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County council gets positive news on budget projections

ELKTON — The Cecil County Council received some relatively positive news regarding the county’s financial standing in the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2020 based upon projections submitted by the county’s finance department.

Cecil County Budget Manager Becky Anderson and Finance Director Lisa Saxton provided the third quarter projections during the council’s regularly scheduled work session Tuesday afternoon.

In making her presentation, Anderson made a note to council, that the figures she was presented represented a first draft. She noted that the figures are unaudited at this point and that the county has not booked all of its year end accruals for revenue, nor has it recorded depreciation or considered possible write-offs of both revenues and expenditures.

According to Anderson the general fund is showing a favorable or positive balance of $7,457,432.52. Anderson noted that real property tax was favorable in the amount of $489,266.97.

Personal property is projected at $1,556,119.16 in the unfavorable column. Anderson said this was due in part to the difficulty in projecting the timing of payments for personal property taxes. She added that the due date for personal property returns for FY2020 was also delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also said that taxes from three of the county’s largest business were not required to pay prior to the fiscal year. Those businesses are Smithfield Foods, Medline Industries Inc. and KeHe Distributors, LLC.

Income tax showed an increase over budget in the amount of $4.6 million, but Anderson noted that figure was the result in part of late filings from 2018 and the state’s reconciliation of amounts based upon the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“Those spikes due to the FY18 tax year are to be viewed again as one-time payments,” Anderson said.

She said that she now expects income tax payments to normalize to a degree, however with COVID-19, which she expects to come into play in the future, there are still questions at the county and state level as to what revenues in 2021 and following years will look like.

“We know the tax returns of the folks that are living through this pandemic are going to look different and what those revenues look like to the county will ultimately be different,” she said.

Anderson noted that charges for services is up over $500,000.

With respect to expenditures, Anderson said expenditures are expected to approach, but not equal the budget. She noted that the report she presented to the council Tuesday shows a total of $2.9 million in expenses that are lower than budgeted calculations.

She noted that as a result of the pandemic various expenses were greatly reduced. She said the McCarthy Administration asked departments to limit spending to mission critical expenses and as a result almost all departments are showing a favorable budget balance.

In the landfill fund, Anderson said the landfill is currently projecting a $700,000 increase in operating revenues and approximately $250,000 less in expenditures. She said if the trend continues, the county can expect to see a gain of a little over $900,000.

In response to these figures, Councilman George Patchell (R-District 4), asked whether or not there would ultimately be a projection issue in the figures as many businesses were closed down during the third quarter (April-June) and refuse would be less than anticipated under those circumstances.

Cecil County Public Works Director Scott Flanigan said that while waste generated by businesses was down, businesses generated by residences was increased and made up for that drop. He attributed this not only to people producing more waste at home due to being shut in their homes, but also that many spent time cleaning up around their homes, thus producing a higher volume of waste.

In the wastewater fund, Anderson said that with the second year of the rate increase under the county’s belt, they were projecting an operating gain of approximately $374,000. She did note that under professional and related services the county was going to have to write off a portion of the engineering and design expense that was attributable to the original plan of putting the Port Deposit wastewater treatment plant at the top of the hill as opposed to the bottom of the hill.

She also noted that connection fees were around $100,000 under budget, but are still running strong.

On income tax receipts, Anderson noted that receipts could possibly go back to 2016 levels due to the pandemic. She noted $67 million in receipts for FY2020, but said the revenues could slide down to $55 million, which would be a huge hit financially for the county. She said however, that county and state officials are closely watching the numbers and that any updates would be shared with the county.

Anderson said casino revenues took a major hit due to closures required under COVID-19. She said county revenues took a 25 percent hit or around $650,000 compared to last year due to the outbreak.

Be sure to check next Wednesday’s Whig for additional followup from Tuesday’s council work session and legislative session.

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Young girl helps revitalize Elkton park

ELKTON — A park long in disuse was granted a new lease on life thanks to the efforts of a nine-year-old girl who wanted a place close to her home to play.

According to mother Gina Gill her daughter, Sarah Chavis-Perseghin, asked a question that no mother really wants to have to answer during Fourth of July activities at Delancy Village.

Gill said the family was set to enjoy Fourth of July fireworks when her daughter asked her why she wasn’t able to play at the playground located in the village. Gill said she told her daughter that the park was effectively destroyed and that is why children couldn’t play there.

Gill explained that the playground equipment was covered in dirt and glass and has not been used much by area children due to the risks. To this Gill said her daughter replied, “Why can’t we clean it up?”

This ultimately led to a project, spearheaded by young Chavis-Perseghin to help clean and revitalize the park. Gill said she posted a query on the Elkton, Maryland 21921 Facebook page to see what could be done. She said she received a lot of feedback, including from the Knights of the Fallen Motorcycle Club, offering to help work to clean up and repair the park.

Gill said Sarah, as well as members from the motorcycle club and others in the community pitched in and spent some three hours on Aug. 15, removing graffiti, putting down new mulch and removing the shards of glass plaguing the playground and equipment.

Gill noted though that after the group’s hard work, it was discovered on Aug. 19 that someone had thrown new shard of broken glass all over the ground and added additional graffiti to playground structures.

“When we went back that Saturday, Sarah was so upset,” Gill said. “She said, ‘Mommy I worked so hard on this, why would someone destroy it?’”

Not to be deterred, young Chavis-Perseghin once again rolled up her sleeves and went out to clean up the playground again. With help from some generous donors and her grandfather Ray Perseghin, she was able to not only clean the park again, but got help adding some new amenities to the playground.

Gill said a slide was donated, which was put in by Mr. Perseghin and the group is working to obtain handles for a rock wall as well as seeking donations of treated wood and mulch, to further improve the park.

Thanks to Chavis-Perseghin’s efforts, word reached officials with the Town of Elkton who honored her Wednesday during the Mayor and Commissioner’s regularly scheduled meeting with a special commendation recognition. Elkton Mayor Rob Alt said the town would also like to give her a special challenge coin as a gift from the town for her efforts on the project.

Young Chavis-Perseghin was too nervous to speak during the town’s Zoom meeting, but Gill said that there was still work to be done on the playground.

“She still wants to continue and see what we can do to add to it,” Gill said Wednesday, noting that the other children in the neighborhood thanked her for everything they did to revitalize the playground.

Alt said the town’s Parks and Recreation department would reach out to see how they could help improve the park.

During an interview Thursday, Chavis-Perseghin said she was really nervous Wednesday, but after hearing the comments from the mayor, “It made me more excited and proud of what I did.”

Gill said she is extremely proud of her daughter and her resilience, especially after someone came back after all the hard work they did and damaged the park again. She said that while children had not been using the park before, there were now kids playing, laughing and having fun once again at the park.

Plywood was used to temporarily replace two windows shattered recently at The Paris Foundation during Tropical Storm Isaias. The foundation is in talks with the Town of Elkton to possibly build a new community building to house the foundation in Hollingsworth Manor.

During work of improving Brick Meeting House burial ground, the stone with A. J. was found. It was plowed up during the work of grading and enlarging the burial ground.

A.J. Stone

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Lawson feels confident on CCPS reopening strategy

ELKTON — Governor Larry Hogan gave Maryland schools the green light to safely reopen last week, citing improved COVID-19 health metrics across the state. Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) Superintendent Dr. Jeff Lawson, who listened to the governor’s press conference while pulling weeds in his yard, heard nothing that would disrupt the county’s reopening plan.

“Honestly, I think we got this right,” Lawson said. “What the families are seeing is a much better product than what they saw in March, April and May.”

Reopening strategy

While some districts will proceed with all-virtual instruction for at least the first few weeks of school, CCPS will get some students back in the classroom as early as next week. The current plan calls for five to seven percent of students to resume in-person instruction on Sept. 8. This will consist of the students most in need of face-to-face learning.

In bringing students back into schools, CCPS must also prepare for the worst — an outbreak. Lawson said they would be quick to close classrooms or schools that saw COVID cases spike.

“We’re not going to have a whole lot of patience for our students and staff getting sick,” he said. “Now, if we get a single case that arises in an elementary school, it does not mean CCPS is closing. We will try to deal with it in pockets as whatever potentially positive cases emerge.”

The number of students returning for face-to-face learning may rise to 25 or even 50 percent at the end of the month, according to Lawson, if the county’s COVID transmission rate stays low. He acknowledged that many families are eager for their students to return.

“We’re going to do everything we can to accommodate that, but there is still a segment out there that wants their children home. They’re afraid of what might happen to them if they come back out,” he said. “We’re trying to strike that balance.”

Resources for families

CCPS rolled out a Virtual Learning Playbook in August, which families can consult with questions about school policies, learning access and available resources. Lawson stressed that teachers were crucial in developing the playbook.

“The teachers were in the middle of that from start to finish,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve heard from a single teacher who has said this simply isn’t doable.”

Many families struggle with virtual learning.

For parents who work during the day, the playbook includes a list of local organizations that can provide daycare and technological support. To accommodate at-home learning for families without reliable equipment or internet access, CCPS has provided students with over 8,000 Chromebooks and is setting up hotspots in campus parking lots.

Another big change from the spring, Lawson said, is that live lessons are now recorded and can be accessed by students and family members at their convenience. Using the Blackboard Collaborate platform, teachers will also be on hand to answer questions even when students have individual assignments.

These efforts will help CCPS average 3.5 hours of live instruction per day, according to Lawson. On Tuesday, Maryland’s state school board adopted a measure requiring schools to offer at least 3.5 hours per day of live instruction by the end of the year. For Lawson, the decision shows that CCPS is on track for the school year.

‘We are a public service’

CCPS has worked with the county to provide opportunities for students that go beyond the classroom.

Through an arrangement with the Department of Parks and Recreation, CCPS high schoolers can register for teams which will practice and play scrimmages in football, soccer, volleyball and other sports. Lawson hopes that state-wide competitive seasons will resume in 2021.

“We’re excited. There’s a lot of interest. Our kids have been conditioning since June 29,” he said. “Knock on wood — no problems. No positive tests. We’ve done every safety protocol known to man.”

Students will also be able to access Cecil County Public Library resources, including learning games, test preparation materials and homework help, with their school I.D.s, according to an email from CCPL Community Relations Manager Frazier Walker.

Lawson said the schools must do everything they can to make sure students don’t fall behind in learning during the pandemic. He doesn’t want to see an entire generation set back in reading by an entire year.

This worry motivates Lawson to find solutions that will get students back in the classroom safely as soon as possible.

“We’ve got eight year olds in this community who come from homes where education might not be as valued as it is in a school,” he said. “Their only hope is school. That’s the only place they’ll go during the day where reading is really an important thing.”

A mother recently sent Lawson a video of her son, a CCPS student with special needs, struggling to stay focused during a remote learning lesson.

“What it shows me is that there is such a profound need for face-to-face instruction for thousands of our kids — thousands, not a handful,” he said. “Public education — we are like the police and the fire. We serve. It’s what we do. We serve during good times and we serve during bad times. That’s where my heart is.”

Lower Ferry Park in Perryville will have its zoning designated as Open Space after the mayor and commissioners approved a measure creating the new district

Perryville adds Open Space zone

Christina McMichael and Elaina Ness, 4-H members pictured at the 2019 Cecil County Fair 4-H Livestock Auction. Organizers are planning the fall schedule of 4-H programs.

Cecil County 4-H planning for fall