CHESTERTOWN — As Maryland continues to open back up, so does Kent County government.

The latest phase of the county’s reopening, decided during a Tuesday, Sept. 15 commissioners meeting, is to open the R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. Kent County Government Center at 400 High St. back to the public starting Thursday, Oct. 1 for services like making water and sewer payments.

“We’ve got to start someplace,” Commissioner Ron Fithian said of reopening the building.

The government center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday starting Oct. 1.

Chief Finance Officer Pat Merritt said those paying by personal check, cashier’s check or money order can drop payments off in a dropbox located outside the Calvert Street entrance to the building.

“As much as we are getting ready to depend on revenue ... if we open up anything it better be to pay taxes and fees,” Fithian said. “We’re going to need that and we ought to be able to figure out how to do it.”

Services within the Planning, Housing and Zoning Department, like site plan applications for example, will be by appointment only also starting Oct. 1.

“Oftentimes when people come into Planning and Zoning, they’re looking for a specific employee or they’re looking for a specific subject item, so having appointments will help up to schedule and make sure people are in the building,” said Bill Mackey, director of Planning, Housing and Zoning. “We are still trying not to have a full complement of people working inside the building.”

The commissioners also unanimously approved ending a Motor Vehicle Administration program that provided registration renewal within the Office of Finance.

Fithian, who made the motion, included a caveat saying the commissioners can always revisit the decision to end the program if the county receives an influx of calls concerning its cancelation.

Merritt said there was a $1 fee to process renewals in the county building. The county received 50 cents of that fee with the state getting the other half.

The service has not been offered at the 400 High St. location during the spring and summer months this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Drivers can complete the process online or at Shelley’s Tag and Title Service in Chestertown, at the MVA Bus or in Queen Anne’s County Office of Finance.

Despite the popularity of the program in Kent County, Merritt said the bank fees do not allow the county to generate revenue from the program.

“It’s purely a service,” Merritt said.

President of the Kent County Commissioners Tom Mason said, in his experience, it is “quite easy” to complete the renewal process online.

Also, the commissioners approved allowing press from “bona fide organizations that report news,” according to the motion, to be allowed to attend the commissioners’ meeting in person on a first-come, first-served basis starting with the Tuesday, Oct. 6 meeting.

There was some debate about outlining what constitutes a bona fide news organization before settling on the policy as a place to start.

Those attending the meetings will have to wear a mask and sit in pre-identified seats.

County Attorney Tom Yeager suggested the commissioners clearly specify who they consider to be journalists.

“I think you have to have some criteria,” Yeager said. “I think you should have some type of guidelines or standards as to what is press and what’s not because you may have an issue of interest and a blogger or somebody comes in and says, ‘Well I am press, so I should be allowed in.’”

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