Greg Bassett: A preview on the stories we’ll be watching

New year, new fiscal quarter, new stories and issues to follow.

Over the next 90 days in Salisbury, the Downtown Riverwalk will continue to be in a state of transition, East Main Street will be torn up as the ambitious StreetScape remodeling commences and people everywhere will begin their annual yearning for an early spring.

Accordingly, here at Salisbury Independent we’re planning two big news packages based on reader requests:

  • What exactly will be built over the next year on the athletic fields surrounding James M. Bennett High School?
  • What safety measures have school and law enforcement taken to prevent gun violence in public settings?

We’ll also be closely watching these news stories:

West Salisbury Elementary

An old issue still on the news track, West Salisbury’s replacement is before state officials now. Since the state is paying the bulk of the construction costs, their decision making on the project is crucial.

Whether HQ Live gets its liquor permit

The owners of the Downtown music venue have asked for permission to sell mixed drinks at their establishment, a move that has been strongly criticized by their business competitors. The County Council is expected to weigh in on the issue ─ even ahead of the county Liquor Board – and Annapolis lawmakers would have to agree to amend the county’s alcohol codes.

The mega poultry farm

A proposal to build a 13-house poultry-growing complex off of West Road has generated some surprisingly coordinated opposition. Though the measure is just beginning to make its way through the zoning approval process, opinions are flying all over and have transcended the usual right-to-farm vs. the right-to-a-clean-environment conflicts.

Mandatory fire sprinklers

Wicomico state Delegate Chris Adams will push legislation in Annapolis to allow local control on whether and how sprinklers should be mandated in newly constructed homes. A sunset clause on the state measure’s implementation has expired; developers are strongly opposed to the mandate.

Annapolis isn’t willing to scuttle the requirement, but Adams hopes to at least make a point that local officials should be able to decide what’s best for their own people.

Elected Wicomico school board

Popular sentiment suggests people want a voter-elected school board structure, but last year the legislation failed spectacularly in Annapolis.

This session, the measure will likely have the support of state Sen. Jim Mathias, who had insisted on more public input. That came in the form of four public hearings over the summer. Still, Annapolis lawmakers seem to doubt that Wicomico adequately funds its public education and that local leaders have real respect for the school system.

Where the pot farms will go

Companies are competing all over Maryland for the ability to grow medical marijuana, and Wicomico is among the proposed locations. The decision making on that is underway right now. Many believe at least one marijuana farm will be allowed in Wicomico.

Who will be the new superintendent?

A decision on who will succeed Dr. John Fredericksen could come as soon as March; a search committee is screening applicants now. That leader would be in place in plenty of time to take office July 1, when the Wicomico superintendent of eight years departs. The appointment is considered even more crucial than usual, as the school system faces test score woes, conflict over capital construction plans, the possibility of an elected board and the likely need for redistricting.

Alcohol at the civic center

From its first day, alcohol has been prohibited from being dispensed at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center. Public officials have tiptoed around the issue for years, but now County Executive Bob Culver says he will take the matter to court. Culver’s case is based on the so-called hypocrisy of allowing alcohol to be brought in but not sold; the county sees this as a definite money-making opportunity. The deed restriction on the ages-old land donation would be transferred to another county tract, which will one day be a ballfield site.

Fire services agreement

A passionate issue for former mayor Jim Ireton, the Fire Services Agreement is being reviewed by a mutually agreed upon auditor who will generate new figures on what the county should pay for fire services provided for by city taxpayers. The complexity of the issue has resulted in a historical kicking the can down the road. Also talked about but rarely engaged: tax differentials.

Wicomico Capital spending

The County Council will mull a capital spending plan that includes $11 million for a Public Safety building, a price tag the conservative council might have a hard time digesting.

What other issues do you want us to keep an eye on? Contact me at the address below.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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