Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – July 14, 2023

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – July 14, 2023

Does the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office need a $321,000 armored rescue vehicle? Maybe, maybe not. An argument could be made for and against, but there’s no disputing the timing of last week’s approval is dubious considering the current hubbub surrounding education spending.

Back in May, I wrote this expenditure was prime to be cut once again this year because county officials were telling everyone how difficult the budget process would be with rising costs associated with personnel and inflation. The Sheriff’s Office was seeking $1.2 million more than last year’s spending allocation. Most of the jump in funding was related to personnel costs connected to recruitment and retainment, but a quarter of it was connected to the armored rescue vehicle.

In March, as one would expect him to do, Sheriff Matt Crisafulli advocated for the public safety purchase, saying the vehicle, “is comparable to an F550 .. it’s essentially body armor on wheels. This is like having a life insurance policy and you cannot put a price tag on saving a life. For instance, if there’s a hostage situation that ARV can get right up to a structure as it has body armor for our STAR team …  it can help save their lives as they go in to potentially save a life. Again you can’t put a price tag on that. Well, we will put a price tag on it of $324,000 but overall you cannot put a price tag on lives.”

The sheriff believes it’s an important emergency tool for his agency, but it’s the commissioners’ job to balance the difference between wants and needs. Some internal county research showed the vehicle would have been used an average of four times a year over the last decade. It’s clear the vehicle is more of a want than a pressing need, based on the facts. It’s why the county’s 4-3 decision to fund this expense last week is shocking. Timing is everything in life and in this case the county is sending another clear message. To fund this purchase – one that has been turned down in recent years — in a year when public education funding was controversially flat funded and the school board’s requested budget was cut by more than $4 million is disappointing.

It’s inconsistent at best for the commissioners to advance this purchase in what was often referred to as an “unprecedented” budget year. The reality was the budget year was no different than those of the past when officials had to adjust expenses to meet projected revenues. The decision to approve the public safety expense while not meeting education funding requests appears to be a show of bravado in the ongoing spat with school officials. It’s even more intriguing as it comes at a time when teachers are waiting to hear what consequences will come in their pay due to the county’s funding decision.

The sad chapter of the riverboat in Snow Hill could be nearing an end. Time will tell whether it’s a happy ending or just a relief.

Hindsight tells us three years ago a terrible mistake was made when Snow Hill purchased the 149-passenger Black Eyed Susan thanks to a $400,000 loan from the county. When the purchase was made in September 2020, the then-commissioners voted 5-2 for the purchase. It was intended to be an economic development initiative to help the south end of the county, but there was not enough due diligence done on the purchase. A red flag should have immediately gone up preventing the purchase when the county learned three months early another Maryland town suddenly passed on the boat after studying it extensively.

After some initial cause for optimism, a mandatory inspection in 2022 grounded the boat indefinitely after it was learned $600,000 in repairs were needed. The Town of Snow Hill then decided it needed to sell the boat as soon as possible to cut losses. It appears there are two potential buyers, but the sale price will not cover the debt owed on the loan from the county. The boat will be sold for a loss, but the good news for Snow Hill is the $400,000 loan has been reduced by $100,000 as a result of a state grant being transferred from the county to the town.  Town Manager Rick Pollitt said, “We hope to have news from the county commissioners in mid-July so that we can move ahead with sale of the boat. We actually have two prospective purchasers talking with us. Our hope is to have the boat leave the dock before the end of July.”

It’s a sad ending for a wishful venture that turned out to be a disaster for Snow Hill. Selling it even at a loss is the best outcome at this point.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.