Hurlock councilman resigns; new NDH school discussed

MD-hurlock meeting 1--2x-042015

The Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Mayor Joyce Spratt gives Councilman Parker Durham his nameplate for the seat he has held since 2009. Mr. Durham resigned at the Hurlock Council meeting on April 10 following the sale of his home and a planned move to Salisbury.

HURLOCK — The April 13 Hurlock Town Meeting opened with Councilman Parker Durham’s resignation. At the Monday night meeting he announced that since his house was sold he was no longer a town resident and his resignation was effective immediately. Mr. Durham assumed his seat in 2009 when he ran for the district 3 seat vacated when then council person Joyce Spratt ran for mayor.  After a round of hand shaking and “thank-you,” the former councilman sat in the audience for the balance of the meeting. A unanimous council vote is required to appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy for the remainder of an unexpired term.

Dorchester County Councilman Rick Price reported the progress of Salisbury University’s phase I county housing study. The two-phase survey’s goal is to determine the community’s housing needs. According to Dr. Marvin Tossey the finding so far indicates most of the 271 substandard houses are vacant due to the county’s successful economic and housing policies; or, that “worst and poorest have moved from rural areas to cities, thus the abandoned houses.”  Phase II of the grant-funded study includes occupant interviews.

Mr. Price noted that FY2016 budget bill public hearings, including consideration of a new North Dorchester High School (NDHS), are scheduled for May 5 and 12.  The announcement prompted Mayor Spratt to question Mr. Price about his recent “no” vote on funding a new school.

The councilman said “I very much appreciate and know the need for a new school.  But there is a local share of $22 million which is going to need a combination of tax increases and going to the bond market. I struggled with having to go along with the tax increase.” He noted he has “always stood against” increases and suggested the need to find alternative funding methods.

Ms. Spratt continued to press the point, saying that taxes would not be raised until 2018. She wondered why the Council had not planned for the construction.  Mr. Price explained that he voted against the “Tech School” in 2009 and its multi-million dollar expense because he expected the NDHS to be built first.

Councilman Price explained, “I also know people in the county that are struggling now to pay for groceries. I’ve proposed looking into public/private partnerships or a new design.” He traveled to Annapolis with Dr. Henry Wagner and school administration and board of education representatives seeking additional money from the Board of Public Works.

Councilmen Murphy and Rhue joined the discussion which bordered on the confrontational.
Mayor Spratt said taxes in the upper end of the county “have been raised to support things in the lower end of the county. Now they’ll have to pay to support the school in the north part of the county.” Addressing Mr. Price, she said, “My complaint is that it doesn’t look like you support us or to figure out how to do it.”

Mr. Price responded that he learned from the finance office that the county has never increased taxes for new school construction. He added that he hears many viewpoints and will continue to hear them before the May vote.

Councilman Jerry Rhue suggested Mr. Price should “hear from all the people and the people in this part of the county want it.”

Ms. Spratt asked if there is a school already designed that “would fit our situation, too. Why pay for a design of a school when there are other schools built that could work for us?”

Councilman Price noted that “there are folks in the county who have complained to me all along about taxes being too high.” In an interview with The Banner, Mr. Price noted that the argument that “everyone is paying taxes” does not take into account that some people are really struggling. He re-emphasized that he hears both viewpoints. Those against the debt projected for new construction were not represented at the April 13 meeting.

On April 10 the Hurlock Planning Commission voted to recommend the zoning change requested by Oxford-Chase Development in its quest to construct a 9,100 sq. ft. store for its client, Dollar General. Town attorney Robert Merriken said Oxford-Chase asked to rezone 206 and 210 Main St. from R-3 to C-2.  The Planning Commission report recommended the change with the condition that the three individual lots in question, #’s 206, 208, and 210, be combined as one deeded parcel if the town council approves the zoning. The council scheduled a public hearing on May 26, 6 p.m. The hearing will be publicly advertised and adjacent residents notified.

In public comments, Jamie Monroe asked what plans are for the numerous empty dwellings in town and how residents could help.

Councilman Cephas suggested looking at the next round of community action services grant programs and how the town could partner with HUD for renovated and affordable housing. Mayor Spratt suggested that citizens give ideas to Councilman Rhue who heads the Downtown Committee or Council Member Bonnie Franz who is a committee member.

Town Administrator John Avery said Hurlock has applied for a sustainable communities designation which opens the door to apply for financial aid for distressed properties.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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