are pleased to be able to continue the legacy of the Berlin Little League on Lions Club property for another season,” the statement reads. “We appreciate the opportunity to serve the local community and provide support for youth athletics. We also appreciate the support of our county executives and commissioners as we work together to build a better future for the residents of Worcester County.”