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From the Desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(12/2012) I hope everyone has had a safe and happy Thanksgiving and is now looking forward to a joyous Christmas season spent with family and friends! I know I will enjoy a few extra days of vacation and the opportunity to relax at home. If you need to travel, please take your time in the coming and going!

Back on February 20, the Board approved a number of actions meant to breathe some life back into the Emmitsburg Afterschool Program –a three night per week, October through March, activity program intended to provide some outlet for local children during the winter months when it’s typically too dark or cold to play outside. Activities take place in the Community Building gym. Participation had fallen from nearly forty children to just nine after a participation fee of $35 was created in 2009 following the loss of grant funding.

Early this year the Board removed the fee and added town funding in preparation for the Fall 2012 program. We were forced to cap participation at twenty children should demand again rise. Well, the good news is that the program did bounce back. There were over thirty applicants for the twenty available spaces this October. The Board had asked that grant opportunities be identified, allowing for greater enrollment, and the program administrators brought back a number of possibilities. On November 19, the Board voted in favor of town staff making some applications.

This unfortunately led to a bit of a "dust up" since Mayor Briggs appears to feel we don’t have the resources to pursue anything beyond the current town square design efforts. I just don’t understand how with eight employees in the town office and two involved (albeit part time) with the Afterschool program we can’t dedicate some time over the next few months to pursue grants for the October 2013 "class." Obtaining some grant funding might allow us to grow the activity back to serving forty Emmitsburg kids. This would be a concrete benefit.

Regarding the "Design for Emmitsburg Square" project, it did move forward through a number of November meetings. At the November 5 town meeting, a contract proposal with a Baltimore based design firm was approved. $48,000 had been budgeted by the Board for the project - $28,000 from grant funds and up to $20,000 in town funds or in kind services such as staff time. The contract was approved based on a bid of approximately $42,000. By mid-month, a number of meetings were held between the Mayor and town staff, the consultant and business owners and residents.

Additional public presentations will take place in early December in order to communicate the results of the design work. At this time, no public plan has been formulated, much less approved, to implement any recommended changes. While the project has been presented as a town square redesign, I found at two meetings I attended, there is also a large focus on possible modifications up and down Main Street as well as securing additional parking in the Main Street area.

This project, in combination with the yet to be approved state funds for façade improvement throughout the historic district, has been touted as an economic development plan by Mayor Briggs. Under scrutiny, terms such as "community development" have started to be used by the Mayor instead. In truth, this second description may be more accurate because simple Main Street "beautification" won’t resolve the underlying issues standing in the way of economic growth along the Main Street corridor.

The majority of Main Street businesses are run by local owners committed to operating in Emmitsburg – come what may. To widen participation and bring in more new owners, town government needs to address a number of key issues standing in the way.

One, of course, involves the number of places to open a new business. Some recent success stories have simply bought homes and converted them to commercial uses – which the Village Zone category does promote. However, a substantial number of properties on Main Street are multi-unit rentals. We should find a way to promote the transition of some of these units to commercial use – perhaps with small businesses on the ground floor and rentals above, just as you see on Market Street in Frederick.

In addition we need to address our regulatory framework. At the November 19 town meeting, I questioned why a local business was charged $637 for the ‘zoning certificate’ required to obtain a Frederick County building permit – while a homeowner with a similar need was only charged $54. I was concerned why a business owner would pay almost twelve times more for the same document. The answer is simply that the business project COSTS more – so the town takes a bigger fee even though there is no more effort evaluating or approving the business project than the homeowner project.

This makes such a fee nothing more than a penalty. The response that a business in some other town might also have to pay a similar fee doesn’t cut it. Perhaps if these issues didn’t exist here, we might actually be MORE attractive as a business destination? The hard reality is that businesses make their decisions based on cost – not beauty. Having a nice façade on the building can’t hurt, but it’s not going to outweigh silly fees…

As always, I encourage you to contact your local officials to share your opinions! Sincerely, Chris Staiger.

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