CHESTERTOWN — Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino gave the annual “State of the Town” report Monday, Jan. 5, at the first town council meeting of the year.
The report, which is mandated by the town charter, begins with a summary of the town’s financial health. Cerino reported that the town received an unqualified audit, “indicating financial excellence,” for the 20th year in a row. The town’s net assets amount to more than $17 million, he said.
The town maintains more than $1,212,000 as a general fund surplus to hedge against reductions in state or county funding, Cerino said. The town has kept its property tax rate at $0.37 per $100 of assessed value.
The town staff consists of 39 permanent full-time employees in four departments: office, street, utilities and police. The police department makes up the largest contingent, with 14 on staff.
In 2014, Cerino’s first year as mayor, the council actively solicited input from residents on a variety of topics. Public meetings with business owners in the town’s commercial districts, a forum to gauge reactions to the Waterfront Task Force report, two charrettes to plan the future of the Chestertown Marina, a meeting with Shore Regional Health to discuss plans to remediate an oil leak on hospital property and a meeting to respond to the State Highway Administration’s plan to close the Chester River bridge for repainting were among the town’s steps to involve the public in its decision-making during the year.
Other important business included the choice of a site for a new police station — the Shared Opportunity Service building at 601 High St. — and its subsequent purchase, scheduled for early this month. The town sold two affordable housing projects on Cannon Street, Satterfield Court and the High Steps apartments, to the Delaware Valley Development Co. and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
In addition, the town completed Phase III of the Gilchrest Community Trail, running parallel to High Street from Dixon Drive to Mabel Mumford Gateway Park. Planning and permitting for the park were completed in 2014, and construction is scheduled for this spring. Improvements were also made at Margo Bailey Park, including new access paths to Heron Point and Rolling Road. Plans to upgrade Fountain Park began with a widened sidewalk and resodding of the lawn on the High Street side.
Other town projects cited in the report are the update of the town’s comprehensive plan, a redesign of the town website, construction of step pools to control stormwater runoff in the Lamotte Valley and plans to build a 1.2 megawatt solar array at the wastewater treatment plant. The resulting solar energy is expected to be enough to power all the town government facilities. Also, the town built a parking lot for employees of downtown businesses off the 300 block of Cannon Street, at the same time as it bagged downtown parking meters in an attempt to increase shopping at local businesses.
Cerino’s report also noted several initiatives by private businesses. He cited the renovations at the Kent Plaza shopping center, which includes expansion of the Acme supermarket, and the plans to open a Redner’s supermarket at the Washington Square plaza. Also important was the renovation and expansion of the emergency department at the hospital.
On the drawing board for the future are applications for an Arts and Entertainment District designation and for a Community Parks and Playgrounds grant to build recreational facilities on the grounds of Kent County Middle School.
The list of goals for 2015 included keeping the tax rate at its current level, working with businesses and others “to improve the local economy and fill any remaining empty storefronts” and working with Washington College to find ways to bring students downtown both as business customers and to participate in town activities. Also on the list were improved recycling and greening efforts, clearing the way for Phase IV of the Gilchrest trail and creating “a new branding” for the town and incorporating it in new town signage.
Annexing Mumford Park and the town wastewater plant property were also on the 2015 wish list.
Cerino concluded with a paragraph of thanks to “all those individuals who donated their time and talents to make Chestertown a better place” during the year. Cerino said, “It is the people in our community that make it truly a special place.”