Primary Election Preview: Three Republicans Challenge Incumbent Elder For District 4; No Democrats Filed For Seat

Primary Election Preview: Three Republicans Challenge Incumbent Elder For District 4; No Democrats Filed For Seat
Pictured, from left, are candidates Nancy Bradford, Ted Elder, Jeff McMahon and Virgil Shockley.

SNOW HILL – Voters are preparing to head to the polls this month with early voting starting next week and the primary set for July 19.

Early voting for Worcester County residents will take place at Worcester Preparatory School from July 7 to July 14. The primary is set for Tuesday, July 19.

At the local level, primary contests will determine winners in several races. This year’s Worcester County Commissioners election is highlighted by four-candidate primary races in District 3 and District 4.

Contests not being decided in the primary include District 1, where incumbent Commissioner Josh Nordstrom, a Democrat, has been challenged by Republican Caryn Abbott, and District 7, where Commissioner Joe Mitrecic runs unopposed.

As it has in the past, The Dispatch sent each candidate four questions regarding local issues. Their responses are printed here verbatim in hopes of providing voters a better idea of each candidate’s positions as the election nears.

District 4: The District 4 seat, currently held by incumbent Commissioner Ted Elder, also attracted several candidates. Elder, who defeated Virgil Shockley to win the seat in 2014, now faces Shockley again, this time in the primary. Shockley, a longtime farmer, is now a Republican and wants to be elected to meet a goal of his for many years — broadband to rural parts of the county. Elder, too, wants to continue the efforts underway to bring broadband to rural residents and also wants to remain a fiscally conservative voice among the commissioners. Newcomers seeking the District 4 seat are Nancy Bradford, a longtime Bank of Ocean City employee, and Jeff McMahon, who retired this spring after decades as Worcester County fire marshal.

Q. Why are you running for commissioner? Please list at least three reasons.

Bradford: 1.     Make a difference in the lives of our citizens through sound financial decisions. Every aspect of our county government is a direct reflection of financial decisions.

  1. Provides the opportunity to utilize my skills and experience to serve our community. I have held numerous leadership roles in business and volunteer organizations that would be an asset to the position of County Commissioner.
  2. To provide a service to help others.

Elder: I am running for commissioner because I would like to continue my work promoting and facilitating the availability of broadband for every resident and business in the county. I would also want to continue the fiscally conservative overall running of the day-to-day county business. My third reason is to ensure that the citizens of the county are treated equally, with respect and fairness regardless of their “standing” in the community.

McMahon: I have devoted 42 years of public safety to Worcester County — 35 years working for Worcester County, 42 years as a volunteer firefighter and 25 as a paramedic. On March 31, 2022, I retired as the second full-time county fire marshal. I was encouraged by several business owners and friends. I feel I have so much more to contribute to the County. My experience working for Worcester County gives me budget knowledge and experience and knowledge of every department, department director, and most employees. In my 35 years of employment, I have worked for 25 different County Commissioners. I’ve personally known all five county sheriffs in my adult life and have the endorsement of former Sheriff Reggie Mason.

Shockley: 1. I am the most qualified to represent District Four, which is considered the agricultural district. Roughly 30% of the county’s economy is derived from crop farming, poultry and other agricultural businesses. I have been farming for 55 years and raising chickens for 42 years. During my 16 years as a commissioner, I represented the farming community locally and at the state level. We must save farmland.

  1. In four years, I can have 99% of the county serviced with high-speed and affordable internet.
  2. We must rejuvenate our education system by getting parents involved. I believe that a school should be a safe, welcoming and nurturing place. Everyday in Worcester County Public Schools kids are harassed, bullied and threatened. Teachers are harassed, threatened, spit upon, cursed and generally insulted. This has to end, period. It is obvious that tactics that have been tried to end it have not worked. Discipline must be returned to the classroom.
  3. The primary responsibility of any elected official is the health and safety of the citizenry

Q. In your opinion, what are the three biggest issues facing Worcester County currently?

Bradford: The need for economic development particularly in the central and southern part of the county. Develop new businesses and provide opportunities and support for existing businesses to grow. As a result of business growth we must ensure the necessary infrastructure is available (water/sewer, internet, transportation, etc.). Businesses produce jobs for our citizens. Our county’s tax revenue will grow as a result.

Appropriate funding for public safety (police, emergency services and fire and ambulance services) for training and state of the art equipment. Our local fire departments are struggling to find volunteers. Some type of incentive program needs to be implemented.

Affordable housing is needed in our county. It has become more and more difficult for our citizens to obtain affordable housing rather it be through homeownership or renting. Many of our future generations are unable to afford to live here in Worcester County.

Elder: Our biggest issue in my perspective going forward, will be dealing with inflation. We already are seeing inflation outpacing wages. The county will need to deal with inflated prices for any and all equipment purchased, and any contracted services. Also, there will be, and already are, delays in receiving said items. In addition, we will need to keep up wages for our talented workforce, to retain and replace them as they retire, or leave the county.

Our next biggest issue is getting broadband available to everyone living, or working in the county; this will be, and has been, a priority of mine. While progress has been painfully slow, we are finally making gains that we are starting to see. We have currently three companies working with fiber optic cables in the county, the “Cadillac” of broadband systems. Choptank Co-op has installed a few in the rural areas northwest of Pocomoke. Bay Country is currently “lighting up” Newark and surrounding areas. Talkie, our I.S.P. Provider for the county, has hooked up several areas south of Pocomoke and while expanding in that area, have started another crew in Bishopville. We are working hard to find grants and providing “fast track” county permits to get the job done. We have invested $800,000 into Maryland Broadband Cooperative to expand their trunk line fiber optic in the county.

My number three issue, is to ensure that the health and safety of the county’s citizens are protected. To that end, we have expanded the Sheriff’s Department to ensure that the county schools are protected. We supported the Health Department with great cooperation during the pandemic, purchasing masks and supplying decontamination stations for ambulances and school buses. We added funding to our fire departments, so that several could increase the amount of full-time ambulances that would be available when needed. We need to continue our work on providing additional qualified individuals for both Fire and EMS services.

McMahon: The three biggest issues facing Worcester County are 1. growth, both residential and business. Worcester lacks the proper infrastructure to support such growth. With proper planning, for infrastructure, residential and commercial we can attract better-paying jobs. Broadband is important. 2. Public Safety is key to keeping Worcester County safe, viable, and attractive to visitors and people wanting to call Worcester County home. The fire and EMS service has changed to become a combination volunteer and career service. That combination will cost more as the volunteer companies continue to struggle to obtain new members and retain veterans. Funding our entire public safety section is paramount. This includes police, fire, EMS, the jail, and emergency services. 3. The third biggest issue is keeping Worcester County schools at the top of the State’s school systems. We must address the State’s “Maintenance of Effort” formula.

Shockley: 1. Lack of high-speed Internet at an affordable price for all citizens. 2. By December of 2022, when the commissioners are sworn in, we will have inflation in the double digits, sky-high interest rates, and will most likely be in a recession. As in 2008, we will have a huge decline in revenue even though it will take a couple of years to work its way through the county budget. I am the only one running who was elected in that time and knows what was done right and what was done wrong. 3. A new Comprehensive Plan is way past due and must be completed, and a new Voting District Map has to be drawn up. I am the only one running with that experience.

Q. In recent years, the commissioners have used fund balance from prior years to balance the budget. What can the county do to build a more sustainable budget to address the fact that requested expenditures exceed anticipated revenues most years?

Bradford: The county’s economic stability is reflected by their fund balance. It is essential that the county maintains their required fund balance to ensure against unanticipated expenditures. The county must pursue other options to build a sustainable budget such as continued reduction of expenses and/or finding other sources of revenue in lieu of borrowing against this fund balance. The county should be operated in the same fashion as any other successful business. This fund balance should be not be used as a common practice to balance our annual operating budget. Over utilization of these funds may negatively affect the county’s credit rating and financial health. Maintaining a balanced budget is one of the largest issues facing the county.

Elder: In response to the budget question, I must say that the fact that the expenditures exceed revenues is because of the conservative way in which the budget is prepared. It seems that our revenues are generally underestimated, while our expenditures are in line, or slightly overestimated; this usually leaves us with a balance of funds going into the next fiscal year (fund balance); this has been occurring over the last several years. At the same time, we have gone from a 10% to a 12% reserve fund equaling approx. 29 million dollars. We also have about 15 million dollars in a budget stabilization fund if needed. We have used that fund balance from the prior year to “balance” the FY22-23 budget. As long as this keeps occurring, and because of our conservative estimate of revenue, this should not be an item of concern. This current practice is a good way to run the budget, and justifies our great credit rating from the bond rating companies.

McMahon: Most county citizens do not understand where the fund balance comes from and how it is derived. Each budget year every county department submits what it believes it will need to function for the next fiscal year. Almost every year I worked for Worcester County, most departments’ budgets increased. There were only a few departments that didn’t always increase. The department I ran, the Fire Marshal’s office was one of those. I saw three economic downturns in my 35 years of employment, so I understand the need for the “Fund Balance.” How we use that fund balance is a completely different story. The answer to this question lies in the fact that every department will want to better itself each year. Requested expenditures will always exceed requests. The Commissioners must work together to find the proper revenue and continue to set priorities.

Shockley: The Budget Stabilization Fund was put in place in order to stabilize the budgets from year to year. When I left in 2014 there was $9.7 million in the fund. As of December of 2021, there was $14 million. Its only purpose is to allow the commissioners to take money from that fund instead of having to raise taxes. High-Speed Internet for all will aid the county in economic development. Ninety percent of new small business are started at a private home. The last new business that employed over 50 people for the south end was Hardwire in Pocomoke City, which was over 15 years ago. Economic development is not just building hotels and businesses on Route 50 or in Ocean City. This fails to address the overall need for economic development in the county. District Four has lost eight years of potential economic development, because of the failure of the current county commissioner to make high-speed internet a reality.

Q. The commissioners’ 4-3 vote to move forward with purchasing land for a sports complex has been a hot topic in the weeks since. How would you have voted and what are your views on the project?

Bradford: I am not opposed to the idea of a sports complex within the county, however based on the information available at the time of voting, I would have had to vote no. It appeared that a thorough evaluation of the entire project had not been conducted as it related to a business plan and financial analysis. The total cost of the project and funding sources seemed uncertain as did the potential use of taxpayer dollars. I do not feel the property near Stephen Decatur High School is the best suited location due to traffic, safety issues and the high cost of the real estate. I do not believe the county should be in the sports complex business. I felt it was unfortunate that the county failed to include the Town of Berlin officials in their discussions regarding the sports complex as they will be adversely impacted by the proposed facility.

Elder: Moving onto the question of the sports complex 4-3 vote. As most people know, I voted against the proposal; my reasons are many. First is the spending issue at such a volatile financial time. As I stated in my previous answers, I am very concerned as to what’s in store over the next couple of years financially. Next, the traffic in that location will be horrific, just ask any school bus driver that services Stephen Decatur High School and/or Stephen Decatur Middle School. We need economic development in the middle and southern part of the county, this does nothing to help that problem. The funding for this type of facility should come from the private sector not from government. It should be known, that the primary use of such a facility would be from people from other places, and for the most part, our children will not be afforded the use of a pay-to-play facility.

McMahon: I am in favor of a county area sports complex. Just not at the proposed location. There are, as reported, several other cheaper locations. This decision to proceed was hasty. In addition, we, the county taxpayers, should have been made aware of all the details, and just not what was in the bond wording. This project should be a private venture. I’m not against the county being involved. If so, it should be a joint state, county, and private venture. I don’t think the county should operate the sports complex. For those reasons, I would have voted against the location, but not the idea. So my vote would have been no.

Shockley: The county already owns property at John Walter Smith Park in Snow Hill. The original park plan was to build six championship fields there using Program Open Space Funds. The 2008 economic downturn at both the county and state level dried up the funds. In 2017-18, there was a vote by the county commissioners in office then to put the sports fields in the South end of the county. Certain commissioners didn’t like the vote, so they ignored it and came up with the new plan, which was voted on by the current commissioners. The cost proposed for this project is completely unrealistic and it is one of the most poorly planned that I have ever witnessed. In a push to secure the vote without a proper business plan for everyone to see, we will most likely have it going to referendum in November. This is DC politics right here in Worcester County and it stinks.

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.