Time will tell whether Snow Hill is making the right move investing $193,000 into repairs for the Black-Eyed Susan riverboat to make it a stationary restaurant this summer on the Pocomoke River. Approximately $600,000 in repairs to the hull, hydraulics system and paddlewheel frame were estimated as the original cost to get the boat back running in the water. The boat was acquired back in 2020 when the Worcester County Commissioners provided Snow Hill with a $400,000 no-interest, 15-year loan. Though Snow Hill owns the boat, the county oversees expenditures of the funding. The town hopes to utilize grants to fund these unexpected repairs.
It seems the town does not want to simply abandon the boat. Simply selling it outright was deemed not a smart financial option. This new approach to spend money for the repairs to get it back to Snow Hill is about buying some time to figure out what to do in the future. Getting back on the water functioning will mean Snow Hill will have about a million dollars into this venture through the acquisition and surprise repairs. The fact the town is even embarking on this journey speaks to the desperation Snow Hill has for needing and wanting to become a destination. The words of local business owner Shae Von Marsh seems to sum up the town’s optimistic approach. She said, “Seeing this vessel docked in our little town evokes momentous emotion and provides hope that Snow Hill will continue to prosper. As a unique attraction, the Black-Eyed Susan increases visitors to our area on the Eastern Shore and we believe that as it grows in popularity and recognition, it will continue to help introduce new people to the charm that Snow Hill has to offer.”
A subject on the minds of many these days is the soaring gas prices. It seems only a matter of time before unleaded gallon prices shockingly exceed $5. As it stands now, Maryland is setting new gas price records every day. Before this month, the previous high on record in Maryland was $4.04 in June 2008.
According to AAA-Mid Atlantic, the national average cost of a gallon of unleaded gasoline as of Thursday was $4.58 with Maryland’s average at $4.61. For comparison’s sake, one month ago the average was $4.03 and one year ago it was $3.05. As far as Worcester County goes, the average cost Thursday was $4.61, slightly above Wicomico ($4.60) and Somerset ($4.63).
Nobody knows the answer to the question, “when will gas prices go down?” However, none of the experts seem to think it will be anytime soon. A press release from a fuel provider this week read, “It depends on how quickly we’re able to ramp up the production of gas and oil in other places and in other parts of the world, but that’s going to take a lot a long time. I think we have to accept that the gas prices are probably going to be high for a long time.”
This latest surge in COVID-19 cases is puzzling. In Worcester County, as of May 18, the daily positivity rate was 15.15 (statewide average of 8.12%). This is the highest the positive rate has been since January and the number of infected individuals has tripled over the last month. Hospitalizations are rising but the general trend seems to be the cases are not as severe as previous spikes.
These rising rates have led to renewed calls from some for students to be masking again in public schools. While the data surge is a bit puzzling considering the time of year, as the cases typically subsided during the warm weather months in 2020 and 2021, there is an opportunity for public policy makers to set a good example. There must be a push forward. The virus is here to stay for good. Infections will continue, and guidance is evolving to not require quarantining for positive individuals without symptoms who are at least double vaccinated. It’s wise for everyone to follow the metrics and use their own discretion on safety measures, but sweeping public policy decisions like mandatory masking in schools should remain off the table. We must continue forward, and the good news for Worcester County is Superintendent Lou Taylor and the school board seem to agree.
It was nice to see Worcester County Board of Education members speak out this week in defense of their approach to the recent bus contractor agreements. During this week’s meeting, a review of the bus contractor changes in the new budget was held, and Board Vice President Todd Ferrante made a statement letting bus drivers know they are appreciated, while also outlining for the public his belief they are treated well in Worcester County. “When you look at the fact that we’re the best paying school system on the Eastern Shore and we’re third in the state I think that says a lot about how we feel about our bus contractors,” he said. “This board has done everything possible to make sure that we’ve given our bus contractors a fair and extremely just package.”
Ferrante believes most bus contractors are pleased with the adjustments made to their pay and that a vocal minority led the request for the Worcester County Commissioners to go beyond what the school system approved. Reminding attendees at the board meeting the school system paid bus drivers when schools were shuttered during the pandemic, Ferrante said the new fiscal year budget increases drivers’ hourly rates from $22.50 to $25, their administration fee, their per vehicle allotment and their mileage rate, which will go from $1.60 to $1.62.