More Details Needed
I applaud our Commissioners’ leadership and dedication to helping Worcester County continue to prosper.
However, their recent 4-3 vote in favor of the sports complex project compels me to publicly share my perspective on this large capital investment. I would have also voted NO because of the chosen funding approach and lack of important decision-making information. Let me elaborate on these two points.
- Funding: If the majority is convinced in the project’s economic success then why fund it via general obligation bond? The chosen method appears to pass multi-million dollar financial risk to us, the taxpayers.
Therefore, I have asked our Commissioners to explore alternative financing. Since the sports complex is expected to generate a long-term revenue stream, the project is ideally suitable for a joint venture (JV). This approach, if properly structured, will spread the business risk to each JV member according to their investments and roles.
- Lack of important decision-making information: Worcester County is the only county in Maryland that borders the Atlantic Ocean. It also has beautiful natural resources, i.e. Assateague Island.
Establishing the right Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria is becoming a broad priority for many governments and businesses. And, many of us know that ESG initiatives are gaining a greater importance by many in the public and private sector including coastal communities. To my surprise, when searching the county’s website, I was unable to find any information on its ESG efforts.
Therefore, I have encouraged our Commissioners to develop an ESG policy/strategy and make sure the proposed sports complex complies with it. Integrating ESG into the county’s investment planning
process will ultimately facilitate the right decisions, secure long-term benefits and sustainability.
I hope my views and concerns, along with others who decide to speak out, will give the Commissioners reason to pause. Conducting additional due diligence on this expensive sports complex is a textbook case of what I would call good governance.
Sports Complex Support
The question is simple. Do you want your elected officials to seek ways to make money to pay their bills or do you want them to keep raising your property taxes?
The cost of running a household, a business, and a government continue to rise. An elected official has to identify ways to pay for the public safety, public works, and services that all residents, businesses, property owners, and visitors expect and deserve.
We have a gigantic opportunity to ride the wave of a $20 billion per year youth sports industry. This is bigger than the NFL and some experts project it to grow to $77 billion by 2026. These are all family visitors. We are built for this, located within 5 hours of over 50 million people with all the infrastructure needed to host world-class events… a variety of hotels and accommodations, restaurants, attractions, a Top 10 Boardwalk in the USA, the beach, and all Worcester County has to offer.
Promoters want to come here but we do not have the facilities to accommodate them. We have a competitive advantage if we just take it. We are literally bursting at the seams with demand, and we need our leaders to have the courage to act so that we can fulfill it. This is the biggest opportunity the county has had in decades.
Plus, the revenues generated are used throughout the entire county to provide services and improve the quality of life for all taxpayers while keeping property tax rates constant or lower. Funds will be used to aid children throughout Worcester County to ensure they have affordable access/transportation to recreation programs and activities at the Sports Complex and local facilities. This keeps our youth safe and productive and allows all Worcester County children to do what they do best… play.
So back to the question… do you want your elected officials to make money, or take your money?
Please attend the public hearing to give your answer to the county commissioners and express your support for the Worcester County Sports Complex.”
(The writer is an Ocean City councilman.)
Commissioner Way Off
I don’t usually voice my opinion when it comes to local politics, but as a mother, a Worcester County resident and the president of Beach Lacrosse Club, I find it hard not to comment on this ludicrous “commentary” by Commissioner Bertino. I find his comments to be disappointing, shortsighted and quite frankly untrue.
Perhaps it has been a while since he has had children in recreational sports, but as a parent of two very active children, I can assure you there is no greater reason for spending taxpayer dollars than providing recreational opportunities for Worcester County kids.
I am unsure why he believes it is not the county’s responsibility for funding a sports complex. It is my opinion that providing recreation facilities and ensuring taxpayers have spaces to exercise, play and do other activities to improve their community and quality of life are absolutely the responsibility of the county. Parks and recreation encourage more healthy and vibrant communities; they also benefit the local economy.
He also said that “additional visitors coming to Northern Worcester County should concern us all.” Why? Because of traffic? We live in a resort area. We deal with traffic at times but is that really an excuse to deny local children recreational opportunities because of “traffic.” If that’s the case, maybe we should cancel the Fourth of July celebrations or the Air Show because of the traffic. Using traffic as a scare tactic to deny kids recreational amenities is pathetic.
As for the location of the complex, when was the last time Mr. Bertino attended a Berlin Little League Game or Beach Lacrosse Tournament? Both are recreational leagues for local Worcester County kids and both are bursting at the seams using the Northern Athletic Complex. There simply is NOT enough field space at that location and our local kids have to travel to places like Wicomico County and Delaware to participate in recreational sports. Not to mention, as Mr. Bertino knows, this has been studied. The overwhelming need for this facility is in the north end. Again, a pathetic excuse to deny Worcester County kids more opportunity to play sports in Worcester County.
Further, I have taken the time to read the Crossroads Study and it clearly states the overwhelming annual fiscal impact generated from this project is approximately $500,000. I find the financial comparisons in Mr. Bertino’s “commentary” to be wildly misleading and contrary to the reports from the Maryland Stadium Authority – who last time I checked were experts in this area. The County has the option of seeking additional funding sources and Mr. Bertino knows this.
Lastly, Mr. Bertino’s comment about “government has neither the expertise nor the entrepreneurial passion to sustain a business effectively and profitably” is a slap in the face to every department head and employee of the county. If they are uninspired (which I don’t believe they are) it’s because he has left them unempowered. What a shameful thing to say about county workers.
I find it disgraceful that an elected official cannot see how much this facility is needed in our county. Not for me, not for him – but for our children. To say there are “so many blanks yet to be filled in” is absurd. The county has been studying this for years, and yet he continues to find weak excuses to vote against it.
Our kids deserve a world class recreation facility. They shouldn’t be smooshed on fields for practice or canceled for every drop of rain. Families of Worcester County, if you want this project for your kids as much as I want it for my kids – please write to your county commissioners or attend the public hearing on April 19.
I want to thank those commissioners who are planning to vote for this facility. Their vision and foresight are appreciated by many Worcester County taxpayers, by our Beach Lacrosse club and by my family. My two children are the most thankful, as their vote in support of this project is a vote for their future.
What’s The Hurry?
In 2017 the County ordered a study through the Stadium Authority who referred Crossroads Consulting Services to prepare a Study on the viability of a sports complex in the County for a fee of $75,000. After staff’s review, they commented on August 30, 2017 “staff has reviewed the economic analysis and determined that while the report provides good baseline data, we believe that the projected economic impact is overly optimistic (emphasis added).”
In 2019 Ocean City went through the same process and had Cross Roads Consulting Services prepare another report on the same topic for a fee of $49,400. Then the Ocean City Council failed to release the report for 19 months raising my curiosity about its content. One interesting contradiction between the two reports done by the same entity was the County report had rightly placed us in the Mid-Atlantic region while the less expensive Ocean City report had wrongly placed us in the Southern, where participation rates for outdoor activities were higher. But this wasn’t a reason to conceal the report from the public for 19 months. Maybe Ocean City didn’t pay enough money to be put in the right region?
The top of page 31 may reveal a reason for the concealment. There was a graph of participation rates in outdoor sports from 2014 through 2018 that showed significant declines in outdoor participation: Soccer declined 10%, Baseball declined 27%, Softball declined 30%, Football touch declined 38%, Football flag declined 13% and Lacrosse declined 47%. Wow! The County better hurry up and invest $15 million before we lose the opportunity! With those declines no wonder the Ocean City report was slow to be released.
During Covid our politicians have been busy little beavers planning and plotting to spend our tax dollars on a bigger, better Sports Complex than the others. Aren’t we lucky?
All seven council members in Ocean City support the County spending money on a Sports Complex and want to build an indoor field at the Sports Complex. In the county the vote has been 4 to 3. Purnell, Nordstrom, Mitrecic and Church voting for. With Bud Church retiring and an election in November the four supporters are trying to ram it through now, fully realizing that the effort would likely fail after the election, as well it should.
The race to a public hearing and a bond is at a time when economists are calling for a 40% chance of a recession by next year and a very uncertain economic future facing us. With that backdrop our politicians are putting us in more debt.
In the Commissioners and Town Councils closed door preparations they overlooked Lou Pagliarini’s 50-acre property for $400,000 just North of Ocean Pines with road frontage and abutting route 113 and opted instead for the Harrison’s 95-acre property with no egress to route 50 and no access to Seahawk Road for a price of $7,150,000 more than twice the County’s Assessment of the 95 acres.
What they are not disclosing is the OC report cautions to expect many years of operating losses not to mention borrowing the $15 million for the land and build out at a higher interest rate.
I love athletics, I did football, wrestling and track in HS as well as class president. In College I was a division one wrestler. I placed second in the National Wilkes Tournament and was a Finalist in the Olympic Trails in ‘68. However, the children in this County don’t lack athletics, there are plenty of athletic options. The children lack parenting largely due to work loads and single parent families. Maybe we should invest the money in our families?
My strong advice would be to hold off on indebting the County till next year when we might have more clarity about where we are heading with the economy. To rush this through now is highly irresponsible.
I think of the poorer people in District One (Pocomoke area) who are essentially having their tax dollars taken and given largely to the richest family on the Eastern Shore under the hope that this new trinket, the Sports Complex will benefit business in the County. It is not up to the Taxpayers to pay tax dollars to “benefit businesses”.
In Ocean City we have done that at least four times: 1) the Airport, 2) the Golf Course, 3) the Convention Center and 4) the Performing Arts Center. All underutilized and loosing money each year from annual operations. Even if the State of Maryland paid for some of the development is this wise at this time? All bond debt from Ocean City’s four loosing projects is ongoing and will be rolled over to more expensive debt when it expires. Does the County want to be saddled with bond debt, higher interest rates and operating losses like Ocean City? With present economic uncertainty it would be better to wait till next year and make sure we can service the debt, pay the interest and the annual operating expenses.
I encourage the Public to attend the hearing on Tuesday April 19, at 6PM at Stephen Decatur High School.
Falls Church, Va.