Auditor says Hurlock in good financial shape

CD-Communities-Hurlock
HURLOCK — According to auditor Thomas Trice, FY2014 was “a good solid year for the town.”  Mr. Trice presented financial highlights at the Feb. 11 Hurlock Town Meeting and was impressed with audit results. He noted that the financials consist of two activities. One is the General Fund which collects taxes and other revenues and pays expenses other than water/sewer. The second is an Enterprise Fund which is used to account for any activity for which a fee is charged to users for goods and services. Hurlock’s enterprise fund is the Water and Sewer Fund which tracks the profitability of the wastewater treatment plant operations.

TMG Group, LLC has been the town auditors for many years. Mr. Trice noted that the town has never, in his experience, been debt-free except for the loan related to the wastewater treatment plant expansion of ten years ago which currently stands at about $2.2 million. The town paid down debt in FY2014 of $378,000 and incurred no new debt for the year.

Cash reserves for the year increased by $291,000 and there was $1.67 million in the cash account as of 06/30/14.  Mr. Trice reported that “cash increased even with property taxes decreasing.” The increase in revenue from property was due primarily to a large amount of cash used to “catch up” two years of back taxes related to personal property taxes at Amick which amounted to about $175,000 each year. A decline in assessments led to flat revenues that were supplemented by the “catch up.”

Two major projects will impact finances this year. First will be the commitment to borrow $1.4 million for the new police station. Second, major projects to replace water lines are estimated to cost around $950,000. Mr. Trice added that “clearly the town is highly dependent on one or two major customers for its revenue base. That’s something everybody is aware of.”

Mayor Joyce Spratt thanked Mr. Trice and noted how “happy” she and the council are with the report.
Police Chief Les Hutton reported 1,027 calls for service in January most of which were documented for tracking by police officers. Reportable offenses for the past two weeks included: 2 warrant services; 1 emergency petition; 1 assault report; 3 accidents; a dog complaint; 2 licenses suspended; 1 DWI; and 9 miscellaneous complaints. Fifteen of 20 reports were closed and 3 adult arrests made.

Councilman Jerry Rhue reported for the fire department. There were numerous ambulance and fire calls and “another fender bender” at the flashing light intersection of rtes. 331 and 592. Mr. Rhue mused, “They can’t seem to figure out they’re supposed to stop for the red light.”

In October 2014 Hurlock resident 85-year-old Margaret Majors lost everything in a devastating house fire. The outpouring of support from residents and the business community in the surrounding area was noteworthy. Ms. Majors is temporarily in an apartment but plans to rebuild her home on its former location.

Councilman Charles Cephas said, “This is the kind of thing that makes communities come together.” He thanked everyone who contributed clothing, shelter, financial support, and help in demolishing the structure to prepare for a new home.

Town Attorney Bob Merriken presented two ordinances for a council vote. One authorized the mayor and town to transfer 408A Charles St. to Habitat for Humanity for $1 with new construction promised to begin as soon as possible. A second transferred 208 S. Main St. to Oxford Chase Development, Inc. for $80,000 gross price for construction of a Dollar General store. Both ordinances were unanimously approved.

However, a third ordinance raised a roadblock which the council eventually plowed through a new state mandated floodplain ordinance must be in place by mid-March. “We already had one,” said attorney Merriken, but the state made some changes.

“This was only brought to my attention on Monday,” he said. Town Administrator John Avery was belatedly informed by Kevin Wagner of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) that the town’s flood plain ordinance needed updating.

Mr. Merriken said the only substantive change limits new construction accessory structures in the flood plain to not more than 300 sq. ft. The old ordinance limit was 600 sq. ft.  The confusion occurred when margin notes by Mr. Wagner on the document said FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) will not approve accessory structures larger than 600 sq. ft. unless the community documents the need for it. The language used in the Wagner notes differed from his comments to Mr. Merriken.

The attorney said the council must proceed with Ord. 2015-3 as an “emergency ordinance.”  He suggested the council repeal the old language and replace it with the new language in which he had made “a few textural changes and corrected some typos.”

Based on confusion regarding the square footage, councilman Cephas asked, “What happens if we don’t go forward with the deadline?” Mr. Avery answered, “The property would lose its ability to have flood insurance.”

Councilman Rhue asked if the regulation only affects the small area of town that is in a flood zone. Mr. Avery said one house in the flood zone has an existing garage; there is one commercial building partially in it, and there is a wooded area. Mr. Merriken noted, “Remember this is for new structures only. The old ones are grandfathered in.”

Councilmen Cephas and Parker Durham both suggested that the ordinance reflect the original 600 sq. ft. and see if the MDE “kicks it back.” If so, the council can adjust whatever needs to be adjusted, particularly since the confusion arose from MDE employee Wagner’s handwritten notes.

Three motions were made and passed unanimously. One allowed the council to vote on an ordinance the same night it is introduced; two accepted the revised ordinance from the MDE but amended the square footage from 300 to 600 sq. ft.; three, introduced the ordinance and accepted it as amended.

In her report, Mayor Joyce Spratt asked the public to attend meetings concerning construction of a new North Dorchester High School and voice their opinions. “It’s a critical situation,” she said.

The county has to get on board and find out where the money’s going to come from.”  A meeting between county officials and the county department of education to negotiate funding is slated for March 10.

Councilman Durham announced he will resign from the Town Council effective with the sale of his home which is currently on the market. “I have enjoyed being on the council,” he said, and “I do encourage residents to get involved in town government and apply for my seat when it is vacated.” Mr. Durham expressed pride that during his tenure he managed to decrease council salaries from $14,500 to $10,000. “I would encourage you to continue to lower the salary.”

Councilman Cephas invited the public to attend the annual Ministers & Citizens Blacklist Awards on Feb. 21, 5 p.m. at the North Dorchester Middle School where Mayor Spratt will be an honoree. He said, “It’s not a black thing; not a white thing; it’s a community thing” to honor people who have made a difference.” The councilman also announced a food and clothing giveaway is slated for Feb. 27, 10 a.m.-noon, Full Gospel Church of God, 204 Academy St., Hurlock.

The council meeting for Feb. 23 is canceled. The next meeting is slated for March 9, 6 p.m.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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