Tag Archives: Dorchester County

Maryland Lawmakers Push for Park to Honor Harriet Tubman

Capital News Service

WASHINGTON–Maryland’s lawmakers urged Congress Wednesday to pass legislation to create two national parks honoring the legacy of Underground Railroad leader Harriet Ross Tubman.

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, and Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, joined senators from New York and leaders from national civil rights organizations in calling for immediate congressional action on the Harriet Tubman National Parks Act. The act would establish historic parks in Maryland and New York to commemorate the freedom fighter one century after her death.

“We owe it to Harriet to tell this story, but we owe it to this generation and the next generation so they know the story, that each and every one of us in our own way must also work and walk freedom’s trail,” Mikulski said at a news conference Wednesday.

The legislation calls for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park to be located in Maryland’s Eastern Shore where Tubman was born, escaped slavery and later returned to lead other African-Americans to freedom.

Some sites set to become part of the historic park include the Anthony Thompson Plantation where Tubman was likely born and the Poplar Neck Plantation where she led many Underground Railroad missions. A second park in Auburn, N.Y., would include the sites where Tubman spent her later years as a women’s suffrage activist and caretaker for the elderly.

Mikulski seized on momentum from Black History Month and events surrounding the Harriet Tubman Centennial.

“I pledge to you as the full chair of the Appropriations Committee, if we get it authorized this year, I’ll put it in the federal budget,” she said of the bill.

Cardin later added that the Tubman National Park–the first to honor an African-American woman–is long overdue.

“It will be incredibly valuable as a learning tool but also as an economic tool,” he said.

The Maryland project will cost $21 million, but is expected to increase tourism and job growth for Dorchester, Caroline and Talbot counties with an estimated 75,000 visitors annually, according to the Maryland Office of Tourism.

Sarbanes shared memories of his father, former Maryland Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes, telling Harriet Tubman’s story during childhood trips through Cambridge, Md.

“If anybody deserves that kind of unique response to her legacy it’s Harriet Tubman,” he said.

Several national civil rights organizations also attended to show support for the bill including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Organization for Women and the National Council of Negro Women.

Allendra Letsome, Maryland native and membership vice president of NOW, spoke of the historic park legislation in conjunction with her organization’s several-year effort to replace the Capitol building’s statue of Maryland legislator John Hanson with a statue of Tubman. Tubman’s statue would be the first of an African-American woman in Statuary Hall.

“We need to send a message to our young people that you can do great things, you can change the course of history,” Letsome said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY., broke from his written speech to add, “There are some who say, well, this costs money. It costs such a small amount of money. Many on the other side opposed this bill because it costs a little bit of money. To preserve our legacy, to preserve our history, to give lessons to the children, this one… just in terms of bang for the buck would be huge, so let’s not let that issue stand in the way of this 100th anniversary year.”

Coalition Announces County Clean Water Ratings

Six of Maryland’s 23 counties received the top rating from an environmental coalition for their Chesapeake Bay restoration plans. The Clean Maryland Waters coalition announced that Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Caroline, Dorchester and Montgomery Counties submitted the strongest plans. Nine counties got the lowest ranking. They are Allegany, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Frederick, Garrett, Somerset, Washington and Worcester Counties. The coalition says the drafts they submitted were skeletal and did not commit to clear implementation strategies. The counties submitted their plans to the state, which submitted its plan to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is spearheading a new federally led bay restoration effort.

Maryland Education Funding Divides State and County Leaders

Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK – Cash-strapped Maryland county leaders say they can’t afford to pay their share of rising costs for schools and are asking the state to back off of a requirement to match state education funding dollar-for-dollar.

Counties are responsible for splitting education costs with the state. But, education groups say about a third of Maryland counties are not matching state funding at the level required under Maryland law.

That includes two of Maryland’s largest school districts, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, and five smaller districts – Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Wicomico counties – according to an analysis by the Maryland State Education Association.

County leaders say they can’t fully match state funding because they have been hit hard by a reduction in property tax and income tax revenue over the last few years.

Even with budgeting shortfalls, local leaders still need to uphold their commitment to school funding, said Delegate Norman Conway, D-Wicomico.

Conway, who chairs the House Appropriations committee, and other state legislators are expected to meet Friday in Annapolis to listen to county leaders’ concerns about education funding.

“We called the meeting because we’re getting some indications that there are some challenges for the counties that are not on the positive side,” Conway said.

The push by education groups and some legislators to force counties to spend more money on education comes as Gov. Martin O’Malley moved this week to shift more of the burden of paying for education to local governments.

On Wednesday, O’Malley released a proposed budget that would require counties to pay about half the total cost for teacher pensions, which makes up a sizable share of the state’s education budget and is estimated to cost $946 million in the next fiscal year.

“The stakes of this conversation just got a lot higher if the governor is preparing to shift pension costs to counties,” said Michael Sanderson, executive director for the Maryland Association of Counties. “You are forcing them [the counties] to come up with a big pile of cash for a commitment to school funding. Suddenly the stresses of their budgets get much worse.”

School funding has been a top priority for O’Malley. In his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, the governor wants to spend approximately $5 billion on education – an increase of $109 million over last year — and more than $373 million on new construction projects for schools.

County leaders say the sputtering economy has weakened their tax base, forcing them to make tough spending decisions that have affected schools.

In Montgomery County, cuts to school funding have resulted in crowded classrooms, frozen teacher salaries and reductions in hours for more than 5,000 part-time staff, according to the Montgomery County Education Association.

“Our … funding now is $70 million less than what it would have been had Montgomery County funded schools at the required level set by the state,” Tom Israel, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Association said.

Counties are required to fund education at the same level as the previous year to be awarded an increase in state aid. This requirement, known as “maintenance of effort,” ensures that state funds are matched each year by local governments.

In Talbot County, where the primary source of revenue comes from property and income taxes, officials did not match maintenance of effort funding this year for the first time ever.

The county spent approximately $32 million on education funding this year, a cut of $1.8 million from the year prior.

“It’s a very tough decision to cut school funding. Obviously education is a high priority, and we take it very seriously,” county manager John Craig, said.

For several years, Talbot County has seen a drop in revenue, primarily due to a cap on property taxes, Craig said. The county budget decreased by more than $20 million over the last five years, he said.

Like Talbot, most counties spend about half of their budget on schools. And since the county cannot tell school boards how to spend money they allocate, county leaders feel shut out of the process, Sanderson said.

“We’ve reached a point where the counties are almost irrelevant in the budgeting process. They wish to save money, consolidate services, equalize benefits for school employees and have school staff participate in furloughs, like almost every other department in every county, but for education we can’t,” he said.

But state education advocates say the counties are taking advantage of what they call a loophole in the maintenance of effort requirement, allowing them to reduce school funding without penalties.

The advocates say the state should penalize the counties by reducing the amount of state funding that goes to their general budgets.

“The current maintenance of effort requirement is completely illogical. It’s the school system that loses out in the end,” Israel said.

Counties that don’t spend as much on schools as the year prior are ineligible for an increase in state aid, Israel said. Montgomery County’s decision to undercut school funding would exclude the district from receiving $26 million in state funding in the upcoming fiscal year.

Not all counties receive an increase in state aid each year. Aid is tied to student enrollment rates. In counties like Talbot, where enrollment dropped, no additional state funding was awarded this year, giving county leaders less incentive to match state spending, Craig said.

Both state legislators and county leaders want changes in the maintenance of effort law. Legislators on the House Appropriations and House Ways and Means committee are expected to meet Friday to discuss changes to the current maintenance of effort law.

Delegate Sheila Hixson, D-Silver Spring, chair of the House Ways and Means committee, said Friday’s meeting will provide legislators a chance to listen to all of the complaints and concerns around maintenance of effort. Representatives from county school boards, teacher unions and county associations are expected to be on hand.

“Nobody is going to say that they think maintenance of effort is perfect. There will certainly be disagreements about fixes and what the actual problems are,” Sanderson said.

Currently, the state Board of Education allows counties to apply for a one-year waiver that would allow them to avoid penalties if they don’t match state funding at the required level.

Waivers are usually granted for short periods of financial hardship. But, Sanderson said, the waiver process does not account for the long-term financial struggles that counties now face. He wants counties to be granted longer-term waivers.

Meanwhile, state and county education advocates say there’s no incentive for counties to apply for waivers because they can simply ignore the law without penalty if they’re ineligible for an increase in state aid. The advocates want to close that loophole by imposing a penalty on the general county budget if education funding is reduced.

“Our sense is that there’s a lot of momentum to fix maintenance of effort. We have had intensifying conversations with state legislators and there seems to be recognition that the law needs to be fixed,” Israel said. “State education shouldn’t supplant local funding.”

Wetlands Projects Received Federal Grants

Two Maryland wetlands projects will get nearly $2-million in federal grants. The awards were announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as part of $20.5-million handed out to 13 states. Point Pleasant Farm on the Choptank River and a stretch of land along the Chicamacomico River in Dorchester County are the areas targeted.

Activities This Weekend

Hosting family at your house this weekend? Looking for something to do while they’re here? Get out and try something new this year, in addition to your normal holiday traditions.

Friday, December 24

* Bonnie Brook Luminary Display. 110 homes will be illuminated throughout the Bonnie Brook community in Cambridge for the Christmas holiday. Bring a mug of hot cocoa or eggnog and enjoy a scenic driving tour through the town. Take Bonnie Brook Road heading north off of Route 50, west of Mount Holly Road (Route 16). Homes will be lit starting at 5 p.m. 410-376-3563. Tourdorchester.org.
* Classic Christmas Carols and Communion at Old Trinity Church. Feel the spirit of Christmas in this tiny, beautifully restored church that is more than 300 years old. Free. 4 p.m. Call 410-228-2940 for details. The church is located in Church Creek, at 1716 Taylors Island Road Church Creek, MD 21622. Oldtrinity.net/

Sunday, December 26

* South Street Art Gallery Open House. South Street Art Gallery will be open every day between Christmas and New Year’s. The gallery will hold regular hours through January 9: Thurs.-Mon. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., except Sunday, or by appointment. Free. At South Street Art Gallery, Easton. 410-770-8350. Southstreetartgallery.com

Monday, December 27

* Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley. Enjoy the beautiful Christmas lights of Cambridge from aboard the Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley. The trolley will depart the One Stop station located at the corner of Route 16 and Egypt Road on Dec. 17 and Dec. 18 and again on Dec. 27. Departure times each evening are at 5:30 and 6:30pm. Riders can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and cookies then board to sing Christmas carols while viewing the decorations of the town. Each ride will be approximately 40 minutes long. Tickets are available for $5 for adults and $2 for children under 10. For tickets, call Delmarva Community Services at 410-221-1900 or the One Stop at 410-221-7600. Seats are limited. Tourdorchester.org.

Dorcherster’s First Woman Commissioner Dies

Shirley McWilliams spent most of her career as a well-known schoolteacher in Dorchester County, but she is best known as the county’s first-ever female Commissioner. McWilliams taught history in school, but made history in local government. In her later years, McWilliams lived near her daughter in an assisted living community near Richmond. Even there, she was active as president of the facility’s resident’s commission. McWilliams was 75.

Independence Day Celebrations on the Shore

Queen Anne’s County:

4th of July Fireworks Celebration
Friday, July 02, 2010
Chesapeake Exploration Center, Kent Narrows
6 p.m. (Rain date, July 3)
Snag your picnic basket and join us for an evening of excellent family entertainment. Music, food and lots of kid’s activities.

4th of July Event
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Wye Hall, Queenstown
This yearly event features a William Paca Graveside Ceremony and program in the garden, in addition to wreath-laying ceremony, music and a keynote speaker. The event is sponsored by the Queen Anne’s County Historical Society with the Aspen Institute.

Kent County:

Downtown Chestertown’s “Independence Day” Celebration
Friday, July 02
Downtown Chestertown
5-8 p.m.; Free
Your local ‘Independent Chestertown Businesses’ invite you to Celebrate First Friday “Independence Day”. Music by Jack the Penguin Acoustic, FREE sno-cones, popcorn, cotton candy, lemonade, flags, balloons. $1 corn dogs & 50 cent sodas. Drawings for great prizes throughout downtown!

Annual Rock Hall July 4th Parade
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Main Street , Rock Hall
10 a.m.
Old-fashioned parade begins at 10am on Main Street. Then head for the Rock Hall Community Center for a taste of local food, festivities, music, crafts & more. For more information call 410-639-7611 or visit www.rockhallmd.com

4th of July Fireworks
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Rock Hall Harbor, Rock Hall
9 p.m.; Free
Welcome to the best pyrotechnic display on the East Coast. This is a 35-minute show choreographed to patriotic music. It can be viewed from the Bay and from anywhere in Rock Hall Harbor.

Chestertown’s July 4th Fireworks
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Chester River, Chestertown
Experience the 4th in a small, historic town. Fireworks at dusk.

Talbot County:

Easton’s Carnival & 4th of July Celebration
Tuesday, June 29, 2010 – Sunday, July 04, 2010
Located off Marlboro Road behind the Target Store in Waterside Village
Tues.-Fri., 6-11 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 4-11 p.m.
The carnival features super rides, carnival food, games, and prizes. The Fair Plays will challenge a team TBD on carnival grounds. On the 4th of July itself, the traditional Independence Day Celebration is a major community event. Local non-profit groups provide concession food booths, an annual fundraiser for local non-profits.

Several musical acts are presented on stage, as well as a patriotic program to honor veterans. At dusk, the Mid-Shore’s finest Fireworks display lights up Easton! Programming, shows and fireworks are free. One price bracelet nights Tuesday through Friday. With $2.00 discount coupons available at the Avalon Theatre and David Wheeler Kia.

Oxford Fireworks
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Oxford Strand, Oxford
Dusk (rain date, July 5)

St. Michaels Fireworks
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Dusk (rain date, July 5)
The St. Michaels Fireworks Committee has changed the venue for this year’s Annual Independence Celebration Fireworks. This year boaters, seat-dwellers and those strolling along Talbot Street area or in the harbor will have full view of the fireworks display. The annual celebration will take place in the open field bordered by Yacht Club Road, N. Talbot Street, and Perry Cabin Drive.

Dorchester County:

Fourth of July Fireworks in Cambridge
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Near Great Marsh Park, Camrbidge
9 p.m.
Enjoy a spectacular fireworks show July 4 in Cambridge. The fireworks are set off near Great Marsh Park (near the intersection of Somerset Avenue and Hambrooks Boulevard, just a few blocks from the Municipal Yacht Basin).

You should have good views most anywhere along the waterfront nearby. Great Marsh is a great spot. Long Wharf Park (near Water and High Streets) is also ideal for viewing. Fireworks begin at nightfall, usually around 9:15pm. Bring your lawn chairs and/or blankets.

Worcester County:

Celebrate July 4th in Ocean City
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Bayside & Beachfront, Ocean City
8-10 p.m.
A concert at 8:00 p.m., followed by fireworks at 9:30 p.m. will take place downtown on the beach at North Division Street and at the same time, uptown at 127th Street at Northside Park


Second Annual FREEDOMFest
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Somers Cove Marina, Crisfield
Gates open 6 p.m.; Fireworks 9 p.m.
$5 (veterans are free)

FREEDOMfest features a Military Appreciation Program, Fireworks, kids’ activities, and music by “Big Dog & the Road Kings.”

*Wicomico County will not be offering fireworks this year, due to budgetary restraints.

Trooper Hero In Dorchester House Fire

Maryland State Police say a trooper entered a burning home in Dorchester County and led a man disoriented by smoke inhalation to safety. Trooper First Class R. Singleton arrived at a reported house fire in Hurlock before fire fighters and was told that 53-year-old Jim Malone was still inside. Police say Singleton entered the house and found Malone choking and disoriented in a second-floor bedroom. Both Malone and Singleton were treated for smoke inhalation.