SNOW HILL – Voters head to the polls this month with early voting underway through Thursday and the primary set for July 19.
Early voting for Worcester County residents will take place at Worcester Preparatory School from 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
In each of the contested primary races, 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 5: In District 5, incumbent Commissioner Chip Bertino is being challenged by Grant Helvey. Bertino, who was elected in 2014, wants to continue serving the community and advocating for a limited government role in the lives of county citizens. Helvey, who held a management position at a telephone company before retiring to the area, wants to promote rural residential development as a commissioner.
Q. Why are you running for commissioner? Please list at least three reasons.
Bertino: I am running for reelection to continue representing my Ocean Pines district and to serve the entire county as I have during the past eight years with a conservative approach to county government.
During my time in office, I believe I have demonstrated a responsive, accessible, responsible and effective approach to public service; valuing community involvement and taking a conservative perspective on taxpayer funded allocations.
I seek support for another term for these three reasons:
- To continue to advocate for the best interests of Ocean Pines and the county as a whole.
- To continue articulating a limited county government role in the lives of county citizens.
- To work through important community issues including ensuring the proposed sports complex is not a taxpayer-funded project, shepherding the county-wide broadband initiative and developing a stable funding formula for Fire/EMT operations.
Helvey: The nation’s founders envisioned a government of temporary citizen volunteers to secure the rights of the people and to return to private life. I will replace a two term incumbent. I am qualified by education and 23 years of executive management experience for the Verizon Telephone Company. I managed engineering, purchasing and operating power systems for 1,300 offices in seven states. Over 40 years of civic service has included President of Calvert County Jaycees, Jaycee International Senator, Calvert County Liquor Commissioner, Founder of a Veterans Memorial in my hometown, Chairman of Worcester County Tea Party, Chairman of Worcester County Republican Central Committee and Trump Delegate to the Republican national convention. I will differ from the incumbent by promoting more rural residential development, supporting agro-tourism, replacing outdated eyesore county owned fences in Ocean Pines and resurfacing Manklin Creek Road at the South Gate entrance to Ocean Pines.
Q. In your opinion, what are the three biggest issues facing Worcester County currently?
Bertino: 1. A prevailing belief that taxpayer money is an unlimited funding source for projects and initiatives that lack proper vetting, stakeholder input and accountability and that fall outside taxpayer responsibility and expectation.
- Unfunded state legislature mandates and funding formulas that unfairly siphon from the wallets of county taxpayers millions of dollars of additional tax burdens. Worcester is often victimized by Annapolis state lawmakers and activists who sidestep personal accountability, espouse dependency over self-reliance and who celebrate, promulgate and legislate wrong-headed ideas that threaten Worcester County values and local control.
- The need for secure, future fire and EMS funding solutions that ensure when someone in distress calls 9-1-1, trained, professional personnel and proper equipment responds.
Helvey: The Ocean City area tourism industry is highly dependent on Summer weather. This creates extremely high temporary demand for public services, real estate and a seasonal workforce for only four months each year. This is further complicated by a shortage of affordable workforce housing. The area is seriously lacking tourist attractions to utilize business facilities for the Spring, Fall and Winter months. An outdated and flawed Worcester County Comprehensive Development Plan prevents new residential development, thereby creating a housing shortage that increases costs and encourages less desirable high density dwellings. The state government school funding formula includes the asset value of Ocean City properties, most of which do not use our schools. The formula unfairly penalizes our county’s portion of state school funding as compared to other counties.
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?
Bertino: Fund balance (surplus) is a byproduct and dividend of the county’s ongoing conservative approach to budget development which restrains revenue projections and tamps down expense projections. When available, fund balance is allocated for capital purchases such as vehicles and equipment and for longer lasting projects such as facility improvements. Fund balance is not used to fund regular, ongoing operations or employee expenses.
The reality is that akin to households and businesses, county government must respond to increased costs resulting from inflation, supply-line disruptions, workforce challenges and a host of other marketplace forces. Allocating fund balance surpluses, when appropriate, to alleviate budget pressures is prudent and desirable.
Helvey: In these extremely difficult economic times, the 17 County Department Heads should seek opportunities to reduce expenses in day to day operations of non essential services. State mandated police body cameras will increase cost for the Sheriff, the Courts and States Attorney’s operations. However, this is known and should already be factored in the annual budget. Due to an economic slow down and increased building material costs fewer building permits may be issued. Related county departments should recognize opportunities to reduce internal operating costs. I would also consider a freeze on hiring except for positions requiring highly skilled expertise or professional licenses. With the cooperation of all county employees and the board of commissioners, I believe that expenses should not exceed revenues, requiring augmentation from reserves.
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?
Bertino: I did vote. I was one of the three who voted against the land purchase. For the past six years I have consistently articulated and voted my deeply held conviction that taxpayer money should not be used for a sports complex.
Despite my repeatedly expressed concerns that no pro forma, business or marketing plans, impact studies or partnerships exist for this project, and despite lip service to the contrary, county money is being used to fund this project. A majority of commissioners have advanced this effort and most recently voted to bond $11.2 million for the initial investment for this project including spending $7.1 million for land acquisition. If this succeeds, county taxpayers will be responsible for many tens of millions of dollars more for construction, maintenance, operation and marketing associated with this complex. This is not right.
As I’ve stated for years, the county treasury is not an ATM.
Helvey: A motion passed on a 4-3 vote that empowered the County Commissioners to borrow $11,198,830 to finance a portion of the design and planning for a Sports Complex. A separate motion to purchase 95 acres adjoining Stephen Decatur High School also passed on a 4-3 vote. A vague plan is proceeding that does not appear to include best business practice planning. A total cost estimate or permitted use of the complex for local youth sports has not been determined. There has been no coordination with the Mayor and Council of Berlin. A more professional and inclusive business plan is warranted. I would have voted no, pending additional information.