Salisbury presents state task list to local lawmakers

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day on Tuesday presented the city’s legislative and budget wish list to members of the Eastern Shore Delegation before they head to Annapolis in January.

For the fourth year, city officials hosted a lunch meeting with local members of the Maryland General Assembly to outline priorities, including establishing a tax differential and creating a city liquor licensing board.

Tax Differential

Mayor Jake Day called a tax differential, which would ease some of the tax burden on residents and business owners in all eight municipalities in Wicomico County, a top priority.

Salisbury taxpayers currently pay taxes to both the city and county, with money sometimes used to pay for county services that city residents don’t need or use.

Day is requesting a bill that changes the law to say Wicomico County shall provide a tax differential. The law now states that the county may provide one. The majority of the Wicomico County Council appears to be onboard with supporting the effort he said.

Currently, most Maryland counties provide either a tax rate differential or tax rebates to its municipalities, but Wicomico and Kent counties are the only ones that do neither, Day said.

Once a law is passed, Day said there would be “a ton of work to do,” including negotiating with the county over how much the tax rate differential would be. Any changes would likely be assessed in over several years.

Delegate Carl Anderton, who once served as mayor of Delmar, said officials with Wicomico County towns tried to change the law once before.

“It was the only time I’ve ever seen all eight municipalities on the same page,” he said. “It should have been done a long time ago. It’s one piece of legislation that benefits everyone from Sharptown to Willards.”

Alcohol Board

Day also asked legislators to support a bill that would establish a city liquor licensing board that would remove the licensing responsibility within Salisbury city limits from a county board.

The move would allow business owners to get all of their necessary permits in one office, he said. The city has already streamlined the process for taking projects from permitting through completion, but restaurants and stores must still get liquor licenses through the county board.

Additionally, Day said the county board is too political and lacks transparency.

“An overwhelming number of decisions reflect that the existing body’s decision making contradicts their express purpose, conflicts with state transparency rules and the alcohol article itself, and subverts the economic growth objectives of this community,” the mayor said.

City officials have been considering such a move for a few years, but it became a priority after accusations were made by County Executive Bob Culver over how a liquor license was granted for the National Folk Festival in September.

Culver said the city and state Comptroller Peter Franchot acted illegally when Franchot’s office granted a license for the festival, bypassing the Wicomico County Board of License Commissioners.

Day has said that after city officials perceived the county’s licensing board was dragging its feet on approving a beer and wine license at last year’s event, the city went to Gov. Larry Hogan and then to Franchot whose office ultimately signed off on the license.

None of the legislators at Tuesday’s meeting commented on Day’s request, but Anderton said afterward that he favored it as a streamlining mechanism for businesses in the city.

During the 2020 Southern Delmarva Economic Forecast on Dec. 6 at Salisbury University, Delegate Chris Adams said he was not in favor of the proposal.

“I serve on the Economic Matters Committee. We have all of the alcohol-related bills come through us. To the extent that a bill like that would show up, I oppose it,” Adams said. “Wicomico County has a liquor control board. I trust the board to do the good work of the people of our county. To take a municipality like the city of Salisbury and create within Wicomico County an additional control board would be confusing to the businesses, difficult to implement, and promulgate regulations and effectively work for the benefit of Wicomico County. It needs to be a single-focus, a single board doing the best work for our community, so — as a member of the committee — I can tell you I’m opposed as I’m sitting here today.”

Anderton has said in the past that he is willing to introduce such a bill on the city’s behalf in the next session of the legislature that starts in January. The bill also would need a sponsor in the Senate.

Other requests

Day asked the legislators for funding and help for several other projects:

  • The city is requesting $1.74 million in a state capital grant to help complete several Downtown projects, including the Fitzwater-West Main overhaul, Town Square Phase 2, and the Urban Greenway.
  •  A bill to establish an EMS Billing Authority for Community Paramedicine to pay for services provided by the Salisbury-Wicomico Integrated Firstcare Team, or SWIFT. The program is funded by the city and Peninsula Regional Medical Center and a Carefirst grant, but Day said he believes insurance should cover the costs.
  • The city is requesting that Gov. Larry Hogan include a $100,000 annual budget line item in support of the National Folk Festival, in addition to the already committed marketing and heritage grants.
  • Day asked legislators to help move forward a plan to bring medical education programs to Salisbury through PRMC, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Salisbury University and the University of Maryland Baltimore.
  •  The mayor asked for support of the Junior Achievement Center in Salisbury which will provide daily financial literacy education to middle school students in the region.
  • Day asked for help for Hudson Health Services which wants to acquire the campus property it currently leases from the state in order to expand its facility.
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