Archived entries for Town government

UNRESOLVED, yes – but don’t give up!

By now most of us have heard about the results from the second and final Berlin Maryland Town public presentation by Booth & Associates regarding our Electric Company held on Tuesday evening. Being present, I felt it was an informative and fair analysis although others showed their dissatisfaction by leaving during the presentation. I empathize. As Town ratepayers, we all are burdened with the same high electric rates and currently are left with conservation of use as a means by which we CAN currently reduce our monthly bills. This is obviously not where we want to be – we want an effective rate reduction NOW. Yet, as seen in the presentation we remain some months from that goal. However, since we are now in the “shoulder” season – using little or no energy for home cooling or heating, we have that time – albeit, a short time to examine the Booth analysis – time to allow our Berlin Utility Commission to work with the engineering analysts and other experts, to come up with recommendations to our Mayor and Council which point the way to seriously reducing or at least finding some stabilization of lower rates for all.
Continuing that “unresolved” thought…last evening a “public information debate”, sponsored by the Assateague Coastal Trust, was held at the Berlin Intermediate School. Our two candidates for Mayor and two of the three candidates for District II were posed questions authored by the Trust and later from the audience. Though relating to current, and widely known Town issues, the various questions also required answers of opinion and intent. Early on it became clear who had done their homework. As already 5-month interim Mayor, Gee Williams was head and shoulders above his opponent with both knowledge, thought and conviction in his responses. Though Gee sometimes suffers a little problem when presenting his thoughts orally – as do I, he cannot be faulted. He was “right there” with his responses and now I am with him. Go GEE! Two of the current three candidates for Council District II were presented with the same questions…and even agreed with one another on several points. However the winner in my mind was Lisa Hall. Lisa, despite being a newcomer to Berlin politics, is a 14-year long resident. She has raised her children here and has experienced first-hand the many changes and challenges in our town. Her message was clear – her concern apparent, for ALL Berlin citizens. Going forward I believe Ms. Hall will be a strong and effective Council representative.
Finally (and fortunately), one of these two unresolved questions shall be answered on Tuesday, October 14th at the polls. Please come out and vote.
New polling place for Districts I and II – Buckingham Presbyterian Church, 20 S. Main.
Districts III and IV – Multi-purpose Building on Flower Street.
Poll Hours – 7:00 am until 7:00 pm.

Around Town…a busy week backwards and forwards

Above and below our usually placid surface (excepting Town Hall), the town of Berlin Maryland has been exhibiting some unusual activity recently. For three days over the weekend our Historic Main Street Commercial District became host to an estimated 9,000 visitors during the ever-popular Annual Fiddlers Convention with acoustic concerts and competitions providing the entertainment. Steve Frene, along with his band of merry citizen volunteers is to be highly commended for his expertise in producing this glorious showcase event for Berlin. Thank you Steve! Next up on our calendar of events is our always-magical Victorian Christmas holiday activity beginning with Arts Night on Friday, November 28th.
On Monday evening, with barely time to exhale, many concerned town citizens showed up at the Town government sponsored presentation by electrical engineering firm Booth and Associates, Inc. to examine on-going issues within the Town’s electric utility. This renewed focus has been caused by our recent increasingly, high electric rates. In my opinion, the guys from Booth along with a Maryland State Energy Administration representative gave us a strong basis of fact upon which the second public presentation, October 7th will build. At that time, we will hear a professional assessment outlining our options going forward. Several folks seemed disappointed that immediate resolutions were not already available.
On Wednesday morning, an out of area friend stopped by and commented on the political signs blooming all over town – overwhelming even the numerous For Sale signs – a phenomena which began late last week. It’s election time in Berlin and we currently have a couple of contests that may only be resolved with YOUR vote on October 14th. Primary of course there is the somewhat heated race for Mayor between acting Mayor Gee Williams and former Mayor Rex Hailey. Personally having spoken with both yet unable to define specifics from either my vote is still up in the air. No matter, it is apparent that both candidates have the best interests of Berlin citizens as a top priority.  Perhaps I’m expecting too much? Mr. Hailey did hand out a flyer to some (obtained a copy from a friend) stating his interests and intents however, for most of us, especially this year it will be vote by pocketbook. As for Mr. Williams, judging by his recent activities – he’s been too busy “doing” as interim Mayor to be “saying” much. However, I personally am disappointed that he has not found the time to fill the recent openings on two important Town Commissions. This is the Mayor’s duty.
The vote by pocketbook will again hold true for the three-way race in Council District II. To his credit, newcomer Jason Walter has lengthy professional technical expertise in the utility/energy industry that could benefit us greatly once a final determination is made relating to the Town owned electric company. He also makes claim to being a conservative – stating his goal as ensuring high quality services while trimming out excess expense. Another short term resident, but long-time local business owner, Thom Gulyas has also sent out a campaign letter to district II residents – the message contained therein is somewhat ambiguous, while not clearly stating specific goals he does offer a lengthy personal biography. The final applicant for our Council job is Lisa Hall, a long-term resident who yesterday took the time to visit personally. After a pretty intensive questioning by both my husband and me it’s apparent that Ms. Hall knows well the issues but perhaps not all of the specifics. In fairness to Ms. Hall, Mike and I attend most all of the major Town meetings regularly and would be hard to please by any of our current candidates!
Ultimately though, no matter the good intents put forth by any of our candidates they will certainly be held to the tough, realistic (OK, pretty cruel in today’s economy) standards of COST, VALUE and BENEFIT! What can we really afford? What is the overall value? What is the real benefit going forward?
Yes, it’s been an extraordinarily busy week here in town for everyone – even if the ongoing financial and political saga running concurrently on the national level had not demanded even more attention. It is only to be hoped that with a little time off for reflection we can meet our obligations and make some wise choices for our Town on October 14th and then again on November 4 for our Nation!
Please remember to VOTE (and then we can take down some of those signs!) New polling place – Buckingham Presbyterian Church, 20 S. Main Street. Polling hours – 7 am until 7 pm.
To enlarge any photo, just “click”.

The “Bloviators” have arrived…!

It’s an uncertain time here in the wonderful town of Berlin MD – for the next 5 weeks, until the Town elections are past, bloviators will roam our streets and occupy our shops, run our meetings, clog our telephone lines and jam our emails.

What is a bloviator?  They look just like you and me but they sound like something else.  According to the online encyclopedia – Wikipedia“To bloviate means “to speak pompously and excessively,” or “to expound ridiculously.” A colloquial verb coined in the United States, it is commonly used with contempt to describe the behavior of politicians, academics, pundits or media “experts,” sometimes called bloviators, who hold forth on subjects in an arrogant, tiresome way.”
Last night’s meeting of the Berlin Mayor & Council was a perfect example…during a standing room only gathering, Interim Mayor Gee Williams by his lengthy speech and actions, became that very definition.  With many in attendance for the singular purpose of finding relief from their current shockingly high electric bills, Mr. Williams took the opportunity, after stating current Council actions, to bloviate.  Citing past history of the Berlin Electric Company, the remaining time was used (over an hour) to expound on his opinions.  When queried by Second District Candidate, Lisa Hall on the meaning of an especially inflammatory (and in my opinion totally unnecessary) sentence* in his recent, lengthy letter to the town, Williams claimed innocent intent.  That’s OK, yet continued with even more pointed statements proving his displeasure and frustration.  Too, there were several inaccurate statements, misrepresentations made, pertaining to the amount of input from the Berlin Utility Commission addressing electric company and other important current utility issues faced by town citizens…  To all who regularly attend these meetings it is widely known that despite best efforts most all recommendations have fallen upon deaf ears – and that NO August work session on the Town’s Sewer Capacity Ordinance – Public Works was held between the BUC, the Berlin Planning Commission and the Mayor and Council as reported yesterday in a local newspaper.
Where am I going with this…I suppose it’s nearly time to get off the fence?  In a few short weeks the folks of Berlin will have to decide which man wins the sometimes questionable, but seemingly coveted title of Mayor of Berlin Maryland.  I don’t know about you but I’m not certain that I want to listen to one of those scary bloviators for the next 4 years!  I’ll keep listening though, trying to discern reason and intent right up until election day.

*”We are not waiting for a chorus of homegrown advice from individual citizens, as well intentioned as it may be.”

SHOULDA’, WOULDA’ and COULDA’ – just politics?

I for one am tired of hearing those three words, this near “mantra” from friends, neighbors and now numerous times from our Town officials, past and present. How about you?  We all know that story! And, more importantly those words have not and do not provide a solution!!!

Attending, the “Yellow Poster” citizens meeting held on Thursday (August 27th) evening at the Berlin Intermediate School did surprise…it was NOT the total, reckless, “rant” session I had envisioned. Chaired by Lisa Hall (now I have the face with the name), and with the main presentation offered by Ron Birely, former Berlin Town Administrator, it turned out to be informative although again, those words above were mentioned too many times for my taste. Mr. Birely, after giving a brief history of the Berlin Electric Company, did explain with the use of an overhead projector how our daily usage rates are determined.  He also offered several reasonable ideas for personal conservation and overall tried to answer questions from the very large audience. However, it wasn’t until local citizen, Greg White stood up and offered his “take” that the fog began to clear for many. Followed quickly by Erik Quisgard, current member of the Berlin Utility Commission and a professional “numbers” guy, the clarity became complete for most. Berlin MD Town Councilwoman, Paula Lynch further endorsed these explanations. Both Mr. White and Mr. Quisgard carefully explained that for us to get our current real rate each month, the charges listed, – Residential Electric, the PCA (Power Cost Adjustment) as well as those niggling little unavoidable charges such as the Franchise Surcharge, Residential Customer Charge, Environmental Surcharge, and Universal Service Program Charge Res should be totaled (located under Total Electric Charge) then divided by the number of kilowatts used. This is the real rate we’re currently paying. Many ask, “Why is it more than that of my friend in West Ocean City, Bishopville, etc.?” A portion of our charges goes to the operation of the BEC – and debt service – the $11.5 million dollars that is still owed due to the past upgrades on our electric utility that must be apportioned.  And, with the ever increasing costs of energy nationwide impacting our costs it all adds up.

Can anything be done, any ratepayer relief in sight? That’s the real-time question that will hopefully be answered quickly through the actions of our Town Officials. Recently hired by the Town, a professional enginering team from Booth & Associates has already begun an analysis and has told our officials…”there is hope”. We should be hearing something by October. In the meantime it would be preferable if we could refrain from the finger pointing, blame and those wildly overused words above…shoulda’, woulda’ and coulda’. Obviously, they just don’t work!!! This issue is way too important to each of us all to be “just politics”!

Who are these “YELLOW POSTER” people?

Almost, as if by magic, late last week yellow posters appeared throughout the area announcing a “Town” meeting decrying the current issue of our recent high electric utility bills here in Berlin MD. Sometimes numbering as many as three on a pole, the signs have provoked much attention and curiosity. Alas, being of a curious nature I stopped yesterday to find out more and found no name/sponsor, nor contact number, for this “meeting” appearing. Is it a secret?  Why?
Let’s back up, for some time now Berliner’s have been experiencing “electric shock” – high rates along with an unfathomable PCA (Power Cost Adjustment) charge on our bills each month. The rates are understandable when viewed from the wider perspective of nationwide increased energy costs overall. Though, the PCA charge remains a puzzle for most! We are owed a better clarification on the reverse of our bills!
Regardless, citing citizen concern, Councilwoman Ellen Lang during a public meeting many weeks ago, requested that our rates be more closely investigated by Staff and Council. The result of that request – announced at last night’s (August 25th) gathering is the hiring of Booth & Associates, an electric consulting service, to take a hard look at the operation of our Berlin Electric Company toward reducing costs while increasing efficiencies thus saving money! Having followed this issue closely I was delighted! Thank you Ellen, Staff, Mayor Williams and Council members!
Nevertheless, the remainder of last night’s meeting continued rife with testimony from economically stretched and unhappy ratepayers including several allusions to the upcoming “yellow poster” meeting. Finally, it was carefully explained that the Town of Berlin Maryland government had nothing to do with that meeting and that our Mayor, Council Members nor staff would be present for any rebuttal to any possible accusations. So, if not Town sponsored, who then are these mysterious folks? During the M & C meeting one clue came clear – it’s campaign season! How could I have forgotten?
To my mind these unnamed sponsors of the “Yellow Poster” meeting are doing a disservice to both concerned citizens and to themselves. To “capitalize” and politicize the current economic distress of many for whatever gain is wrong especially in light of the varied and numerous available avenues of direct access to our legitimate elected and appointed officials – our neighbors in fact! Town Hall is but a mile, a phone call or an email away from any of us! Don’t be misled by these anonymous “Yellow Poster” people – whoever they are!

ELECTRIC SHOCKing in Berlin MD

By now all we folk served by the Berlin Electric Company have received our July bills…and most are suffering from shock. In many/most cases the PCA (Power Cost Adjustment) is even higher than the cost for actual kilowatts used, putting totals far above many household budgets. And, unless the recent cooler August weather holds we will be faced with high bills for August use that will be mailed out in September. What can we do about this other than whine?
A look at our recent past history shows an attempt by the Berlin Mayor & Council to sell Berlin Electric to others – but it’s pretty clear that the “others” statewide (nationwide) are facing the same high cost for power with frequent rate increases being applied for from the Maryland State Public Service Commission. In my humble opinion – the plan for the aborted sale was not well thought out and wound up costing the Town around $500,000 in legal and other fees. UG! Regardless, it’s over!
It’s time to move on – and take stock – what do we have? We have a power plant that is costing what I consider a small fortune to operate – yet only running those aging and sometimes-faulty generators for mandatory testing once a month. I hear the Purchase Orders for payment of diesel fuel for these generators being recited at the regular Monday evening M & C meetings – it adds to my “shock”! However, we still own a transmission and distribution system that is fully functional and more than adequate for some time to come.
This said – again, how then do we reduce our increasingly shocking monthly bills? Another brief visit to our history has the Town telling us that a Town-wide presentation of effective conservation measures would be forthcoming…nearly two years ago! Also, that the BUC (Berlin Utility Commission) along with Town Staff would reorganize and prioritize the operating and fiscal structure of Berlin Electric. This has not happened – any recent attempts by the BUC to establish new guidelines have fallen on seemingly deaf ears. In the meantime too, we have lost our best “rate cost” watchdog, Joe Davis, who has gone on to other employment. Also, due to delays we are no longer eligible for State “credit benefits” by owning our own generation plant.

We’re back to square one – maybe even zero! At times, I enjoy denial, including finger-pointing as much as the next person but, although complex, this isn’t rocket science. We must use less energy in order to reduce our costs. We can do it! Noted in an article the other day that American’s drove several billion (with a B) fewer miles this year due to the high cost of gasoline. We can use less energy too – electric, in our homes and businesses. Turn stuff OFF – become more aware of all the little things – camera, cell phone, iPod chargers, fountains, pumps, computers, printers, scent diffusers, etc that are plugged in and dangling all over our homes. Turn stuff OFF! Check thermostats! Pull some plugs – take a close look at each outlet and make a reasoned decision if you really need what’s on the other end – or at least when and how and also how often, you use it. If it lights, heats, makes noise or moves then it is using power and YOU are paying for it!
It’s time to take charge of your bill – those Electric Shock-ing bills in Berlin MD.

Something to keep in mind – all of the for-profit companies that supply the energy “grid” from which we purchase power are faced with the same increasingly high fuel costs – whether oil, coal, gas or wind (infrastructure) to produce the power purchased to supply our town. Of course, these businesses work to make a profit – however, to emphasize again, YOUR personal efforts at economy can decide just how much!

“Comprehensive means ALL!”…

Despite the warm evening, many townsfolk met last week to attend the second in a series of public meetings currently being conducted to gather citizen input for Berlin’s Comprehensive Plan. This assembly was held within the Multi-purpose Building located on Flower Street on the Town’s “east side” just off Route 113. After a brief introduction, led by our energetic “borrowed” planner Tim Bourcier, the meeting moved forward into groups where citizens could speak and be heard. Early on, almost as an admonishment, came the comment, Comprehensive means ALL! – this uttered by one of Berlin’s leading citizens, Mrs. Phyllis Purnell. From then on people spoke freely, airing their wishes and perceived needs. The unsightly and unsafe crumbling sidewalks on town approaches, needs for an outdoor park pavilion and indoor recreation, proximity to safe shopping requiring further accountability from the Berlin Police Department, drainage ditch maintenance, road conditions, the loss of “neighborhoods”, the list went on and on. Afterwards, one wise man summed it up saying, all “Public Infrastructure”! Tim spoke again – this time outlining the main objectives of “Smart Growth” including increased density, limiting growth to accommodate population along with, building within current infrastructure.
Continued discussion bespoke of further needs and remedies – based on economics – economics in many forms…jobs for area citizens including our youth, constant vigilance of economy within Town management, and a viable and prosperous downtown district. Another important aspect mentioned was the need for “energy” awareness throughout the development of this plan. Overall, it seems as if the early comment from Mrs. Purnell was most perceptive…”Comprehensive (does) means ALL!”
There will be further meetings throughout this development process – look for notices to be posted. There is also a website for more information – click on “Comprehensive Plan Town of Berlin, Maryland” or drop down to visit Chuck Ward, Berlin’s new Supervisor of Planning and Zoning in the little building behind Town Hall.

Personal note – having attended both the first and second meetings I found this meeting far more productive – informative, perhaps we are beginning to get this right!!! Appreciated too was the presence this evening of Mrs. Paula Lynch and Mr. Dean Burrell, both members of the Berlin Maryland Town Council.

Berlin’s new “Candy Store”…opening soon!

Long-awaited and much anticipated, the building located at 10 Williams Street currently known as Town Hall will soon become the new “Candy Store” in Berlin MD. Developers, large and small, along with future-minded business folk will surely form a line awaiting the distribution of the 200 plus EDU’s (Equivalent Daily Units). These have been held back awaiting approval of the three year average flow reports required by the State of Maryland. Due to favorable weather conditions (dry) along with excellent Berlin Wastewater Treatment Plant management we’ve received that approval. It’s time now for the Mayor & Council, contracted engineering firm, URS, and professional Town Staff along with the Berlin Planning Commission and Berlin Utility Commission to determine an equitable distribution. Also to be determined is the apportioned cost. This cost to be based on the price of the upgraded portion required by MDE (Maryland Department of the Environment) for the higher ENR (Enhanced Nutrient Removal) and the expanded capacity of the new plant needed for future growth. Simply put, the cost of the upgrade will be paid by the current residents with an increase in our monthly water/sewer service bill and the expansion, upon future development with connection fees. To complicate this equation a bit, we are now required by Federal Clean Water Act via Worcester County to “get out of the stream” by 2010, about the time the new plant comes on line. This means additional land and piping costs for full, year-round spray field irrigation disposal and holding pond (lagoon) creating even further expense. Costs aside, the distribution of these now available EDU’s must be equitable, and in accordance with “smart growth” planning. Some must be available for growth within Berlin’s Historic Downtown areas…some for “in-fill” lots and some for area residential expansion. Many townsfolk already have been paying “ready to serve” fees for a considerable time…waiting for the “Candy Store” to open.
The groups mentioned above will be discussing these most Solomon-like decisions during a Work-session to be held on Monday, August 18th beginning at 6 pm in Town Hall. The public is invited.

A 21st Century MAYOR…from the Family of Berlin!

Ending the period of uncertainty since the sudden passing of Berlin Maryland Mayor Tom Cardinale, current acting Mayor Gee Williams announced his candidacy in the upcoming fall election during an evening reception in front of the lovingly restored, historic Atlantic Hotel. The Renaissance of this landmark building created a perfect setting which echoed some phrases from his well-delivered speech. Phrases such as, “…honor our past, but we must not live in it” and “Berlin’s best days are not in its past, but are in its future.” was telling from a man who has lived through the already unprecedented growth and change of our Town.

Although omitting the proverbial ‘chicken in every pot’ or in today’s jargon ‘a gas card with every vote’ (– that would be illegal!), interim Mayor Williams did pledge that during his term every effort would be taken to remove drug dealers/predators from our increasingly distressed neighborhoods in East Berlin. Considering the large percentage of tax collected monies – the Town budget – spent each year by the Berlin Police Department that is a most apt and fitting promise.

Berlin’s citizenry and its neighborhoods were a recurring theme throughout the announcement…Mayor Williams spoke of “the Family of Berlin”, and of his experiences thus far as interim Mayor. Of the colorful characters and of the sometimes “rambunctious’ nature of people. Yet throughout, the message was clear – he loves his home, his Town and its people. As a lifelong resident and more recently as an active Town Council member, he knows us and he knows the 21st Century problems we face and is willing to do the work. I believe he will do his best…we are willing to help, may he rely on you too?

What price CHARM?…aka “the mail is here”

The other day our tax bill arrived in the mail…after looking over the Town’s portion (nearly 2 1/2 times that of the State/County) and considering the household budget, I finally got to thinking about the price of Charm. You can’t eat it, wear it or fill your fuel tank with it. What’s the real cost? Don’t misunderstand, each and every time I re-enter this town called Berlin Maryland – I get a rush. It’s home, it charming and I always think how fortunate we are to be living here – but viewing that dratted tax bill brings it back to the question of “at what price?”

My spouse and I try to attend most every public meeting whether it be the Mayor and Council, Planning and Zoning, the BUC or the Historic Commission, held within Town Hall. Yep, these meetings are sometimes dull, sometimes issue-packed but always “Berlin”. For some time now there have been various contingents of folks fighting to manage Berlin and others to not only have Berlin remain essentially the same but also to go the extra steps and make what doesn’t currently fit with ‘old town’ appear to be old – and charming. Not a bad idea yet while listening, many times my thoughts often intrude asking “at what price?” even more, at what price to all the people of Berlin? The current cost of management is reflected in your tax bill. We must ask ourselves how much am I getting for paying for the privilege to live in this town?

From what I can see the current “solvency” enjoyed by the Berlin treasury is almost entirely due to recent growth (change) – the increased tax base from and fees paid by new developments such as Centex (Decatur Farms) and Monogram (Franklin Knolls) and others – Henry’s Mill and Henry’s Green. Many have said these developments; that development doesn’t fit…their town image. (Has anyone asked the folks living in these homes and who pay considerable taxes how they feel?) So now I’m paying for image? Yet, keep in mind this development is necessary…for instance to pay for how the new wastewater treatment plant will be managed…furthermore what kind of image does poor management leave?

Additionally, I can reckon that we are really paying for a Town Police Department and trash collection, street lights, street cleaning and town parks and a portion of the cost to maintain the Berlin Fire and Emergency Services Department. The various other utilities we enjoy are, or should be, paid for by our ratepayer fees. Area schools and our local library are supported through the County portion of our bill.

This all leads back to my current quandary…the present state of the world economy, which eventually leads to government and personal debt load which leads all the way back to the question, here in Berlin – “what price Charm?”



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