(Oct. 31, 2014) James “Bud” Church was amenable to an in-person interview. Without prior knowledge, or opportunity to edit his responses, he was asked the same questions as his opponent.
Why are you running?
I’m running because I really enjoy being a county commissioner. About 98 percent of it is very enjoyable. About two percent of it, at times I wake up in the morning and wonder why I’m doing it, but it’s something I really enjoy doing.
What are your goals as Commissioner?
My goals are to try to simplify government, if that’s possible. Try to convince the state that government should be run from the bottom up and not the top down. I don’t think the county should bear the burden of paying more than their fair share. Let me give you an example, the road tax: we were getting at the best $5.2-$5.5 million back on our road tax [in previous years], and now we’re getting $250-$300,000. They’re using our money to balance their budget, and I think those are things that need to be addressed and that’s part of the things I’d like to do. The state legislature, for some reason, doesn’t seem to grasp life on the Eastern Shore, and it centers around Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Baltimore City and Baltimore County. I think their intentions are good, but they don’t understand the process and the net effect it has on the farmers and watermen. Good solid environmental regulations are great, but I don’t think they understand the net effect of their proposed legislation sometimes.
What problems do you see with the way the county operates now?
I don’t see very many problems with the county. The county has been very prudent with the taxpayers’ dollars. When we noticed the revenues were beginning to decline, we anticipated a drop-off in recordation taxes and transfer taxes, and that was a very large sum for the county. Being in the real estate business I noticed early and I went to Mr. [Gerald] Mason, who was County Administrator at the time, and I said “Gerry, I’m in the business and I’m seeing a huge drop-off in our sales. I’m talking to other Realtors and that’s going to drastically affect our budgets.” Our county doesn’t have a spending problem, it has more of a revenue problem; the state on the other hand doesn’t have a revenue problem, but they have a spending problem. That affects us at the local level. The counties can’t stand the burden of trying to support the state.
How would you improve the way the county operates?
To be very honest and candid I think the county works very, very well the way it is. Since I’ve been elected there’s been one area of major concern for me, and that was in economic development. It took a huge effort to convince the county to head in another direction. To bring more jobs to the county and more industry to the county, and Bill Badger [Worcester County Economic Development Director] was one of the best in the state at doing that, and that was one area we were greatly deficient in. We’ve gone from having the second-highest unemployment in the state, Bill Badger has raised us up, and we’re probably sixth or seventh from the bottom now. Badger is vastly responsible for that.
What is your response to those who might, on the whole, question your judgment?
Have I made mistakes? Certainly I’ve made some mistakes. Yeah, there’s been two, three, four times in my 12-year career I’ve went, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve struck out on that one,’ but I take my job very seriously. I try to know the facts. When I don’t know the facts, I call the appropriate department to find out the facts. Am I perfect, no; but I try to be. Generally I’m pretty happy with Bud Church.
How many candidate forums have you attended in the last four months?
I haven’t counted them. I think four.
How many meetings of the commissioners have you attended over the last year?
In 12 years I think I’ve missed four. I had [a non-life-threatening health concern] once, and I was invited onto a nuclear submarine once.
How should the Town of Ocean City be compensated for service outside town limits?
In general, there’s no doubt that Ocean City is the goose that lays the golden egg. I think it was 2-3 years ago the mayor came to the county commissioners and said they wanted their funding taken back to what it was in 2009, and we did that, and they still weren’t happy. We do what we can afford to do, but we don’t need hostility. I never shun a question and I know there’s issues, but let’s talk about them. The way I like to govern is everyone has to come out a winner. Everyone has to be happy. One side can’t be happier than the other and you have to make concessions. That philosophy has served me well. Let’s not argue in public, let’s sit down and talk about it.
Should Worcester County take a greater role in services to West Ocean City?
Our sheriff’s department is very active in providing services to West Ocean City in conjunction with the State Police taking a very active role in patrolling West Ocean City. The roads, a lot of the roads are county roads and they spent $3-4 million [on improvements], particularly Isle of Wight and Keyser Point Road. We put the new Mystic Harbour wastewater facility in and we now have 1,600 EDUs [equivalent dwelling units of sewer capacity] in West Ocean City. It’s not exactly West Ocean City, but it could be. Snug Harbor had a moratorium for years and years, the county went to bat for them and got them sewer so they can build on their lots. I think the county’s been very proactive in addressing the needs, wants and concerns of West Ocean City.
Describe, in your own terms, what needs to happen with Station 5?
I was attending a West Ocean City Association meeting when my opponent brought up 24/7 service to West Ocean City, and I told him that was a great idea and it’s something we can work on together. I live three blocks from a fire station and I have family within a mile. Great idea, what’s it going to cost? He said I can tell you but I need to work it up. I said “Mike, e-mail me. Let me know.” He sent me his data sheet that he could provide 24/7 coverage out of Station 5 for $577,000. I’ve still got the e-mail. I talked to Chuck Barton [Ocean City Deputy Fire Chief] and he said they were already working on it, but needed to go through [Ocean City’s] mayor and city council first. I talked to Emergency Services in Worcester County. When Ocean City did it, it was $1.58 million, plus or minus. When the county projections came in, it was about the same thing.