Sooner or later specifics on a proposed sports complex in northern Worcester County will have to be publicly disclosed. Funding and location remain two huge unknowns. For months, the thought was the officials in the know in Worcester County and Ocean City are privy to the details, but it’s become clear the whole proposition is very much up in the air at this point.
Last month the Worcester County Commissioners voted 4-3 to include $11.2 million in a bond issue for the acquisition of property for the sports complex. The concept being the funds would be used to buy the property – reportedly in the Berlin area off Route 50 – with the state’s Program Open Space funds retroactively disbursing money to the county government. The commissioners against last month’s vote – Chip Bertino, Jim Bunting and Ted Elder – want more specifics on the project before supporting it. The reality is the three of them have stated numerous times their opposition to public funds – whether it be county or state – being used for what they believe should be a private sector deal.
Bertino is outspoken on believing any such complex should be located in the south end of the county to spur economic development, although he reiterates his opposition to public dollars being used in anyway no matter the site. The subject was broached during an interesting radio interview on Ocean 98 last Friday. Bertino was discussing his re-election bid when the potential sports complex was addressed, resulting in Ocean City Councilman John Gehrig and Ocean City Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo calling in to challenge Bertino’s claims the county has not seen one plan on a sports complex. Perlozzo specifically said Bertino’s comments were “inaccurate,” as he worked on the initiative as a county department head for three years. It was a compelling exchange with Bertino saying multiple times his mind will not be swayed on the topic.
With the funds included in the bond, the county must now get moving with property negotiations. Worcester County Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young recently joined Ocean City officials on a tour of a new sports complex in Virginia Beach. Clearly, the county intends on entering the sports complex industry. Word is the property in question is near the high school and middle school in Berlin after talks never materialized for land on Route 589. As of now, the plan seems to be to get a contract on the property, hold a public hearing and then another vote of the full county board. With the current 4-3 vote and an election looming, time is of the essence. Next fall’s election could sway the board’s current majority vote. It’s time to get rolling on this project or at least start to get more details on how it will be operated and whether it’s run by the county or a private sector entity. At this point, there are far more questions than answers about the whole thing and the time is now for a change in that years’ long trend.
Over the last couple weeks, it seems a collective decision was made by society – driven by elected and appointed health officials – to move beyond COVID-19, specifically easing the precautions and restrictions on our lives. The drastic decline in case rate and hospitalizations fueled the major ideology shift, but there is no disputing there has been a shocking, although welcome, cultural adjustment to the pandemic.
The most dramatic noticeable change in direction has occurred within schools. The statewide mask requirement was lifted officially last week along with the federal mandate on facial coverings on buses, and Worcester and Wicomico counties quickly responded by making masks optional. I was in a couple local schools this week, and my educated estimation is about 20% of students and faculty were still wearing facial coverings of some sort. It’s safe to say most school-aged families and teachers cheered the change in direction on masks, although the close contact tracing protocols must soon be lifted as well.
While it’s great to see choices finally being able to be made in all segments of society, the cynic in me thinks a lot of this abrupt push forward is political. Of course, the declining metrics are a major part of it, but there is more at play behind this abrupt change over the last few weeks. Election season is a major reason, as both parties look to claim responsibility for the improving health conditions associated the pandemic in the face of uncertain economic recovery in many sectors.
As far as moving forward, a team of scientists and doctors penned an informative piece March 1 on mckinsey.com this week I thought worthy of sharing.
“Prospects for the rest of the year and beyond hinge on the questions of whether and when future variants will emerge. As long as Omicron remains the dominant variant, there is reason for relative optimism. Our scenario analysis suggests that Omicron-related hospitalizations are likely to continue to decline in the United States and remain at relatively low levels through the spring and summer. We might then expect to see a seasonality-driven wave of disease next fall and winter, but hospitalizations would likely peak well below the level of the wave we just experienced. The default scenario, in which Omicron remains the dominant variant, represents a continuation of the transition toward managing COVID-19 as an endemic disease that is already underway in many locations. With Omicron as the dominant variant, the pandemic phase will feel like it is over for more and more people, though certainly not all.”