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County continues fiscal balancing act for ‘14, future

(Jan. 2, 2015) In an interview before the election, former County Commissioner Virgil Shockley said holding the office is like “keeping three balls in the air at once, and someone is always changing the order of the balls.”

Trying to whittle down the scope of a commissioners’ responsibilities and actions into neat categories feels about the same. Things such as the proposed excursion train affect the budget, tourism and environment of Worcester County. The Liquor Control Department and its issues fit into development and budget categories. School construction is not different, since it costs a lot of money, affects the environment, obviously will affect education and definitely counts as a form of development.

Sometimes digging right in is the best and only choice. Sometimes the overused phrase “in no particular order” retains a measure of credibility. Sometimes, as an early mentor once told me, you just have to create. So here is the first draft of the history of Worcester County 2014.

The Budget

The first half of each year is consumed by the budget. How much money the county has, who will spend it and on what, predicted shortfalls, predicted increases and predicting the unpredictable are all parts of budget sessions. Sometimes it’s a bare-knuckle brawl, others it’s a white-knuckle screamer and occasionally it’s smooth sailing. These are the highlights of this year’s budget sessions.

To gauge the shape of financial things to come, the county holds public hearings to listen to the wants and needs of constituent towns, municipalities, departments and citizens. This is a short summary of each town’s early requests.

Pocomoke City

Representing Pocomoke City, Rob Clark said he and the other council members realize that the county’s revenues had decreased in recent years. Because of that, they were asking for funds in only two categories.

Clark asked for $400,000 for economic development assistance, liquor license fees, 50 percent of profits from the Pocomoke dispensary, a 15 percent credit against tipping fees for the town’s recycling efforts, support for Pocomoke’s ambulance service, $4,500 for marketing and promotional assistance and funds for the fire department.

Snow Hill

Snow Hill Council President Eric Mullins asked for $1.5 million, including shared revenues of income tax, room tax and liquor license distributions, state aid to volunteer fire companies, a $500,000 unrestricted grant and $100,000 for stabilization of Mason’s Opera House, which the town purchased with the intent of restoration.

Snow Hill also wanted a $79,000 fire grant, $195,705 for its volunteer fire department and $417,861 for its ambulances.

Berlin

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams requested county funds to be used primarily for upgrading and adding to the town’s infrastructure.

The goal, he said, is to ensure the town’s sidewalks are safe, contiguous and meet ADA requirements. Berlin is also improving its parks.

Williams asked for $1.62 million total, which included an unrestricted grant of $400,000.

Ocean City

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan asked for an unrestricted grant of $2.5 million as part of a $19.2 million request. That amount includes $40,000 for the bus route between the Park and Ride in West Ocean City and Ocean City and $50,000 for surveillance cameras on the Boardwalk to be monitored by public safety personnel.

In addition, he said the City Council wanted to meet with the commissioners to discuss a plan for yearly increases in the undesignated grant to address what he said is the disparity between the costs of services resort governments provides in lieu of the county providing those same services and the county contribution. It is not the first time the City Council has tried for a tax differential.

Ocean Pines Association

On behalf of the Ocean Pines Association, board member Sharyn O’Hare asked for $1.6 million, including $600,000 for police aid, $250,000 for roads, $195,703 for the volunteer fire department and $6,000 for the Fourth of July celebration.

Once this aspect of the process is complete, county staff and the commissioners begin assembling a working copy of the document and then hold a meeting of the full board to get a better understanding of the budget’s scope before cutting begins.

There was cutting to do in the 2014-15 fiscal year considering that the total requests for money from the towns, schools, groups and the county’s own departments exceeded anticipated revenue by almost $8.5 million.

Every budget has some built-in uncertainty because the commissioners don’t have exact numbers at the time they begin to create the annual budget package. They have to use estimates and those can change quickly as the result of state government actions or unexpected turns of events locally.

As it was, total requested expenditures for fiscal year 2015 was $184.7 million, an increase of $16.1 million. The Board of Education alone asked for $79.4 million, an increase of $3.38 million over the current-year adopted budget. The board’s operating budget request of $79.4 million plus school construction debt of $11.7 million totals $91.2 million or 51 percent of the county’s total estimated revenue.

Even so, the commissioners and their budget committee cut the shortfall to about $100,000. County Administrator Harold Higgins, Budget Officer Kathy Whited, Finance Officer Phil Thompson and Assistant Finance Officer Jennifer Swanton, the members of the Budget Review Committee, made more than $2 million in cuts to get the budget close to being balanced.

Once balanced, it was put to a vote and the commissioners approved a budget of $177.9 million.

The total package included a $9.3 million increase in spending over last year, but the commissioners did so while maintaining the current property tax rate of 77 cents per $100 of assessed value. Keeping the current rate resulted in a decrease of property tax revenue of approximately $466,000.

The audit report was released to the public in late December, and trues up what the county thought it was spending versus what it actually ended up spending during the previous fiscal year.

Independent auditor TGM Group in Salisbury reviewed the document and found that the variance between the county assets and liabilities was $11.7 million less than it was fiscal 2013, shrinking from about $171 million to $159 million.

Governmental activities suffered a revenue loss of about $3.6 million. A part of that resulted from a $4.2 million drop in property tax revenues because of falling assessments. At the same time, however, income taxes increased nearly $1 million and “other local taxes” went up by almost $723,000.

Appropriations to the Board of Education increased by about $1.5 million. Small capital improvements for the Board of Education cost the county about $400,000 and $3.8 million for the new Snow Hill High School was expensed here.

At the end of fiscal 2014, the governmental funds including the general fund, the capital projects fund, the debt service fund and a generalized “other” fund had a balance of almost $96 million, including almost $19 million in emergency/rainy day funds.

This is an increase of a bit more than $36 million than last year and is mainly due to the county borrowing $44 million in long-term debt for renovations and construction at Snow Hill High School.

Board of Education

Worcester County spends the most per pupil in the state at $17,086, and Baltimore City spends the second highest with $16,904 according to the Department of Legislative Services’ 2014 Overview of Maryland Local Governments report.

But unlike every other county in Maryland, Worcester County itself provides more than 70 percent of that money itself because of a funding formula that equates the county’s high property values with perceived wealth. This is despite the fact that Worcester Board of Education reports that 44 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Yet, Worcester schools are still some of the best in the state. Here’s a look at how Worcester County interacted with its schools during 2014.

Snow Hill High and Showell Elementary construction

Two school construction projects are at opposite ends of political quagmire: Snow Hill High School is seeing a long-awaited upgrade, while efforts to reconstruct Showell Elementary hit a snag at the end of the year and haven’t yet recovered.

The new and improved Snow Hill High School will add state-of-the-art classrooms, a new media center, computer labs, a science wing, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, a kitchen and a new athletic complex. The school will include several sustainable features such as a geothermal heating and cooling system, motion-activated lights, thermally insulated glass and low-flow plumbing fixtures.

The construction project is anticipated to cost $49.6 million, with state funding of just under $4 million. Planning has been under way since 2002, and the project is expected to be completed for the start of school in the fall of 2016.

Instead of renovating the existing Showell Elementary School, the Worcester Commissioners decided to build a new one, forgoing state contributions.

The conclusion to proceed was reached after an inventory of existing problems including an aging roof, insufficient classroom space and inadequate technology systems.

Estimated construction costs for renovation and additions to the existing school total $36.87 million, of which the state would fund $6.65 million. Additional costs for the renovation option would add $14.61 million for an estimated total project cost of $51.48 million. Estimated construction costs for a new school and demolition of the existing building would cost $37.49 million.

But the expectation of a smooth approval process came back to haunt the Worcester County Board of Education when it presented capital improvement proposals to the commissioners later in the year.

The schools were prepared to discuss $660,000 for the design phase of replacement plans for Showell Elementary School. However, the commissioners noted that a formal request for the funding, usually in the form of a letter, had not been included with the request and so could not be heard.

The commissioners invited the Board of Education back to its next regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the funding once the proper request was in hand. The boards did not meet again in open session during 2014 on this issue.

Separately, the board sought to relieve tightening budgets by asking the community to contribute where state funding had failed by encouraging the formation of the Worcester Education Foundation, a public/private partnership dedicated to the digital conversion of Worcester classrooms.

Business executives, politicians and school officials gathered for a breakfast meeting at Stephen Decatur High School to announce the birth of the Worcester County Education Foundation offering each student a piece of technology figured to feature prominently in college and career.

The foundation’s aim is to achieve a one-to-one ratio between students and computer equipment: every elementary school student would have access to a touch-screen device, every middle school student would have a touch/type hybrid, and every high school student would have a laptop.

The Environment

The issues of land use are almost constantly in the news. Worcester’s land is developed for tourists, farmed for food and threatened by each of these. Finding the balance between hard-line conservationists and the people whose lives depend on working the land can be tricky.

Park named for Ilia Fehrer

The Worcester County Commissioners named a property on Ayres Creek after Ilia Fehrer, a well-known local conservationist and former county Planning Commission member. Fehrer is credited with protecting the Pocomoke River and Chincoteague Bay, and helping to foster Assateague Island State and National parks, the Nassawango Creek Preserve and the Worcester County rural legacy area.

No county funds were used to purchase the 441-acre property along Ayres Creek between Sinepuxent Road and Assateague Road. It was purchased with a $1.3 federal grant from the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, $500,000 from Program Open Space and an $875,000 in-kind donation from The Adkins Company.

Attack of the

returning sandbar

A persistent shoal at the inlet is making it difficult and sometimes impossible for some commercial vessels to reach the harbor.

The Army Corps of Engineers dredged the channel in October 2013, but the sandbar returned.

Vessels of a certain size must wait until high tide to avoid running aground while trying to reach the harbor. Shoaling in front of that harbor limits access to the commercial fishing fleet, which must travel through the inlet to reach the ocean. At times, the shoaling prevents vessels from entering the harbor to unload their catch.

The Corps informed the commissioners of three problems in the harbor’s vicinity that might be interrelated. Those issues are rapid shoaling, shoreline erosion south of the harbor and a scour hole that has developed and deepened adjacent to the Harbor Lights condominiums north of the commercial harbor.

Recycling revenue falls

Recycling revenue dropped dramatically for Worcester County in fiscal year 2013, rebounded this fiscal year and is expected to drop just slightly in the coming fiscal year. During the same time period, the amount of recyclables remained about the same.

In fiscal year 2013, recycling revenue was $303,000 and in the current fiscal year it is expected to be $225,000. For fiscal year 2015, $222,000 is estimated.

Corrugated cardboard revenue has held steady at $100,000 in all three budget years, but revenue from metal fell from $65,000 in fiscal year 2013 to an estimated $50,000 this fiscal year. That revenue is expected to drop to $40,000 in fiscal year 2015.

Revenue from aluminum and bi-metal cans dropped from $47,000 in fiscal year 2014 to an estimated $20,000 this fiscal year. The forecast for fiscal year 2015 rebounds to $30,000.

Paper revenue was $84,000 in fiscal year 2013 and is anticipated to be just $50,000 this fiscal year and next fiscal year. Revenue from plastics dropped from $7,000 in fiscal year 2013 and is expected to drop to $5,000 this fiscal year and to just $2,000 for next fiscal year.

Trash ala carte

Worcester County will begin a pilot program to dispose of trash as a “pay as you throw” system.

Approved in June for 2015, the commissioners are offering residents a choice in how they handle their household waste with the aims of keeping costs in line with use, encouraging more recycling and lengthening the life of landfills.

The first is the familiar, yet more expensive than in previous years. Household permits will cost $100 for the first two registered vehicles on Jan. 1, 2015 and a third can be purchased for another $100. The price will not be prorated depending on the purchase date (buy early) nor will the price change if fewer permits are purchased.

Homeowners selecting the option would pay $1 per bag, up to 33 gallons in size, to dispose of their solid waste. Tags can be purchased in blocks of five for $5 at the Treasurer’s Office, Cape Isle of Wight office, the central landfill and through the mail.

Tipping fees are still in effect for construction/demolition items, tree stumps etc. while disposing of recyclable material is free.

The tags can only be used for household trash. Businesses, even home-based ones, must pursue a contract with an outside hauler to dispose of their waste.

The new fee structure is expected to reduce the existing Solid Waste Enterprise Fund deficit by at least $120,000. The deficit, reported in the minutes of the June meeting, required a nearly $1 million transfer from reserve funds to cover the shortfall.

Parks for prizes

In celebration of National Park and Recreation Month, the county Department of Recreation and Parks gave away prizes to Worcester County residents who visited every park.

Worcester County has 12 parks plus the recreation center in Snow Hill.

People who visited the recreation center and more than seven of the county parks got a free T-shirt supporting Parks and Recreation Month plus a Worcester County Recreation and Parks tote bag. People who visited six or fewer parks got the tote bag.

Tree planting snags park plan

Just hours after offering to plant trees at the Northern Worcester Athletic Complex near Berlin, the Maryland Coastal Bays Foundation decided not to pursue the deal.

Some Worcester County Commissioners were in favor of the project to plant trees, but three, Commissioners Virgil Shockley, Louise Gulyas and M. Jim Bunting, asked to see a plan before approving the project. The Coastal Bays Program, citing no need to rush, abandoned the project.

The group also wanted to take over the development of Grey’s Creek Nature Park, a waterfront park near Williamsville, Del., as a passive park supporting environmental education. The Grey’s Creek plan was accepted with some minor modifications later this year.

Development and progress

The story of Worcester County is essentially one of development: what the county has gained and what it has lost year over year. Even when construction had stopped in many places, Worcester was still tinkering and tweaking codes, examining policies and approving changes. As micro and macro economies recover, they will have changed in both style and substance but one thing remains: people want to live and work in Worcester.

The struggles are also familiar. Worcester recognizes the need to remove septic systems and to install wastewater treatment plants and to explore new energy sources such as solar, wind and natural gas in a way that could support the county’s tourism concerns in a more environmentally responsible way.

Excursion train

The thought of an excursion train generated much interest in Berlin, Snow Hill and the surrounding areas while Ocean City and Ocean Pines were slow to get on board with the idea.

The idea began when Strasburg Railroad and Maryland Delaware Railroad became interested in providing a local Strasburg Railroad franchise that would run from Berlin to Snow Hill.

County Economic Development Director Bill Badger said he thought it would be prudent for the commissioners to look at the idea and he suggested they contribute a portion of funds for the first phase of a feasibility study, estimated to cost between $12,000 and $20,000.

Strasburg Railroad is known for its family attractions, including a replica of Thomas the Tank train and The Polar Express. Passengers could be served food and alcohol aboard train cars. Not long after the initial presentation, the county signed on for the feasibility study, which was expected to cost around $20,000.

The cost of the first phase of the study is being shared by Worcester County Economic Development, Berlin, Snow Hill and Maryland Delaware Railroad with the understanding that Strasburg Railroad would contribute funds for the study’s second phase.

While Strasburg did not end up contributing funding for the second phase, the commissioners found enough to like in the feasibility study to allow the process to continue. Of particular note in the study were the recently renovated train station in Snow Hill and the exposure the train would get on the Route 50 crossing near the Route 113 junction.

On the negative side, repairs are going to cost money, there is no existing facility dedicated to storage and maintenance of the cars, although the former Tyson processing plant was bandied about as a possible site.

The failure of a similar excursion train during the mid-1970s also figured heavily into the conversation.

The phase II study was ordered and will be delivered sometime in the new year.

Water and Wastewater

Worcester County has a problem with poo. Many homes and businesses still rely on septic systems, and the county is making efforts and taking strides towards changing that.

The most significant advance to this end was the opening of the Mystic Harbour Wastewater Treatment Plant to its full capacity. Incremental steps led to the proverbial floodgates being opened, but once they were, businesses and residences flocked toward the new bounty of permits the plant provided.

The saga of Mystic Harbour began with the Worcester County Commissioners approving a request to proceed with the first phase of water system improvements for the Mystic Harbour Sanitary Service Area.

Additional public water supply was needed in that area and to meet those needs, the improvements will be phased in during the next five to 10 years.

In the first phase, water system interconnections will be made between Assateague Point, the Landings and Mystic Harbour at an estimated cost of $1.1 million. The second phase of the project will be an interconnection between Riddle Farm and Mystic Harbour in three to eight years at a cost of $900,000. Phase three will be a reconstruction of the Oyster Harbor water treatment plant in five to 10 years at a cost of $850,000 and phase four will reinforce pipelines in the distribution system and work on the north water tower in 10 to 15 years at a cost of $2 million.

Part of this plan required a place to put the treated effluent.

It was determined that the best place for that was irrigation at Eagles Landing Golf Course. Additional treated effluent would be redirected to the Ocean City wastewater treatment plant when capacity does not exist at the municipal golf course or the injection wells currently used.

The Mystic Harbour plant was built with a capacity of 450,000 gallons per day, but to utilize that capacity fully, provisions must be made for the disposal of the treated effluent. The plant now uses shallow groundwater injection wells for effluent disposal. Those wells, however, are not reliable and are permitted for only 250,000 gallons per day of effluent disposal.

After negotiations, the mayor and City Council of Ocean City and the Worcester County Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding that would allow the county to use Eagle’s Landing Golf Course for the disposal of the treatment plant’s effluent. Because of the high quality of the effluent, the disposal is considered a beneficial reuse.

They also agreed to connect the golf course, the Humane Society, a maintenance building and the Ocean City Airport to Mystic Harbour.

In return, the county waived certain connection charges and will complete significant upgrades to the golf course irrigation system.

The next step was to hold the grand opening, as all the pieces fell into place after some minor tweaks.

First, the Department of Public Works petitioned to add two new outflows: Eagle’s Landing golf course, and a connection – partially installed already – to the Ocean City wastewater treatment plant when capacity runs short. Second, the permitted flow is to be increased from 250,000 to 450,000 gallons per day.

With the public input portion of the process behind them, the county could proceed with the scheduled ribbon-cutting and tours offered later that day. Dignitaries, candidates and incumbents along with about 50 well-wishers of all stripes gathered at the facility for a meet-and-greet and a hands-on explanation of the new plant.

With the handshakes finished and the ribbons cut, businesses started lining up to be included.

The commissioners approved a plan to integrate Frontiertown into the Mystic Harbour Sanitary Service area with an S-1 designation, the costs of which will likely only be for infrastructure physically connecting it to the wastewater treatment plant.

A force main will be constructed to pump wastewater northward along Route 611 and connect to an existing force main servicing Castaways Campground.

The portion of the park already serviced by Assateague Point will remain in that service, while the rest of the park and campground will be integrated into Mystic Harbour.

The park will be granted an additional 160 equivalent dwelling units through the integration to service the campground and any additional load brought on by increased use.

Infrastructure

Improving the county’s ability to deal with effluent is only one of the moves the county made this year to improve infrastructure. A number of other perhaps smaller changes were made in order to keep the business of the county running, if not always smoothly.

An expansion of Showell Park and a new Berlin library in the county’s requested five-year capital improvement plan caused concern.

During the Worcester County Commissioner’s public hearing about that plan, an Ocean Pines resident said he had lived 20 years in the area and during that time, he had never heard anyone asking for an expansion of Showell Park. The resident also questioned whether the $900,000 price tag for approximately 100 acres was prudent.

County officials said they believed considerable revenue could result if the expansion is made, if fields and other amenities are provided and if tournaments take place at the park.

The plan also includes $600,000 for land acquisition and engineering and design for a new Berlin library in fiscal 2015 and additional funds for engineering, site work, construction and equipment and furnishings through 2017 for a total of $4.9 million.

Which is not the facility’s only problem.

When it rains in Berlin, staff at the Worcester County Library branch go get buckets. Although the county is seeking a location in the town for a new branch library, it wants to replace the aging roof of the current library on Main Street property owned by the Berlin Fire Company.

In late 2012 or early 2013, prices for a replacement roof using architectural asphalt shingles were obtained. The cost would be approximately $18,000.

During development of the scope of the project, it was determined that the county needed to meet current energy codes that required adding insulated ventilated roof panels that would provide an adequate insulation barrier for the building’s conditioned space.

The cost for a roof that would meet the current energy code is approximately $70,000.

Access between northern and southern Worcester County is really a question of the state of Route 113. The dream of dualization is still alive as the commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation stating their priority transportation project continues to be the dualization of Route 113.

The county also spent its portion of a one-time state grant of $10 million to fix potholes and make other road repairs necessitated by this year’s extreme winter weather.

The county’s roads have deteriorated because of the snow and cold temperatures. This led to numerous potholes and the need for extensive road repairs.

The exact areas that will be repaired have not been designated.

Worcester’s allocation for road repairs was $252,726. Neighboring Wicomico County was allocated $298,814 and nearby Somerset County was allocated $151,188.

To meet the expanding needs of an active community an Easton construction company was tapped to build the 6,300 square-foot addition to the Worcester County Recreation Center in Snow Hill. Harper & Sons got the nod for their $1.31 million bid.

The 6,300-square-foot addition will go on the east side of the existing recreation center and will match the existing façade.

Boating also remains a staple of Worcester County, and access to water is an important avenue for revenue.

One county boat ramp has reopened following its reconstruction and a second ramp is closed because its reconstruction was expected to begin.

The Shell Mill boat ramp, at the end of Shell Mill Road, off of St. Martin’s Neck Road, in Bishopville, had been closed since April. It was expected to remain closed until early July, but it opened earlier than anticipated.

The Shell Mill project, which cost approximately $134,400, included reconstruction of the concrete boat ramp and finger piers. Earlier plans had called for the ramp to be relocated and a soft kayak launch from a sandy area, but the state did not approve those plans.

Since it construction in 1988, the Shell Mill boat ramp has been used by many boaters and fishermen to gain access to Assawoman Bay via the St. Martin’s River.

The new project is the Taylor’s Landing boat ramp and shoreline stabilization project at the end of Taylor’s Landing Road in Girdletree. Project plans include replacing the existing ramp, extending the finger piers, providing additional shoreline protection and creating a soft shoreline.

Heat and Electric

Atlantic General Hospital, the Berlin Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and Kelly Foods are nearing completion of their conversions to natural gas. The Barrett Medical Building has been converted to natural gas. Stephen Decatur Middle School and Stephen Decatur High School have been converted to natural gas.

Sandpiper Energy’s first conversions to natural gas took place last summer at the feed mill and asphalt plant along Route 113 in Showell.

The conversions will proceed along the northern part of Berlin and go in a circular fashion along the west side of town, Department of Environmental Programs Director Bob Mitchell told the Worcester County Commissioners. After completing about 75 percent of the conversions in Berlin, the company will begin upgrades in the northern part of Ocean Pines and the commercial area around Walmart.

Sandpiper came into being by acquiring the Eastern Shore Gas Company, and it is now converting the underground propane distribution system used in the Berlin, Ocean Pines and West Ocean City to natural gas. The project is expected to take four to six years.

A number of solar energy projects have been operating in good faith without updated zoning regulations to provide for them, until the commissioners heard their requests and made changes to the code.

Three issues with the pending update to 2011 legislation formed the basis for another delay in zoning for solar-powered electricity production in Worcester.

The 2011 law provided for three designations by proposed output: small, medium and large at 5 kilowatts, between 5-200kW and 200+kW respectively. The new plan will add a utility-grade designation that is intended to cap large at 2.5 megawatts and cover that output and anything greater.

In the end two amendments were all it took to correct the zoning issues surrounding solar power production.

A provision has been added to require a buffer, not a screen, for solar farms qualified as “large,” producing between 200kW-2.5mW located within 500 feet of a property zoned or used for residential purposes.

The semi-permeable buffer, rather than the full blockage of a screen, may also be located within the setback required under these conditions. The second amendment adds back in zoning areas previously approved for solar power under the 2011 legislation, but left out of the former bill for reasons unknown. Zones E-1, V-1, C-1, C-2 and C-3 have been restored to the list of permissible zoning districts for “utility” scale (2.5mW+) solar systems.

Business development

The business of Worcester County is business. Retail, service, tourist – however sliced, business is business and Worcester County wants to be in business.

Worcester County entrepreneurs were invited to benefit from more than $500,000 available in loans this year to create new jobs and support business expansion.

In 2013, Worcester County’s share of Video Lottery Terminal funds for small, minority and women-owned businesses was $500,000.

The loans, which are priced at or below current market interest rates, may be used for business acquisition, commercial real estate acquisition, building improvements, purchase of equipment, business start-up costs, working capital, and in some cases, refinancing of existing debt.

Owners of existing businesses, as well as qualified people who want to start a business may apply for the loans, which start at $25,000.

As business grows, so does the need to promote it.

Citing a need for additional personnel and funds to market the county to promote business, Economic Development Director Bill Badger asked the Worcester County Commissioners for a 23 percent increase over the amended fiscal year budget of $312,778.

Badger also cited the need for funds for consulting and the inclusion of the services of the Small Business and Technology Development Center in Salisbury in the department’s budget.

Increasing employment opportunities is part of the mission of the Economic Development Department. Its mission also includes expansion of the tax base, protecting the county’s environmental assets and creating full-time, family supporting jobs.

But sometimes business doesn’t go so well, and the county is left wondering how, or why they are in business after all.

The Snow Hill Shore Spirits on Market Street near Route 113 will move to the Snow Hill administrative offices and warehouse of the Worcester County Department of Liquor Control after minor renovations are made to that building.

If the county is to remain in the retail liquor business in Snow Hill, it should move from its present site to that location, Robert Cowger, director of the Department of Liquor Control, told the Worcester County Commissioners on Aug. 5.

By the end of the year, however, Cowger would recommend the store be closed.

Director Robert Cowger informed the county commissioners of the plan to close the county-run store effective Dec. 31. The two full-time employees, according to Cowger, will be relocated to fill vacancies in other stores.

In the final entry into the Worcester County booze news, noting the shrinking of the public market in favor of the private one, Cowger returned to the county and explained he needed to increase prices at his store to remain competitive.

All 1.75-liter products increased in price by one dollar. All bottles of wine will increased in price by $.50. On Jan. 1, all products 50 ml in volume or greater will increase in price by $.50, and the “split case” charge for licensees will increase from $.50 per bottle to $.75 per bottle.

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