Culver offers upbeat report on State of the County

When it came time for Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver to report on the State of the County, he chose the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon as his forum.

In four weeks, Culver will mark a year since his election; four weeks after that, he will mark a year in office.

His report to the business establishment: The county is doing well under his leadership.

“You want to know today how the county’s doing, and I have to tell you it couldn’t be doing better considering the circumstances we’ve faced over past five to seven years.”

Culver pointed to positive news out of New York City, where the county received good reviews from the bond houses that rate the county for its loan portfolios.

Fitch Ratings said Wicomico maintained its AA/Stable rating and commented:

“Management’s conservative budgeting practices and recent revenue enhancements have resulted in historically positive operating results, ample reserve levels and strong liquidity. The county’s charter limitations have not hampered financial performance, and revenue and spending flexibility remains available.”

Moody’s affirmed its Aa2 rating and commented: “The Aa2 rating reflects the county’s sound financial reserve position, which is bolstered by strong management and formal fiscal policies. The rating also incorporates the county’s sizable, albeit rural, tax base that has begun to stabilize following a period of moderate declines and its position as an economic center for the Delmarva Peninsula.”

Though the county received similar positive feedback a year ago, Culver appeared proud to have received the expert feedback.

He told the Chamber members that he’s on course to increase the county’s reserve fund ─ which officials had to tap into in recent years ─ by $3.6 million. He also reviewed cuts he imposed after assuming office.

Previously, county workers received paid days off on their birthdays; Culver said cutting that perk has saved $180,000 a year. He said eliminating take-home cars saved $21,000 in the first four months of his administration.

He was complimentary of several county departments’ performance, praising Recreation, Parks and Tourism for the successful summer softball tournament it organized with Worcester County, calling it “a $29 million economic stimulus” for the two counties.

Culver said Parks and Rec, which manages the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center, is embarking on a remodeling of the facility, which will cost roughly $3 million. Among the improvements: The arena will have all new seats, which will cost between $1.6 million to $1.8 million.

Culver said he was happy that marketers had been able to get two high school proms back in the Civic Center.

“I think we all agree we want to see the first name in Wicomico Youth and Civic Center being youth ─ we want to make sure we see the youth use this place. Getting the proms back in here has been a big plus.”

The executive praised the County Council for extending moratorium on building impact fees. He said under the initial phase of the moratorium, 74 permits were issued, he said, representing $10.6 million worth of housing construction that will add roughly $200,000 into the tax base.

He said another 67 permits for houses totaling $8 million to $9 million had also been approved.

“That’s another $180,000 to us,” he said, “so we’ve increased our tax base to Wicomico County by approximately $380,000 $400,000 by not doing anything but making (the county government) user friendly and business friendly.”

Being a business event, Culver talked at length about his efforts to create a county Business Development Office. He has rented new office space in Downtown Salisbury and is working to hire someone to lead the department and economic development effort.

He said his mission was to work with the public/private Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development Inc. to add and retain industry.

“This is our own economic develop effort, in conjunction with and complementing SWED,” he said.

Culver said he expects to hire a director by Dec. 5, and expects the office in the former PNC Bank building on North Division Street to open by January.

Quality Linen Services in west Salisbury is about to add employees, Culver said, and that’s a good sign for the local economy.

“It will bring 40 to 45 jobs into Wicomico County,” said Culver. “No, they’re not $20-an-hour jobs, but they’re the kind of jobs we need. When building a job base in Wicomico County, you’ve got to build the bottom of the pyramid. You need the good base jobs to go up and work on getting the $20 and $25 hour jobs.”

Culver made some news with plans to enhance Cedar Hill Park in Tyaskin.

“We want to make it like Janes Island State Park, with tiny houses that can be rented,” he said. “There would be a slip for your boat, you can fish ─ maybe we can get people to move here.”

He also said plans were being considered to develop Pirates Wharf, which he called “another great piece of land,” along the Wicomico River between Quantico and Whitehaven. “On that, we’re thinking of doing a higher-end campground,” he said.

The County Executive also reviewed his sometime strained relationship with the Board of Education and its administration, but sounded a complimentary tone. He said his regular meetings with school officials had helped matters and he saluted recent efforts to reduce construction costs for replacing West Salisbury Elementary School.

He said he will encourage the County Council to approve a new school costing $13.5 million, and offered direct praise to the school board’s Facilities Director.

“Mr. (Brian) Foret over at the Board of Education has done a great job to make it work,” Culver said. “They’ve sharpened their pencils, the council sharpened their pencils. It’s a good relationship. It’s a good working relationship with the Board of Education and I thank everyone on the board for that.”

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