PERRYVILLE — Wanting to “finish what we started,” Robert Ashby said he is seeking re-election to the Perryville mayor’s office — however, it would be his final term.
“Unless no one else takes it I’m done after the next three years,” Ashby, 53, said.
Perryville voted in 2019 to change its election cycle to three years, with two of four commissioners elected in one year, followed by the remaining two, with the mayor a free standing election in the third year of the cycle. Had that not been passed, Ashby’s term would have ended in 2020.
Ashby is being challenged in the May 11 town election by Matthew Roath, local businessman and political newcomer. Three years ago, Ashby defeated Commissioner Michelle Linkey by just two votes to win the mayor’s race.
A resident of the town since 2013, Ashby said he got involved in Perryville (politics?) through the late Commissioner Alan Fox who suggested he take an open seat on Planning and Zoning. By 2016, Ashby was on the ballot, winning a seat on the town Board of Commissioners. Two years later, with long-time Mayor Jim Eberhardt stepping aside, Ashby won the top spot on the Board.
“These next three years will be a whirlwind of activity,” Ashby said.
Leading off the storm will be Great Wolf Lodge, the indoor waterpark resort now planning on its largest resort on Chesapeake Overlook Parkway.
“Chesapeake Overlook is done as soon as Great Wolf puts a shovel in the ground,” Ashby said, indicating that all the available space around the 702-room destination is bookmarked for development.
However the Great Wolf project is not the only hotbed of development in the city, Ashby noted, pointing to Perryville Station Shopping Center, Richmond Hills and Cedar Meadows.
“Perryville Station is 91% filled with Pura Vida Yoga moving in,” he said.
Cedar Meadows will bring 81 new homes, and Richmond Hills 22. Add to that 5th Company Brewing and Tiki Lee’s among the downtown development plans in the works, or nearing completion.
“This is what we got accomplished in a solid state of emergency,” Ashby said, referring to the COVID pandemic.
The shutdown caused Perryville, like every other government, to make tough decisions.
“We didn’t cut services,” Ashby said. “We balanced our books.”
That included saving $137,000 on a remake of the garbage pickup contract. Unlike other towns, Perryville does not directly bill its residents for trash and recyclable services.
“When (Hollywood Casino) closed we lost $140,000 a month,” Ashby said of the shutdown ordered by Gov. Larry Hogan. “I was proactive. All salaried and hourly pay was cut 20% while keeping the police department fully funded.”
Ashby acknowledges that property taxes have been raised under his watch, which he blames on the constant yield outpacing the growth of Perryville’s income. While the town has received COVID relief funds, he said those cannot be used to lower property tax rates.
Constant yield is a formula Maryland uses to determine the tax rate for each town and county, which would allow each to collect the same amount of revenue from the previous year. Elected bodies decide whether to keep to the constant yield or use a higher or lower rate.
Ashby said the issue with water and sewer accounts is one of perception.
“We did not fix the problem because there is no problem,” he said of complaints of inflated water and sewer bills. “I inherited a billing problem. I fixed the billing problem.”
When he became mayor in 2018 Ashby established regular meetings with various stakeholders of the town including the casino, ChristianaCare — Union Hospital, Perry Point Veterans Administration Medical Center, Havre de Grace and the Cecil County Chamber of Commerce.
He is also proud that the town has provided an average of $95,000 in grants annually through its Local Impact Grants. Made up largely of a share of the money the town receives from the casino.
“That’s money we put back into the community,” he said. Those grants go to homeowners, businesses and non-profits serving the town.
While he is not against warehouses in general, Ashby said he would continue to fight any plans to turn the former Perryville Outlets property into a distribution center.
Sambenheather, LLC, owner of the 68 Heather Lane property, has fought two failed court cases in an attempt to get the town’s decision against the warehouses overturned.
Ashby is also proud of the way the town has supported the Community Fire Company of Perryville.
“The town used to give $30,000 each year. Now it’s $70,000,” he said.
Active duty members of the company that live in Perryville town limits also receive $100 annually from the town.
Overall Ashby said he is happy with his accomplishments and wants to keep up the work for the next three years.
“I live in this town. I’ve made no promises and I owe nobody,” he said.”When I’m done I want to be able to walk by my house with my head held high.”