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Issues

In my opinion, the biggest issues facing Worcester County currently are:

* First responder funding:  With more and more people discovering that Worcester County is a wonderful place to live, this raises the challenges of policing and emergency response times being negatively affected due to inadequate funding.  We need to ensure that our county is safe, no matter in which end you live.

* Comprehensive rezoning and growth planning:  With our explosive growth in the county, infrastructure needs arise.  Planned infrastructure and controlled growth needs to be on the minds of all leadership within the county.  Many of our sewer systems are at or nearing capacity in the north end of the county.  To plan for this growth, we need to plan for the basic needs of our citizens.  This would include new sewer and water facilities in areas which we would like this growth to occur.  Neighboring states growth has exploded without proper planning and I do not want to see that happen in this beautiful place we call home.

* Educational Funding:   The Worcester County Public School System is the reason many families move to our county.  With many Blue Ribbon accredited schools, families strive to make Worcester County home. With the influx of new families, our class sizes are growing year after year and we will soon be bursting at the seams. Raising the revenue to properly fund our school systems and keep our exemplary reputation needs to be a high priority when making budget decisions. It took many years to build such an amazing school system and leadership will need to find ways to keep the momentum as class sizes continue to increase.

 * School Achievement and Safety -  ALL children, faculty, and staff should be able to work and learn in a SAFE environment every single day.  Also, with HR oversight, we need to create an employee recruitment and retention division whose sole purpose is to hire and follow up with employees to address any needs or issues that may arise. Employee benefits which include insurance and retirement packages are expensive but necessary to recruit and retain employees. My family relies on the county’s health benefits as my wife is a third-grade teacher at OCES.  I can tell you first hand that my wife is an employee of the county not only for her love of teaching and students, but for the retirement package that was started for her fourteen years ago. Currently, our new teachers are asked to contribute much more to their insurance benefits and receive less services that teachers hired prior have as they are grandfathered into the old system.  When commissioners are looking at line items the expense of employee benefits are an easy target to close a budget deficit. This leads to poor employee morale and allows private sector employers a substantial advantage when recruiting new hires. Job security and benefits have been the main recruiting tool for municipalities for decades.  When you eliminate key recruiting tools, it makes it nearly impossible to recruit and retain the high-quality employees that our students and county in general deserve.

* Sports Complex-Due diligence is a process that occurs in the private sector as well as municipalities.  Excitement cannot blind us.  Emotions are strong. They can sometimes make us act before we explore all avenues. A sports complex in Worcester County is a phenomenal idea.  It is an opportunity for all children to have a first class facility and give children that cannot afford to play travel sports the same opportunities as those who can.  I am one hundred percent for the sports complex, but not as it stands. Due diligence needs to be done.  When I am looking at a commercial piece of property to invest in, I consider all the same factors that commissioners need to consider when spending taxpayers hard earned money.  This is a basic list of central steps that were skipped:  1. How are we getting into the property?  With Seahawk Road over crowded and Flower Street being a residential local throughway creating a large commercial operation is irresponsible.  We cannot throw hundreds of cars a day onto Flower Street. 2.  Why do we need prime property at approximately $76,000 an acre when we can move a few miles down the road and purchase the same space for a third of the cost?  3.  Where are we getting water and sewer?  Have we asked Berlin town officials?  Have we even considered talking to our neighbors which already struggle with traffic related issues in the town on a daily basis?  4.  Storm water implications.  Where are we going to house, control and responsibly discharge the amount of storm water from such a massive facility? As you can see there are many questions that still require answers. I would love to extend the contract date to answer the due diligence questions that were not addressed in the hasty decision to write such a massive property contract with taxpayer dollars. I would vote against this current plan until my list of questions were answered.  A very expensive property that cannot be used for its intended use would not only be a tax burden for us, but for our children.

*Planning and Zoning Restructure- In recent months, there has been a mass exodus in planning and zoning due to HR related issues. Planning and zoning is so difficult to work with that local business owners do not want to reinvest or schedule improvements thus hindering forward progress within the county.  Fixing the difficulties within planning and zoning will increase the tax base which is the main income generator for Worcester County. With phase in three year assessments averaging 20% increase in value per property, this reassessment alone will generate considerable revenue.  Allowing planning and zoning to both run more efficiently as well as a more desirable entity to work with, reassessments on properties with major improvements will also assist in increasing revenue county wide. 

*Cohesion and accountability amongst the commissioners to obtain common goals -It is human nature that everyone has their own opinions.  As leaders, our job description requires us to possess the skills to collaborate with department heads, obtain common goals for the county, and the ability to prioritize them as needed.  With my 25 years of management skills and 22 years as a business owner, I will bring a unique skill set to the commissioners. I will respect everyone’s opinion and channel compromise while achieving a positive outcome for all involved.  In prior years, internal conflict hindered progress.  A skilled manager can take all opinions, weigh them equally with respect, and extract the best points to bring them together for a solution that benefits all parties involved.

* Current Tax Structure- Over the next three years, we need to reevaluate the tax structure. Worcester County is such a great place to live and work.  Many families have generational properties that have been handed down through the years.  These properties have never changed hands which leaves a large gap between neighboring properties that have been reassessed using contract selling prices as a basis for tax liability increases. A prime example is in rural parts of the county, there is a piece of property that has the exact same taxable structures, but the adjacent property is paying one fifth of the assessed value of its neighbor.  This is a massive loss of tax revenue as well as a disservice to property owners that are paying their fair share while their neighbors are not. With three-year assessments already released, this could be a solution that would be extended into the fourth year of my term.  Tackling such a large task, will take a substantial amount of time, but will be of huge benefit to county funding in the future for education as well as other necessary services.

* Affordable Housing -  Affordable housing is a necessity to provide a safe, stress-free environment for our low-income families/students.   As a county, we need to liaison our lower income families with resources to help bridge the gap between current programs in place that offer these families a stepping stone for long term stability through education and training.  About every employer in Worcester County is looking for additional employees. We need to find a way to connect these businesses with the families in need. 

* County Employee Loyalty, Retention, and Recruitment -  Insurance/retirement benefits have been cut and the cost of the benefits provided has increased.  Those benefits were crucial in hiring and retaining employees. Offer impressive insurance and retirement benefits and you will no longer have concerns with recruitment or retention.

Sheri Conner Treasurer, Citizens for Eric Fiori 

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