GRASONVILLE — As seniors packed the Grasonville Senior Center Thursday, Sept. 26, federal, state and local officials answered questioned about County Ride, senior program funding, traffic, and the county’s Housing Authority.
On hand for the event were Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore; Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s; Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent; County Commissioners Jim Moran and Chris Corchiarino; Catherine Willis, director of the Area Agency on Aging; Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Gary Hofmann; and Queen Anne’s County Housing Authority Commissioner Richard Cira.
“We’re working on a five-year transportation development plan that’s a part of the Maryland Transit Administration funded program,” said Willis. “It will help us look at what we need to do to plan for the future for transit services in the county. We’re looking at how that works with other counties and we’re looking at how that could lead to expanding county ride hours during the day.”
Willis also said the county is looking to expand the number and frequency of stops as long as MTA funding allows for it. The grant application is being completed and additional monies for senior programs across the board are dictated by population formulas derived from the U.S. Census.
Willis noted that state and federal funding has been relatively low, but the county supplements that by providing 60 percent of the AAOA budget.
Overnight trips using County Ride are still not allowed due to a county employee policy, an Ethics Commission ruling, and county liability issues.
Residents also questioned the panel on possible tax credit for seniors, but Corchiarino said recent tax credits for specific groups, like first responders within the county were limited in amount and frequency.
“This is phased in over a period of time, first is a $1,500 credit to $2,500 and it cannot exceed what the applicant’s actual property tax is. As far as additional senior housing, we’re going to be conducting studies to see where it can be implemented,” said Cochiarino.
Broadband service was also discussed with Corchiarino saying that Atlantic Broadband has the franchise agreement with the county. The issues come when looking at both a subscriber base and infrastructure needs.
Corchiarino also added with cable service starting to lose out to streaming services over high speed internet, that the traditional cable business model will have to adjust with broadband.
The panel addressed Bay Bridge traffic issues saying the county has repeatedly requested short-term solutions to the all-too-pervasive backups, some even over 10 miles long, with little response by the Maryland Transportation Authority.
“Queen Anne’s County commissioners put together a traffic plan each year and not just talk about the traffic problem,” said Jacobs. “They put a solution on the table, but state officials don’t live here and see what traffic problems really are. I drove an ambulance for 15 years and I never had to deal with what (first responders) have to deal with during the summer months.”
Moran added the current phase of the National Environmental Policy Act Study is unreasonably drawn out and the current White House Administration has pushed for the federal guidelines have been revised to limit the study process to two years.
“The state has pushed the first phase to five years, but since then, the White House has wanted it in two years. The state got a permit for the American Legion Bridge located at the northern beltway and did so in two years, so it can be sped up if the state has the will to do it,” said Moran.
The public also pressed officials on why Anne Arundel Medical Center closed its urgent care location on Kent Island.
“Sen. Hershey and I met with AAMC about their decision and they said the reasoning was to increase there service by adding more hours and staff. Also, they said the county really wasn’t using it and it already had an emergency room in Queenstown,” said Arentz.
Moran added he hoped another provider would step in to open an urgent care location. The University of Maryland has expressed interest in doing so, but is still in the study phase to see how viable a location would be.
Finally, Cira discussed the current state of the Queen Anne’s County Housing Authority and numerous complaints about lack of response to repair requests, letters threatening eviction for supposed late fees, and a lack of public input at meetings.
Queen Anne’s County Housing Authority Executive Director Jeremy White was invited to the forum, but was did not respond.
On a number of occasions, public information from meetings has been requested by the residents, the Record Observer, and county commissioners also with no response from White, who has appointed himself as the only member of the board able to release information.
“The county has been encouraging the Housing Authority to be more open with information and enter into a memorandum of understanding to improve operations and they haven’t responded,” Corchiarino said. “The way the Housing Authority treats its residents is unacceptable and change is coming. They do not want to reciprocate, so we’ll be taking other action to change it. The residents are the customers, and they need to be treated as such. Repairs should be addressed within 24 hours as well.”
Cira added that working with county commissioners has been “a delight” and that the properties that are run by the board should be maintained to have people want to relocate there. Cira also said public comments are vital to hearing from the public the board serves.
“We need to make this county one where every comment and inquiry is welcomed. Those who live in our communities are our tenants, and we need to take care of you. I have been at these meeting and it is unfair. If you feel you don’t have a voice, come to the meetings and you will,” Cira said.
Corchiarino added he would like to see a tenants bill of rights be adopted to apply to the properties currently managed by the board.
“The conditions of the properties are deteriorating and are doing so because of poor maintenance. We’ve reached out and asked to see their maintenance protocol to review how (repairs) can be made,” said Corchiarino.
Bonnie Walter, AAOA vice president, was grateful so many seniors showed up to voice their concerns.
“This is a good opportunity for seniors ands we’ve been collecting questions for about a month and half. This is our third forum we had and we had over 100 people, so when we ask our public officials to participate, they’re much more receptive,” said Walter.