CHESTERTOWN — Kent County Commissioners, Ron Fithian, Albert Nickerson, and John Price met on Tuesday, May 16, to deliberate over the creation of new Agricultural Land Preservation Districts within the county.
They also heard from various departments concerning food security for families, property protocols, and human resource hiring practices. This ended a long day beginning with a five-hour budget session.
Planning Director Bill Mackey, explained a farm voluntarily enters into a district, then qualifies for funding to purchase development rights.
Inside the packet given to the commissioners, were recommendations from the Planning Commission on the 10 farms that had applied.
David Hill, chairman of the Kent County Agricultural Preservation committee spoke up about an incident which occurred during the planning commissions meeting. “They were some personal targets at the last meeting,” Hill said, “when the qualifying farms were brought before the zoning board.”
Hill had put one of his farms up to be considered, then recused himself from the voting. He said he didn’t influence any of the members either. In the last eight years he’s served, he said four farms came through by people on the committee and were approved with no problem.
Hill added the criteria to determine what farms qualify is based on the previous commissioner’s request, and that they have followed the criteria set by the state.
During public comment, resident Janet Christensen-Lewis said “we should celebrate people who put their properties into an easement.” She supported Hill saying he should be given accolades, not demonized.
The commissioners agreed to establish the districts on the ten farms.
“I have no doubt the process was done with integrity,” Price said.
In other business, county attorney Thomas Yeager answered Fithian’s concerns relating to the Daisy Drive property in Millington, a building lot in a subdivision after a homicide and fire in 2021. Fithian noticed the lot was shabby, and based on the complicated history between the owners of the property, he anticipated getting calls by neighbors to clean it up.
Yeager said the owners of the lot, the widow of the victim of Kimm Anthony Knott, and the estate, own the property 50/50. Yeager said since it took the county lots of litigation just to demolish the burned out house in the first place, he said issuing letters to the owners may serve better than before.
“If we bring it to their attention, I have more confidence that will induce action on the property owners,” Yeager remarked.
Action included would be a letter of notice from Mackie and also the Health Department.
“It’s a building lot in a subdivision, not a farm field. You have to mow it and take care of it,” Yeager said.
Bryan DiGregory, state’s attorney, tried to curb his enthusiasm when talking about using the Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (BJAG) to purchase software to track data at the “touch of a button.”
The software, Prosecutor Case Management System, by Karpel Solutions, he said, would help his office separate reports and provide information normally hard to find.
“It brings us up-to-date as a State’s Attorney Office.”
The one time grant is for $57,500. DiGregory asked for $8400 from the county to pay for additional costs. However, due to the tough budget decisions, and some unfunded mandates pushed on to the county, Price suggested that in order to pay the $8400, DiGregory should try to absorb it in their budget, not ask the county for it.
“The money just isn’t there,” Price said.
The commission stated they don’t have a problem with DiGregory receiving the grant, but Nickerson, as well as the other commissioners, suspects that $8500 will become a big deal for next year’s budget. They approved of DiGregory attaining the grant.
There was continuing support for the SNAPS program into the summer and funding it for the FY 24 budget. Shelly Neal-Edwards, Director of Kent County Department of Social Services, pointed out that in 2019, the county was one of four eligible for the program. Then Covid-19, shut it down, but returned with the commissioners approving of the program in their 2023 budget, allowing 266 children to be served.
The way the program works, Neal-Edwards said, is that the county matches the state. The county gave $8500 in 2023. Social Services is asking for $6,220, for FY24, with an additional $1900 or so in unspent county funds to be rolled over and added to next year’s budget. From there, the Department of Human Services would pick up the difference, Neal-Edwards said.
The commissioners signed off on the two forms presented to them. Neal-Edwards thanked the commissioners, after explaining that this year, she said there is more money the state Is giving away, and more applicants than in the 2019 process.
Price said. “I think it’s a very worthy program.”
In a previous meeting before the commission, Jim Miller, Human Resources Director, asked to bypass a rigorous process of presenting every seasonal employee to the commissioners before hiring. That time, the commissioners agreed, citing past complications with hiring lifeguards. This time, Miller came to them asking if the same thing could be done for all applicants limited to grade 6 and below.
Fithian denied that request, saying that he would prefer to see the candidates and talk to them on a personal level.
“I could be right or wrong, but I like having some say on approving those things,” Fithian said, wanting to know who’s asking for the jobs in the county.
The commissioners also recognized the new Director of Emergency Services, Pete Landon. He said he’s glad to be back to help Kent County again.
“You’ve had a long list of careers. We know you’ll do a great job for us,” Fithian said.
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