Sports Complex Petition Effort Facing Signature Deadline

BERLIN – The group working to ensure voters get a say on the bond bill associated with Worcester County’s plans for a sports complex is on a final push to collect the required signatures.

The citizen committee working on a petition to referendum regarding Worcester County’s use of more than $11 million in bond funding has about a week left to collect the roughly 2,500 signatures needed to make the bond bill a referendum question this fall. Vince Gisriel, a member of the committee, attended a Berlin Town Council meeting this week to urge those concerned about the sports complex funding to sign.

“Right now, we really could use some help and some interest over the weekend,” Gisriel said.

After the Worcester County Commissioners voted 4-3 in April to approve using bond funding to purchase 95 acres next to Stephen Decatur High School for a sports complex, Gisriel and other concerned citizens launched a petition effort. They’re worried about the use of public funds to buy the $7.1 million piece of property and want voters to have a say on the bond bill through a referendum.

“Under the law we had to form a ballot issue committee to legally take the petition to referendum, to put the bond bill on the ballot,” Gisriel said during the public comment portion of Monday’s Berlin Town Council meeting.

He said he and about 50 volunteers have been traversing the county gathering signatures.

“We’ve been out there gathering signatures throughout the county, all the way from Pocomoke to Bishopville, Ocean City, Whaleyville, you name it,” he said.

Gisriel encouraged anyone who wanted to sign the petition to contact him.

“We encourage your citizens to reach out to a committee member,” he said. “We have a lot of volunteers all over the county. There’s some right here in Berlin working on it.”

When asked about the deadline, Gisriel said the group had to have roughly 2,500 signatures by 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31. At that point, the group would be able to get a 40-day extension to gather the remaining signatures required to trigger a referendum.

“Under the law we’re told we need 10% of the total number of voters in the county,” he said. “The way it’s working out is, that number is growing day by day as people register for the upcoming primary. So it’s a moving number that we always have to be chasing.”

He added that the group initially set a goal of getting 2,500 signatures by May 31 but wanted more than that in case some were invalid.

“I’m hoping with the push we’re mounting right now we can reach 3,000 because you always want a margin of error to cover your initial percentage,” he said.

Councilmember Shaneka Nichols thanked Gisriel and the petition committee for their efforts.

“We definitely appreciate everything you’re doing,” she said.

Gisriel, who’s known for his work on Ocean City petitions, said he was pleased with the number of volunteers involved with the effort.

“I’ve been involved in petitions for many years but this is a truly a community wide effort,” he said. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”

In the month since the commissioners voted to move forward with buying the land with bond funds, Berlin officials have expressed frustration about the fact that the town wasn’t consulted regarding the plans sports complex. County officials have stressed that the planning process has only just begun. The county is currently selecting a firm to perform a comprehensive environmental study of the property before proceeding with the purchase. Though a contract has been signed, it includes a 180-day study period during which the commissioners could terminate it at any time.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.