Archived entries for Living here…

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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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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DROP A STITCH? We all do…from time to time!

This past Tuesday evening found an eclectic group of women arriving, one by one, through the door into the cozy Berlin Coffee House on Jefferson Street in Downtown Historic Berlin Maryland.  Seems our host, Peggy Hagy had put out the word – the 2011 knitting group was now in session – interested needle workers welcome (men too, if you dare)!  Finding a seat among the comfortable sofas and settees scattered about, the evening began with everyone being offered a drink – coffee or tea served alongside a heaping mound of welcoming chatter.  The usual furtive looks came forth when projects were pulled from bags. (Peggy admitted she’s still working on last year’s scarf.  Hmm!) Beginners pulled out brightly colored, new yarns…ever hopeful of good result.  The more experienced had projects already begun – also hopeful of good result!  Soon, needles were clicking, and we got down to some serious knitting.  Time flew.  This most companionable evening concluded around 8pm.  Unfortunately, when I checked my project the next morning I found that I had ‘dropped a stitch’, many rows back…UG!  Being an obvious pattern, there was nothing to do but ‘rip it out‘ and begin again… a tedious chore.  Seems that’s pretty much what life is about anyway, right? Looking forward to next Tuesday!  Won’t you join us…?

There’s room for more…if you want to learn, share your skills or just want to spend an evening in most excellent company – drop by any Tuesday at 6pm – Berlin Coffee House, Berlin Maryland.  Peggy does ask for a donation of $2 to help cover costs – sadly, Berlin’s Commercial electric rates remain high.

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A Little Stumble (I dropped the ball) – then Berlin’s Great ‘First Step’!

It’s the first workweek of the New Year…and all eyes are looking forward.

Two thousand, eleven is already different.  As a life-long fan of calendars, with a tradition of purchasing far too many, this year I’ve limited myself to just two; a brainteaser, ‘puzzle a day’ calendar for Mike and a new ‘word a day’ for me.  Mike is a canny observer, and although sometimes hampered trying to express himself orally, he’s a wizard with anything that requires a little quiet contemplation.  By ‘little’ I mean the first time he was handed a Rubik’s Cube, he sat studying for a few minutes and then with a determined series of rapid rotations, had it solved.  I sat for three days twisting that infernal thing with no success.  On the other hand, I love words…their origin and meanings.  WARNING: Readers, be prepared as I try to use some of my new learning’s. –  So we’re good…and along with the half-dozen inspirational, perpetual calendars scattered around we are armed for most anything this year!

The ‘stumble’ mentioned above was my best intention to attend the first ever Berlin MD New Year’s Eve – Ball Drop party!  As Mike was heading to bed around 9, I was getting myself presentable for the evening – a little dressy.  My escort – a ten month old Kerry Blue pup named Lucy Brown, had been brushed…we were just waiting for 10:30 to head downtown to view the grand event.  Then I sat down…I awoke with a start ( a heap of rumpled clothing)– the clock showing 1:14am.  Yikes, and I had promised photos to someone…!  Fortunately a friend, Geren Mortensen Sr. had shot a series of really good, still photos, capturing the essence of that special evening.  Thanks Geren!  They are available on facebook under his profile for anyone who cares to look.  It was a ‘great first step’ for our Town, with many attending – and now another Berlin MD runaway HIT!

By the way, I don’t know about the rest of you in cyber land, but during the recent holidays I received quite a few notices in my inbox stating that there are ‘E-cards’ waiting to be opened.  A thank you to sender, however, the ‘E-card’ program is not Mac friendly and so I am unable to open and view…it’s the thought that counts, right?

Until…

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Preamble to Ramble…(further)!

The New Year will bring a new title for my Berlin blog…”The View from My Window… a Berlin MD blog”. Occasioned by a recent relocation of my computer from a back corner to the front window overlooking West Street…re-titling seemed a natural segue!

Attempting to blog for the past seven plus years, through several incarnations, I’ve struggled to find a ‘tone’ with which to comment upon those many, sometimes humorous and charming (sometimes not so charming) everyday, real life experiences, in and around the little Eastern Shore town of Berlin MD.

To further qualify my intent – if as a reader, you’re looking for the sexsational – you won’t find it here. Growing up during the age of Ozzie and Harriet (their twin beds and chin to ankle pj’s), has instilled a respect for the true privacy of others. As a consequence of this early imprinting, I still find the recent Victoria’s Secret (FCC approved), TV commercials a bit risqué (possible envy?)! LOL  Nor am I a fan of ‘reality’ TV…often found to be exploitative and humiliating to the both participant and viewer – IMHO.

Yet, with Time Magazine naming Mark Zuckerberg, 2010’s ‘Person of the Year’, creator of the world-changing, social media smash hit, FACEBOOK, it’s apparent that privacy, whether by the often, rather revealing (TMI), self-authored, status blurbs or personal information ‘piracy’ via apps, we’ve all pretty much EMERGED! Yikes!

Finally, if you do find the early morning ramblings of a 66 year old woman at all interesting or amusing, I invite you to join me in this new written journey of continued observation and discovery of places familiar to most all…

Note: Occasionally I use text messaging abbreviations to express opinion in my writing…for a comprehensive directory visit this website…
http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php

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A little HUBRIS + A lot of HURRY = ‘Historic’ HUMILIATION

First, it is with regret that I read last week about the resignation of Mr. Bob McIntosh from the Berlin Historic District Commission.  His long and dedicated citizen volunteer, service plus his caring expertise will be sorely missed.

To begin, what arose from simple property maintenance need has created a most confusing situation.  Reading reports this weekend in the local tabloids I came away wanting to record my own thoughts.  My story goes something like this…

The Atlantic Hotel, the beloved landmark property located in the heart of Berlin MD’s Historic District, was found to need a window upgrade.  Apparently, the old, single pane, wood sashes of yore weren’t getting the job done – certainly understandable.  An upgrade to a more energy-efficient window system was deemed advisable.  Sadly, this is where the problems began…an owner representative contacted a local contractor of long standing.  Together it was decided that vinyl replacements would be both inexpensive and efficient…and soon, without benefit of obtaining a Town of Berlin building permit, 16 windows were replaced, unfortunately, without notification to the Berlin Historic District Commission as required under the Town Code…<http://www.ecode360.com/?custId=BE0619&guid=12485850&j=23>.

Was this lack of notification to the Town a little hubris or ignorance of the Town Code – I guess we’ll never really know?

Nevertheless, after installation of those now infamous sixteen windows, and being cited (caught) by the Town’s Code Enforcement officials, the Hotel’s representative deemed it advisable to come before the Town’s Historic District Commission and the case was presented on Wednesday, December 1st.

That evening, finding myself present that at this ‘packed house’, most newsworthy event, I didn’t have long to wonder the identity of the strange woman seated beside me.  After lengthy testimony by Mr. Larry Wigeon reciting that vinyl windows were the most affordable and efficient way for the Hotel to affect a solution and the representing attorney, Mr. Hugh Cropper, pleading forgiveness of the oversight. The mystery woman woman then got up and identified herself as Ms. Elizabeth Beckley, a representative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Eastern Shore Field Director of ‘Preservation Maryland’.  Indeed!  She quickly proceeded to refute Mr. Wigeon’s conclusions, saying that historically accurate, wood framed, sash replacement windows were available and in fact, were equal to or greater than vinyl in R value (energy efficiency) and equal to or lesser than vinyl in cost!  She ended her testimony by offering to supply a list of various local contractors who would be happy to submit a window estimate to the Hotel.  Further testimony from Staff caused even more consternation. Yikes!

A couple of glances up to look at the faces of the Historic Commission Board members; Chairman Bob McIntosh, Mary Rose and Kit Matthews (Betty Hammond having temporarily stepped down due to possible conflict of interest and Mary Moore being absent) told me that this issue was indeed causing confusion and concern.  To rule against long time friends, neighbors and town investors in order to enforce the Code was difficult.  After a couple of false starts it was voted that the Hotel was in violation and the sixteen vinyl windows would possibly have to be removed, to be replaced with wood…and with a to-be-determined fine levied for the violation.

The next hearing of the now ‘Atlantic window deal’ was when a notice circulated stating that the Hotel had filed an appeal and the ‘window deal’ would come before the Berlin Zoning Appeals Board on Wednesday, December 14th.

A further later installment to this regrettable story came about last week when Mayor Gee Williams, hastily decided to defy Berlin Town Code and allow the Hotel’s vinyl windows to remain and forgive any fines.  Again, understandable, practical – but perhaps not wise or even legal!  Certainly not setting an example of ‘leadership by example’ – the old ‘do as I say not as I do’!

We’re up to current with this story…and the Town’s in a fine pickle!  The never to be discounted, ‘Berlin grape-vine’ is wondering if what Gee has done is legal…I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about that.  Certainly our Town Code Enforcement has been effectively neutered – with a, ‘if they can do it, why not me?’ defiant attitude echoing from most everyone.  Also, innuendos abound as to the basis for Mayor William’s actions…again, we’ll never know!

Finally, by his summary action has Gee placed Berlin in further jeopardy with the various Historic Preservation groups – the ones that support with future grants and tax breaks?

In conclusion…my thoughts are that having no real industry except tourism, to speak of in Berlin, – our capital is in our ‘Historic-ness’ and to put this ‘…ness’ in jeopardy is perhaps more than a little bit of hubris plus a lot of hurry which equals much unwanted ‘Historic HUMILIATION’, within our fine little town of Berlin MD.

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Upside Down…Let’s join together to right this!

Having just returned from a Thanksgiving visit with family at a small, beach town in North Carolina; some of the things witnessed there have set me to thinking more ‘right-side up!

On Friday after Thanksgiving, the weather changed; a cool, wet front had rapidly moved through.  No more fishing, pool, beach or boating – no visiting the skate park! This change subsequently caused four adults to confront head-on, four, active, healthy children between the ages of 7 and 12!  It became a more than YIKES moment!  The feast leftovers had been inhaled, Scrabble, Candyland and other board (or should that be spelled ‘bored’?) games had been quickly exhausted and although WII and accompanying electronic gadgets littered the floor, it was apparent that some form of physical diversion, namely exercise, was needed – quickly!  Not far from panic, my son remembered the Town’s sponsored Rec Center. Then, a quick call to Grammy and Mike (who had wisely retreated to a nearby condo), “Meet us behind the old Season’s Restaurant in 15 minutes.”  Done!

In short order, from various directions, we all pulled into a sizable, already partially filled, parking lot.   The Carolina Beach Recreation Center building looked very similar in size and appearance to Berlin’s own Tyson Plant on Rt. 346.  Upon entering, we were greeted by a pleasant man behind a counter to the right.  Beyond him one could see a vast office/storage area containing cubbyholes filled with ‘stuff’ to borrow…related to every type of indoor sports activity!  Our small ‘team’ had brought their own ‘stuff’, and so after signing in, we quickly moved into a huge room  – a double/quadruple basketball court… anyway it had six baskets!  The floor was not wood but some sort of waffled tile and there were pull-down bleachers all around.  The young boys rapidly found their ‘goal basket’ and the girls went off in search of something more interesting.   For more than three hours, the kids moved from basketball court to the ping-pong /foosball game room, on to the weights/exercise facilities, past the video game room and to the racquetball court where they had the most fun taking turns against the ‘old’ folks – Mike finally crying, ‘Senior Abuse’!   During our indoor journey we saw many rooms, even a second floor where an area had been fitted out for dance lessons.  Classrooms and meeting rooms were everywhere…lists and flyers announcing current and upcoming community oriented activities posted on bulletin boards throughout.  Have I mentioned that on this Black Friday the center was filled with people – young and old?  The annual cost for a resident family…$80.00!!! Not much when you figure the benefit.

Later, during Saturday’s long drive home I couldn’t shake the thought that something like this indoor recreation facility is sorely needed in Berlin!  We cite the need for outdoor parks filled with trees and other environmentally correct, native flora – we spend time and money to beautify our Town’s landscape.

I think we need to do more to improve our ‘peoples-scape’ – to fill the real need for healthy, communal, indoor activities consisting of active, indoor recreation and offering ongoing adult education.  At least equal focus on ‘do’ and ‘look’!

If there’s an underlying point to this story it’s that instead of increasing Berlin’s Police presence to deter criminal activity it might be time to do some ‘right-side’ thinking – by offering attractive, guided, yet ‘fun’ and safe activities for all ages in order to possibly effect the same result?  It’s been done before!

Our Town has suitable vacant land – we even have land with suitable structures – we have the need – now we need a plan… and the money…perhaps a joint venture with Worcester County?

If you’d like to see what one small town (very similar to Berlin) can do…dare to take a look at this page (click on the link below).  Scroll down to see all that’s offered!  There’s even a copy of the Master Parks Plan – Final Draft, showing how another small town went from discerning the need, through execution and on to fulfillment in a few short years.

Carolina Beach Recreation Center – http://www.carolinabeach.org/site_new/pages/parks_rec.html

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