By Greg Wehner
(June 9, 2022) The purchase of a 95.6-acre property in Berlin for $7.15 million could face a challenge at the ballot box as a committee operating under a fiscal responsibility banner is closing in on the required number of signatures to take the acquisition to referendum.
The People for Fiscal Responsibility committee out of Ocean Pines announced this week that its petition efforts for the first required period were successful. “In [a] little over three weeks our volunteers collected 3,064 valid signatures representing over 68 percent of the total number required,” Slobodan Trendid, a spokesperson for the committee said in a memo dated June 3. “We are proud of our collective team efforts and humbled by the responses received from the residents of the communities in our county.”
On April 19, the Worcester County Commissioners voted to purchase the nearly 100-acre parcel of land situated to the west of Stephen Decatur High School. The money will come out of the $11.2 million in bonds earmarked for financing a portion of the costs associated with designing, engineering, construction, equipping, and furnishing of a potential sports complex.
But the vote for the purchase was not unanimous. Commissioners Chip Bertino, Jim Bunting, and Ted Elder voted against it.
Bertino, at the time, said he was against it because he did not want the taxpayers to pay for the project, and Bunting said he was afraid it would become a wasted investment.
Although a commissioner majority voted to approve the purchase, a provision in the county government code allows decisions by the commissioners to be voted on in a referendum, providing the requisite number of registered voters sign a petition demanding it.
“Our petition is designed to trigger a referendum regarding the county’s plan to issue a general obligation bond to fund a portion of costs related to the sports complex,” Trendic said. “Signing our petition is not a vote for or against the project. The petition simply brings the issue to the voters to decide.”
Trendid and the committee have until July 1 to collect at least 2,000 additional signatures to move closer to getting the issue on the ballot.
Volunteers plan to blanket the county in search for signatures, while also attending the Ocean Pines Farmers Market every Saturday, and Berlin Farmers Market on Sundays.
In order to get a referendum on the ballot, petitioners must collect 10 percent of the registered voters in the county. The committee, in this case, had 40 days to collect half of the signatures, sort of as a down payment, and another 40 days to collect the remaining 50 percent of the required signatures.
Once garnered, the measure would be automatically added to the ballot unless the commissioners abandon the purchase.