As a long-time travel sports parent, I believe in a sports complex’s success and viability in northern Worcester County. Many weekends have been spent in the Lancaster, Pa., Baltimore and Virginia Beach for large tournaments. Dozens of Sundays have also been spent traveling to the western shore to participate in higher competition sports leagues. Sports tourism is a major economic development engine, and many regions have capitalized on it. Worcester County and Ocean City are right to partner on becoming more of a player in the industry.
What’s giving most people pause is the chosen site off Route 50 west of the high school. Understandable traffic safety concerns have been expressed as well as legitimate questions as to what types of sports fields will be provided and whether an indoor facility is included in the plans. While there are many questions remaining to be answered, the county appears bent on pushing forward. The votes are currently there on the Worcester County Commissioners to move forward, and it’s not expected any public comments will sway the four supporting commissioners’ opinions on the matter. Timing is important because this year’s election could well change the majority opinion. After Tuesday’s hearing, the commissioners are expected to proceed with the vote to include funds for the property acquisition in a bond bill.
It’s been interesting to see the process play out ahead of this public hearing. A small straw poll posted on the We Heart Berlin Facebook page last weekend showed support for the project from 63% of the 162 respondents, 11% opposed and 23% saying they, “Love the idea, but needs more thought and maybe new location.” I voted in the latter category in full transparency. I believe this complex will benefit families and the economy but would like more details.
Both sides have been dramatic trying to build support for their side of the argument. Commissioner Chip Bertino has been the most outspoken critic of the project, largely because of his belief taxpayer dollars should not be spent on it. In a recent commentary, however, he made some assumptions that are not proven, saying, “You may think this sports complex would be open to the public, similar to our many parks like Showell Park. That’s likely not to be the case. … When taxpayer money is involved, the public should have access to it …” This month, on the flip side, a website from the Town of Ocean City also chimed in with theatrics. An example came in the Frequently Asked Questions page with the reply to the question, “How does this project compare to others within the area?” The answer read, “This project would be the most successful project ever conceived within the state.” This claim is so bold it’s laughable considering the property is just 95 acres. Additionally, the website indicates traffic will not be impacted by the project. The statement read, “The proposed location of the sports complex will come from Rt.50 and Rt. 113 from the Northern part of the county. All other traffic from the southern end of the county will be via Rt. 113. There should not be any significant impacts to Ocean Pines.” This is another bold claim that’s difficult to believe.
There is still time to right a wrong at Town Hall in Berlin. During this week’s discussion of the tax rate, which ultimately was approved at the same rate, much conversation was had on employee raises. It was agreed more compensation was needed but how to go about it was debated.
Mayor Zack Tyndall wants to give town employees essentially an across-the-board 5% bonus throughout the year, amounting to about $100 in new pay every two weeks after taxes. Whether a department head or a lower level employee, the increase will be the same for all 43 staffers on payroll. The rub here is the base annual salaries of the employee would not go up. Tyndall said, “That increase is designed to offset what we’re going to work toward, which is a step system. This is designed to get us through fiscal year ’23.” Council members seem opposed to this plan and will rightly so battle the mayor on his proposal in future meetings. The bonus concept was also understandably frowned upon by nearly every staff member who spoke at this week’s meeting. It’s clear Berlin employees feel “disrespected,” in the words of Berlin Planning Director Dave Englehart, Administrative Director Jeff Fleetwood admitted morale is “terrible.”
Berlin needs to move ahead with formalizing its human resources payroll process, evaluating a pay grade step system like many other governments utilize. There are plenty of resources to study and consider. This will bring stability and fairness to the town’s employee base, while allowing elected officials to see concrete numbers each year when it comes to forecasting percentage raises.
In small business, your co-workers become family. The work life challenges, the daily grind and shared personal experiences result in a lasting bond. It’s why it’s tough when a long-time employee, like Jeanette Deskiewicz, moves on to a new position as she will this week. The Dispatch is better off for having her with us the last 15 years. She will be missed dearly, and we wish her the best in her new career at Perdue Foods.