Archived entries for Town government

A Telling Tale…

On Friday, October 12th, during dinner, I received a somewhat panicked telephone call from a multi-year vendor of the Berlin Farmers’ Market telling me of a letter she had received from the Berlin Chamber of Commerce stating that the Market would be forced to vacate their present location in about 30 days.  Apparently, long-standing, downtown parking issues were the reason. This was confirmed that same evening in conversation by our Town Administrator – Tony Carson,  during Berlin’s ‘Roctoberfest’.    Yet later that evening, another upset vendor sent me a copy of that letter.

 

At first surprised at the somewhat abrupt action, I was delighted to learn that instead of a blanket market ‘closing’ as first informed; the letter offered a reasonable solution.  Relocation to a larger space at the Stephen Decatur Park – just .07 of a mile further down Main Street was suggested – something that I, as a long time supporter of both Berlin market customers and local growers/producers, thought would be of great benefit to both.  Fine – right?  Nope!

 

Just days later, at the regularly scheduled Berlin Mayor & Council meeting, forces in protest of this action appeared unbidden, en masse.  I happened to attend that night to listen to the new storm water plan.  At the end of the meeting, during the public portion, the farmers/vendors spoke.  Lots of drama ensued, including the wearing of hastily printed protest t-shirts, a banner or two saying GO GREEN and a not so nicely veiled threat of a Berlin Farmers’ Market boycott by one long time vendor.  I listened to more than a few imaginable and some unimaginable reasons not to move the market from some of the vendors and a few downtown customers. The word ‘tradition’ was oft cited.  Finally after listening for over an hour, the Mayor ‘caved’ by saying he’d put the final decision on the back burner for two months – though the original action to move the market had come as a directive, straight from Town Hall to be put forth through to the Berlin Chamber as the Market umbrella to the vendors.  Poorly handled, in my opinion.

 

As of this writing, and after a few less public meetings, I’m told the Mayor has promised that the BFM will continue in the over-crowded, downtown point lot through the 2013 season.

 

On a personal level, being someone who has publicly declared her preference for moving the market for some time, I seemed to have become an instant pariah.  Market vendors, whom I’ve known, worked beside, visited and supported, with both time and money for years, suddenly became silent, refusing to answer simple and timely advertising questions; instead I’ve been referred to a seldom-present spouse of a long time vendor for clarification.

 

It must be known that over the 12+ years I’ve been involved with the Berlin Farmers’ Market I’ve listened to the often-repeated complaint of ‘we need more space’ from most of the very same vendors who are now fighting the move.  What gives?

 

There is multitude of reasons why the Berlin Farmers’ Market should be moved to a larger space

 

  • The Town of Berlin did not make the initial decision to move the Market without first taking a good look at what a growing and more vibrant Market would need.  The space at SD Park is ideal – larger with room to grow.  The Town has offered both access to electric – and water.  Water being important for many vendors to comply with State and Local Health Departments for sanitary services needed to sell cheese and other locally produced but perishable items.  For some years the BFM has been told they cannot offer samples of their products without compliance to the hand-washing rule.  Electric service is needed for refrigeration of some proffered items, which are not currently available.  And, there are port potty’s for the convenience of both customer and vendor – a long-standing lament from those vendors who must stay all day without a break.  The Town has offered to build a pavilion to offer shelter from the hot sun and occasional rain. Finally, the Town has offered to provide abundant signage, redirecting current users to the new Market site.  What more could one ask?

 

  • Parking is the main issue – it’s limited.  With the increase in number and popularity of Berlin businesses, the same parking footprint remains.  Being a supporter of the BFM, I often query my friends encouraging them to partake of the FRESH/LOCAL/HEALTHY available here on Market Fridays.  Friendship notwithstanding, I’m told…’sorry, we don’t come, there’s no place to park’.

 

  • Unfortunately several past BFM managers have chosen to deny or overlook applications from other local producers due to available space – several of these actually growing their product closer in distance to Berlin than some of the already existing vendors.  This denial has caused some disappointed vendors to go off to other, more distant markets to sell.  One even started a new market location on Saturdays at Whitehorse Park in Ocean Pines.  Ironically, several of the existing Berlin vendors are now selling up there as well.  The OP Market is becoming very popular, offering many variety vendors – and, while only operating 17 – 20 weeks a season, it has an ideal location including comfortable PARKING.  Also, yet another nearby (West Ocean City) fresh market is in the planning stage – it too will have more and better parking with which to serve the consumer.  With more space, the BFM could offer the consumer a wider variety of products.

 

 

  • The current BFM vendors pay only a fraction of an annual fee compared to other area farmer’s markets.  Yet, they are insisting on remaining on a prime, Town-owned parking area in the center of Berlin, year round.  Additionally, they are not required to have a license to do business here as are other folks doing business in the downtown area – nor are they members of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, or except for one, tax-paying Berlin MD citizens. Again, what gives?

 

Sadly, I see that without the move to a larger area, allowing more variety, with better facilities with which to serve the customer, the Berlin Farmers’ Market will eventually cease to exist.  The Market will die on ‘tradition’ – unable to acknowledge the need to grow and change with the needs or the times.

 

Halloween 2011 – eerier still…!

During last night’s Berlin Maryland Mayor and Council Meeting an even scarier specter of the Fall season was brought forth – that of small town government, acting mostly on hearsay, trying to legislate how local citizens may celebrate a most innocuous holiday event – Halloween.

The Council meeting room was filled with spectators, including many of the children who had enthusiastically participated for nearly two months creating a ‘Halloween house walking tour’ through a local backyard within the Berlin town limits.  With blessings from the Decatur Farms homeowners association and the backing of local schools, including offering community service hours, a family had opened their backyard as a setting for some seasonal celebratory fun.  Unfortunately, a last minute review by the Town’s Planning and Zoning Department erroneously found several Town ordinances were in possible jeopardy; that of operating a business (when no fees to participate were being collected?), and an unwittnessed visit by the local Fire Marshall citing in potential violations.

For over one hour, with much back and forth between the sponsoring family, various members of the Berlin Town Staff and the folks on the dais, these same children witnessed a somewhat heated debate – finally resulting in Mayor Gee Williams deciding to allow the event to take place on one night only instead of the planned six nights.  Of course, this was after Town Attorney, David Gaskill said that, according to Town Code, the Mayor and Council had no authority to speak to the matter…saying instead that since the Town Staff had brought the complaint that only the Berlin Zoning Appeals Board (meeting too late – next on November 15th) could find on this matter!

To quote Dorothy Parker – “What fresh hell is this…?”  With much of the United States population currently experiencing severe economic pressures and outwardly protesting Government activities including overregulation, our youth now gets to witness, first hand, how government works on a local level…not a good example folks.  Shame on you Town Staff!  Perhaps next time (and there will be a next time) you keep in mind to act ‘for’ rather than against the folks that pay your salaries!

Furthermore…

Unable to let rest my recent suggestion to the Town, that of finding a larger, more convenient location for the Berlin MD Farmers’ Market, I decided to head out and investigate other area Markets.

Seems our nearest  (14 miles) Market is in Snow Hill located at the Green Street Parking Lot; held on Tuesday afternoons from 2 – 6pm.  This market then vies for attention with the Camden Avenue (Salisbury) Farmers’ Market (23 miles from Berlin), also held on Tuesday from 4 – 6 pm.  Also, considered within our Worcester County region is the Ocean City Farmers’ Market – a distance of 15 miles from Berlin; held on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday from 8am – 1pm.  Finally, adding a new market to our list: the AGH (Atlantic General Hospital) Wellness Community Farmers’ Market held each week from noon – 4pm.

One would believe that with all of these Markets offering FRESH/LOCAL produce and locally grown goods I’d have little more to say.  Yet I do…except for the new AGH market; these locations require some driving time; distance and GASOLINE; a consideration for every shopper.  More importantly, BERLIN MD is easily the central location – north to south/east to west not including the ocean!  The 21811 zip code boasts a current population of 19,476 – this number does not include the folks who live in West Ocean City – South Point – Newark or the lower end  (60th Street south) of the island – Ocean City MD.  A reasonable guestimate then would be 25,000+ people, who EAT – 2 to 3 times a day, potentially to be served by Berlin Farmers’ Market vendors – our local producers!   With the current focus on eating healthy – fresh/local, is there any question that to offer an expanded market with variety vendors and convenient parking would be worth a look?

Having heard several emotional reactions to my earlier suggestion – most centered on the CHARM of having the market at its present location, I say, “YES, I agree, we have a charming downtown market and I support it every single week with my business!”  However these days, with local producers/growers and consumers having to do much more with much less – the question comes down to ECONOMICS; with future unknowns we cannot continue to ignore – though for which we may prepare. We can’t eat Charm and Charm doesn’t pay the bills; not even the utility bills!

It is time for the folks at the top to take a clear, unemotional look toward the future of our Market with attention toward optimum economic development for area growers COMBINED with service and convenience for our citizens.  Berlin could do better…!

Note: Another, nearer location, has been suggested: the large vacant lot (currently for sale) on Harrison Street: Keeps our market within the ‘walk-able/bike-able’ distance for in town shoppers.

 

Willing to take a look?

Though often hidebound by tradition, it sometimes benefits to stand back – to get a closer look…

The Berlin MD Farmers’ Market has been a focus of my interest for many years. From the day, ten years ago, Tom Patton walked into our ice cream shop asking if I would ‘take over’ the job of Market Master – through today – though no longer officially involved, I’ve been devoted to our area farmers and the ever-growing community of people that they serve.

Our Market is prosperous…basically; our area growers are able to serve several hundred regular ‘consumers’ each week. And, with recent change in hours for the Wednesday market (2-6pm), adding after-work shopping convenience for local workers, those numbers continue to grow. A facebook page – Berlin Farmers Market, Berlin MD, offering interactive, current information also enjoys increasing popularity.

Yet, limitations remain… The downtown, wedge shaped, parking lot is small. Vendors have been denied admittance on Fridays due to lack of space. This location, with its absence of convenient parking, further demonstrates that space problem. With the advent of a new restaurant across the street, it shall get worse. Additionally, the twice-weekly Market continually creates a thorny issue for those folks who work downtown – on two of five workdays they must find alternative parking.

Furthermore, many vendors interested in joining, cannot, due to local Worcester County Health Department rules requiring water for hand-washing stations and such. The regulations are restrictive and very clear. Vendors offering prepared foods such as ice cream, fresh-made cheeses, etc. (already prepared in an approved kitchen) cannot join. And, until recently, when a Port-a-Potty was temporarily installed, vendors often had to resort to begging use of restrooms in shops throughout the town.

It’s apparent that these issues are not going to go away, but will, in fact, increase as our town grows – along with those attending, economic issues which affect us all.

What can we do? Herein lies ‘the look’ of which I wrote earlier.

We need to seek a new location. I propose something just north of our downtown district; at those underdeveloped, somewhat unattractive, town entrances – even closer by the ‘feeder’ highways; something large enough upon which to erect a year-round cover; have running water numberswiki.com

and restrooms with a pole barn perhaps – beneath which, vendors and customers can meet to transact business during inclement weather.

Driving around I have identified three locations – near enough to the downtown area to bike and yet convenient to highways – U.S. Route 50 and Rt. 113. A location near Rt. 346 – Old Ocean City Blvd, would be ideal. The Town currently owns the old Raynes property – which already has that aforementioned building. Then, there is the ‘LaHa’ property…a one-acre, weedy mess with a rapidly deteriorating structure. Finally, there is the old Tyson plant overflow parking area beside the railroad tracks – definitely large enough to handle a growing market.

Considering a more convenient, larger Berlin Farmers’ Market location is important and brings forth thoughts of benefit…we all eat; most of us, three times a day!

Our area growers and consumers will have a permanent, more centered location. With the advent of the ‘high tunnel’, providing a longer growing season, many local farmers are able to offer fresh, local product months earlier and seasonally later than just a few years ago. The traditional, Eastern Shore grown, ‘4th of July ready’ tomato was available at our Market on May 14th- just a few, to be sure, but there! Local grower availability also means less shipping…those costs that currently increase the price of every product! (Personally, lettuce grown in Pittsville trumps California lettuce every time!)

Another economic consideration – one that’s sure to please the Berlin MD Town Government financial folks, is that increased space will draw expanded variety vendors while attracting a wider consumer audience to the area = equaling more revenue! More important even, Berlin MD finds its place at the forefront of today’s ‘Farm to Table’ economic thrust. (Seems to me that we may be heading back (wisely) to that old ‘agrarian’ economy.)

Finally, dear to me as a cook, is the fact that the goods I purchase locally are FRESH – offered within hours of picking – insuring little to no loss of vital nutrients – offering ‘best value’ for every food dollar spent. No mean feat today!

With this blog I invite our Town Government and the Berlin Chamber of Commerce to take a look…and not be hidebound!

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Windows – not walls! Bridges – not barricades!

My first coherent thought upon awakening this morning was: “I wonder how the auction went?” By ‘the auction’, I mean the Town’s power purchase auction which will ultimately determine Berlin’s electric rates for the next eighteen or twenty-four months. Surely critical information for all of us. At last hearing, this online auction, with assistance from consultants -World Energy/APPI (Affiliated Power Purchasers International) was scheduled to take place last week or perhaps early this week or even next week – who knows?

Because, or due to the Town’s current plan to dissolve the citizen-based Berlin Utility Commission (of which I am/was a member) at the regular Mayor and Council meeting next Monday evening (March 28th) I have no answer to my question…nor the questions often posed to me by other economically stressed Berlin friends, neighbors and fellow ratepayers.

The lines of communication have been cut off! Somehow this summary decision feels wrong – really wrong!

Perhaps simplistically, I view government here in America as a sort of consumer service organization – a provider of services – hired and supported by us. Certainly, when I think about it – that’s what Berlin government does – provides service; including trash pick-up; street repair, utilities – including electric, water and wastewater, police and fire protection with us paying for all through our annual taxes, monthly rate payments and donations.

Yet, more and more it seems our Berlin ‘consumer service provider’ has become its own entity, a group of self rule – no longer seeking ‘customer’ opinion. The Town of Berlin Maryland will, except for an ever dwindling few, no longer include the very citizens it was created to serve, in everyday decisions – or, most vexing to me (and many, many others), see the need to keep the public informed of its day to day operation of these service duties.

Instead of windows through which to view organizational performance, we have walls; instead of bridges to allow normal discourse, including shared ideas, between the service organization and consumer, more barricades are being erected.

I will be the first (or second) to admit that all was not well between the Berlin Utility Commission and the Town administration due to those aforementioned, ever growing walls – however, to dismiss a group of interested citizen liaisons (those bridges), out of hand, rather than seek common ground and repair that bridge and lower the wall, is a mistake!

If you agree, please plan to attend the meeting (March 28th, 7pm – Town Hall) and let your thoughts be known.

Note: One of my fellow Berlin Utility Commission Members, Jason Walters sent me this yesterday…with his permission I will post.

“I was cleaning out some files this afternoon and coincidentally came across my BUC letter from Gee;

“On behalf of the Mayor and Council of the Town of Berlin and the citizens of our community thank you for your willingness to serve on the Berlin Utilities Commission.”

“The dedication and involvement of citizens volunteering their experience and expertise is greatly beneficial and important to the future of our town.”

I guess he changed his mind.”

Casino – OCEAN DOWNS…has few arms!

Finding little going on around town recently – other than Super Bowl commercial chatter on FB, I decided to allow myself to be encouraged to visit the new Casino – Ocean Downs.  It was an interesting experience…though disappointing upon reflection.  I’m of the age where, having grown up in Baltimore County, summertime visits to Mago Vista Beach (Anne Arundel County) found me with a handful of nickels…anxiously looking forward to pulling the lever on the slot machines to be found there.  Ever hoping for three cherries, one dollar provided an afternoon’s entertainment along with the swimming with friends.

Casino – Ocean Downs…has no arms – levers (although someone has told since I am wrong)…and no bright cherries, bells, lemons or bars.  It turned out to be a huge, noisy room filled with row upon row of lever less, push-button machines with spinning electronic graphics.  There was a distinct absence of the well-remembered, satisfying jingle of coins and pulled lever, ‘clunk’ sounds.  No real dining – only a cafeteria style row of stainless shelves – offering not much.  No live entertainment other than the constant blips and bleeps from the electronic machines.  Only expressionless faces were to be seen – hunched over – some tethered by some sort of I.D. necklace do-dad to the machine in front.  It’s sure no Casino Royale with Sean Connery look-a-likes standing nearby – only folks in light green, sporty, knit shirts to assist.

And, why is it requested that you show your driver’s license to spend a few dollars…I was told it was necessary to obtain gifts and coupons in the mail!  Certainly not wanting to have my small, guilty secret, tallied by any and all public and private agencies, I refused!

Despite refusing the ID request thing, I was allowed to play my $10…and came away with $28.33 (such an odd amount?) and again with that aforementioned pervasive feeling of disappointment.  No matter how attractive the new venue, it seemed a small, sad copy of my concept of a ‘casino’ or FUN.

Ah, but all became clear last night at the regular meeting of the Berlin Maryland Mayor and Council when our Financial Director, Lynn Musgrave reported that the Town was setting up a new separate bank account into which Berlin’s share of the proceeds would be placed.  I suppose that our proximity to the Casino – Ocean Downs may be viewed as a benefit…however, I remain unconvinced!

When They’re out of Money…We’re out of Luck!

Recent media headlines have set me thinking and during a recent – regular ‘state of the world’ chat with my brother, my thoughts became crystallized.

(Before I go on, let me introduce my brother.  His name is Dennis.  During early years, he and I had the usual brother – sister squabbles (I dropped him down the steps – he stabbed me with a pencil)!  However, surviving all, we’ve since become ‘best buds’ and have found that two strong, ‘independent’ thinkers with very dissimilar lifetime experiences, have come to similar conclusions about today’s economics!)

They’re are out of money…!  No doubt!  With a trillion plus dollar debt there is no way our nation can claim anything nearing solvency.  Despite the cheer-leading message deftly delivered by our President last week during the State of the Union, no one can deny that, we the people, as the funding source of the nation’s government economy have got some tough times ahead – before we are ‘ahead’ or even ‘even’!

Almost simultaneously, our Maryland Governor announced that due to a State budget deficit – (they’re out of money), expenses, previously born by the State would be meted out amongst the 23 Maryland Counties.   This increased County burden in turn will be reflected in lessened support of, and services to, local Cities and Towns (including Berlin).

To balance the ‘we’re out of luck’ side of my thoughts – despite government denials, the cost of goods is rising everywhere.  A quick trip to Sam’s Club in Salisbury last week showed a marked price increase in the necessaries…TP, Bounty and Tide detergent.  Gasoline prices have jumped and are forecast to leap further.  And finally, on Friday here on West Street, we received a little note in the mail from the Fed, telling us that Mike’s already frozen, fixed pension will be further decreased by $80 per month this year  – $30 more for health insurance and $50 more in Federal taxes.  I still haven’t figured out how, with headlines blaring – ‘income tax rates to remain the same’, – how this can happen?

So, our Luck appears to have run out – as I imagine it has for most of us.  Prices will continue to rise. Property taxes on all levels are sure to go higher, if not this year, at least in the years to follow.   Other than re-budgeting my budget there is little else to do but keep a close eye on how our little Town of Berlin Maryland spends my money…and I shall!  Will you?

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Predictable, Unacceptable Results…

TOWN of Berlin, MD…

Assign the Tasks –

Deny the Tools –

Predictable, Unacceptable Results!

Home GROAN!

Anyone driving by my home on West Street Friday afternoon may have heard a loud GROAN.  This involuntary sound came forth upon viewing our monthly Town of Berlin Maryland utility bill.  Nearly double!

The consumption of kWh was double – though understanding that the demand for energy in December is traditionally higher due to the use of decorative holiday lighting combined with the inordinately early cold, cold weather calling for more HEAT.  Add to that an extra 5 days of usage because of the late reading of meters (due to inclement weather) and my bill was high – as I expect were those of most of my neighbors.

Nothing to be done to remedy this for now but realign the monthly household budget and pay it before the ‘late’ charge kicks in, adding even more ill afforded dollars!

The good news is that the Town is moving forward in the process of getting a new power purchase contract.  Last Monday evening at the regular meeting of the Berlin Mayor and Council, an outline/map for the process was unanimously approved.  For many months now Town Staff and the Berlin Utility Commission have been busy investigating, working to find the most favorable method with which to go forward.  The end of our current contract is 31 May.  We need something in place – and we hope to have something more reasonable!  It was decided to join the PJM (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland) group to add heft (support) to any future contract negotiations.  And, once a favorable rate contract is obtained, to go before the Maryland Public Service Commission to request a decrease in residential and commercial rates in early 2012.

Having been a part of this process through my membership in the Utility Commission, all I can say is – it’s complicated!

In the meantime, at the household level, I’m still faced with that darned bill – the never-ending struggle between my own power use and budget.   Last week it was announced via radio and local newspaper the creation of a new website called ‘EnergizeEfficiently’, sponsored by Old Dominion along with other electric cooperatives, to help all of us deal with this growing problem of added demand and increased rates.  Lots of energy saving tips and even a money saving coupon to purchase CFL’s (compact fluorescent lighting)!  And, while we can’t do much about the weather we can all buckle down and work to decrease our use to help avoid that future ‘Home Groan’!

To view this website, click HERE!

Come on SPRING!

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HOW DO WE SPEND OUR $$$ – all of it?

One day last week, out of the blue, while talking with a respected area businesswoman (although not a Berlin resident), I was asked,” Why are Berlin’s (property) taxes so high”? Caught off guard – I fumbled, offering an uncertain reply.  I quickly realized I didn’t really know.  As a regular attendee at the nearly bi-weekly Berlin Town Council meetings, I’ve listened to the sometimes-lengthy list of purchase orders recited by our Town Administrator, Tony Carson – often wishing for more specificity.  Frequently, the name of a company and an amount are described…but for what, what department and more to the point – why?

Nevertheless, since then my friend’s question has echoed in my consciousness.  Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look.  During this coming year I plan to take time to examine the Town’s recently audited, annual budget – readily available at our Town Hall.

After all, it is also our Town, our money.  Each of us has finite personal income (if you don’t – I don’t know you) and consequently must deal with budgetary decisions every day – decisions regarding everything: purchases, what, where and when to buy and what will serve: personal and household services vs. what we can do for ourselves and eventually, hopefully, what to save.

I plan to take a close look, examine if you will, how our Town really fares and, frankly, whether or not we can continue to afford it.  Bottom line, I don’t want anyone power-trippin’ with my money but me!

“New Balance Shaping Shoes Don’t Work”…’ yes, this was a story headline on NPR radio (89.5FM) the other morning.  I must confess I was relieved to hear this most critical of information. LOL   Several months ago, after viewing some TV commercials and finding myself suddenly in need of a new pair of gym shoes, I hiked up to Vernon Powell and anxiously asked the salesperson for a pair of those ‘leg and glut enhancing’ shoes.  Oh vanity – thy name is woman (no matter the age)! Upon telling the woman that I was a treadmill user, my hopes were dashed when told that due to the convex sole design – use of this shoe on a treadmill could be dangerous.  I came away saddened – without any new shoes – realizing too, that perhaps it was another case of want rather than need!

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