Hi – this is Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger. I am pleased to present my 2022 State of the County Address. Thank you for joining me as I share some of the highlights from this past year.
With the most recent variant of COVID-19 having peaked in Maryland, I’m hopeful that as we collectively return to health, we will soon be gathering in-person again…AND that this will be the last address I have to deliver VIRTUALLY. This is my second State of the County address since taking office, and I remain so inspired by the strength and tenacity of our families, neighbors, and businesses here—especially as we continue to face challenges resulting from the pandemic.
Together, in spite of the virus, we have taken remarkable steps to protect our economy and our quality of life in Cecil County. For these reasons I am pleased to report that the state of our county is resilient, and poised for even greater success. The individuals who live and work here are smart, tough, and determined. It has been an honor and privilege over this past year to serve you and to lead a government that supports your families and your businesses.
Since the beginning of my term, I have made it my mission to create an environment in our county where people can succeed and businesses can thrive— where people can go as far and as high as their hard work and determination will take them. And where your government is open, transparent, efficient, and works for you! We all know that government doesn’t create jobs, and it doesn’t create success or wealth or health. People do that. And your government CAN and SHOULD create a climate where people are free to do it—where we remove barriers to success and help all people advance.
That’s why I’m proud that my administration enacted the first tax cut in Cecil County Charter Government history. This cut to the tax rate, for both residents and businesses, was made possible by prudent spending decisions and conservative fiscal practices. It wasn’t easy instituting this cut, especially since we started with a budget that was not our own. But I made a promise before I took office to cut wasteful spending and lower tax burdens. I am proud to have kept that promise. Remarkably, through creative cost savings and smart consolidation we were able to bolster the county’s rainy day and reserve funds at the same time.
My first budget was also unanimously passed by the county council and I thank them for that vote. This is encouraging progress for our community. And with Cecil County becoming a more and more dynamic place to live, work, and do business, there is even more on the horizon. It should come as no surprise that we are attracting new attention from the business community. Whether it is new companies moving here, businesses expanding, the revitalization of our main streets, or the success of our agribusiness, Cecil County is experiencing never-before-seen economic growth.
Last July, in 2021, Northrup Grumman broke ground on its sixty-thousand square foot “Hypersonic Center of Excellence,” which will generate design, development, production, and integration of next generation hypersonic defense technology. In laymen’s terms: that means ROCKETS! The project will bring hundreds of new jobs to our area. Biopharmaceutical company Clene Nanomedicine also continues the renovation of its future production facility in the former WL Gore Plant, where it plans to hire five hundred workers by 2025. Clene is on the verge of changing pharmaceutical science, and their arrival represents a big win in the early steps of our intentional plan to expand the pharmaceutical industry’s footprint in the northeast—growing the sector right here in Cecil County. The company, which had the honor of ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange earlier this month, was courted by jurisdictions all over the country. They selected our region because of the availability of our highly skilled workforce and the support they received from the State of Maryland and Cecil County government.
We also look forward to welcoming the Maryland Five-Star international equestrian event back to Fair Hill this Fall. Attendance in 2021 for this four-day elite sporting event exceeded expectations during its first year, with more than 21,000 tickets sold. The event featured 184 competitors from all over the world and brought in more than 13,000 visitors from out of state who shopped, dined, lodged, and supported our local businesses. I’m pleased to report that the organizing committee has already hosted their first kickoff and planning meeting for the 2022 Maryland Five-Star at Fair Hill. We are excited to showcase this world-class competition again for the next four years.
This year, Cecil County will also host the 2022 Bassmaster Upper Chesapeake Open. The September angling tournament marks its first return to the Chesapeake Bay since 2010 and will bring spectators from all over the country. As we continue to attract large events to Cecil County, we are also leading advancements in broadband and hospitality that not only accommodate these annual engagements, but also provide support for our community year-round.
The largest Great Wolf Lodge in America, which boasts 700 family-friendly suites, and a 126,000 square-foot indoor waterpark on 40 acres, is on track to open its doors next year—creating 850 new jobs locally. Currently, 95 percent of all Cecil County homes have access to broadband, with projects under consideration that will bring this number up to 99.7 percent in the next twenty-four months which will make broadband available to our residents, businesses, non-profits and government. This elevates our county into the top tier of broadband coverage in the state. Historically, it was up to individual property owners to make arrangements with the local provider to bring broadband from the street into their home or business. However, the current grants that are on the horizon will ensure that no house is left behind AND my administration is seeking ways to defray the cost of getting broadband into homes that previously had broadband running to their property, but the distance from their home to the access point was prohibitively expensive. In addition, just last year, the Cecil County Public School System purchased hotspots and laptops with high-speed internet connections so that every student in the County can have the tools necessary for success in their education in today’s world.
Turning now to improvements in our government management and operations, I am pleased to note that in the biennial bond market review conducted by the County with S&P and Moody’s, we received ratings from both agencies of AA+ and Aa2—the highest achievable for our county, based on population; indicating strong budgetary performance, even in the face of COVID-19. While borrowing is appropriate for investing in the County’s infrastructure and future, we must also dutifully and responsibly protect our long-term financial security through smart savings. That’s why last May, I went to the County Council to seek permission to refinance our bonds, in order to take advantage of historically low interest rates. After approval by the Council our Department of Finance went to the bond market to refinance. The County was able to successfully refinance one hundred fifteen million dollars in bonds and significantly lower the County’s interest rates on bond debt. The County’s General Obligation Public Improvement Bonds’ interest rate was reduced from 3.47 percent to 2.03 percent. Also, the County’s General Obligation Consolidated Refunding Bonds’ interest rate was reduced from 3.47 percent to 2.11 percent. The reduction of these interest rates is expected to save the County 28.5 million dollars over the next 12 years.
This refinancing and bond review could not have been accomplished without the hard work our Department of Finance. To that end, I want to highlight the important role that a skilled and competent workforce plays in carrying out the duties of the County Government. Cecil County has some of the most dedicated and professional public servants. However, we struggle with hiring staff, especially with increases to the cost-of-living and run-away inflation. Over the last fifteen years, the cost-of-living outpaced pay adjustments in Cecil County. To protect our workforce, I granted a one-time, six percent cost-of-living salary adjustment for all non-union County employees. I am proud that we were able to accomplish this while also lowering taxes at the same time.
Furthermore, we were able to provide targeted pay adjustments and bonuses to hard-hit sectors, particularly our County’s first responders who are critical to ensuring the safety and well-being of Cecil County citizens. For our employees in public safety that are represented by three County Unions, I authorized salary increases and bonuses. We provided additional STEP raises to our 911 dispatchers, bringing their compensation into alignment with the state average. Our dispatchers work long hours under extraordinary stresses as the first line of defense in keeping Cecil residents safe. I am proud that we can celebrate their contributions by compensating them appropriately.
And to assist Sheriff Scott Adams, who is responsible for the County Detention Center, I provided him funds to pay sign-on and retention bonuses to attract and sustain the manpower and lady power so vital to keeping the detention center fully staffed. The Correctional Officers’ union also agreed to a first-ever contract with the County for four years. Likewise, the Fraternal Order of Police also agreed to an historic four-year contract. Four-year contracts offer stability and financial consistency, and they help to ensure a good working relationship with our union members. The new pay increases and sign-on bonuses we established for our Sheriff’s deputies will help attract new recruits, and properly compensate those who put their lives on the line every day to protect Cecil County residents.
With all of that said, we cannot reduce crime if we are not prosecuting criminals to the fullest extent of the law. Therefore, we made certain that prosecutors in our State’s Attorney’s Office were also provided pay increases. Ensuring that we have skilled and motivated prosecutors in the State’s Attorney’s Office, is vital to holding criminals accountable and keeping our communities safe. Additionally, under my Fiscal Year 2022 budget, I provided funding for the first-ever Domestic Violence Unit. Just during September to December, the DVU has handled 89 cases. this Unit has focused on ensuring justice for survivors of domestic abuse with significant contact between the office and survivors of domestic violence. A multi-disciplinary team was created linking the Bridge (which is the County’s Domestic Violence Shelter) and the States Attorney’s Office to provide a better approach to victim services and prosecutions.
The State’s Attorney also initiated a Gun Violence Task Force this summer working to combat Gun Violence and crime in Cecil County. A minimum of 50 illegal firearms were seized, and with that, nearly 60 pounds of controlled dangerous substances were seized and taken off the streets. 20 arrests were made as a result of this task force- a collaborative effort with local, state, and county Law Enforcement Officers. I am committed to working with Sheriff Adam’s and State’s Attorney James Delmyer to make sure we are prosecuting and jailing violent criminals and at the same time working to rehabilitate non-violent offenders.
As noted, One of the primary duties of government is to keep our communities safe. And as such, I have also re-instated the EMS Advisory Board, which ensures strong working relationships between our Department of Emergency Services and Volunteer Fire Companies. We have nine outstanding volunteer fire companies and we provide them with over 5 million dollars in direct funding and equipment each year. I am grateful to these men and women who donate their time and abilities to helping our citizens. I also want to point out that we took the first step in reducing the ambulance response time in the County. To supplement the efforts of the Cecilton, Hack’s Point and Chesapeake City fire companies, I authorized the purchase of an ambulance to be staffed 24 hours a day. This purchase will cut down response time and reduce our reliance on the Kent County, Maryland and State of Delaware’s ambulance services. Again, reducing the time it takes to meet someone in need with a lifesaving apparatus.
In addition to cultivating resources and professional talent in our County offices and FIRST response corps, we are taking steps to FURTHER improve how we respond to your needs by modernizing our technology to better serve our business owners, workers, and residents. Our recently launched OpenGov platform will allow residents and business owners to access government services entirely online, including permitting, plans review, utility, tax payment, and more. This will streamline many of our services while saving you tax dollars. We also launched a new communications system—GovDelivery. GovDelivery will allow you to sign up to receive updates, from Cecil County Government and our Departments to your email or phone, via text message. As we expand our notification options, you will be able to pinpoint what content and updates you want to receive and how you receive them. Keeping citizens informed is vital for our operation, whether it’s a road closure notification, a tourism event announcement, or an animal service initiative. There are many achievements to celebrate.
While many counties across the country saw unemployment rise, especially during the last year, more than 1,000 people returned to work in Cecil County between June and November 2021. Last year we repaved 4 miles of road, as well as replaced the crumbling and dilapidated Baliff Road bridge. I am also pleased that we have kept the Belvidere Road I-95 interchange progressing on schedule. The Governor, in a meeting with myself and Maryland Transportation Secretary Jim Ports said that we will break ground by fall of 2022. In addition, we recently secured funding for the Belvidere Road Gap—the section of road between the Belvidere Railroad Bridge and I-95 that has long needed improvement. This could have cost the County millions of dollars to upgrade this half mile section of road. Fortunately, through efforts with Governor Hogan and Congressman Harris, we have been awarded a grant that will cover eighty percent of the cost of this section.
As we talk about roadways, I would be remiss if I did not express my disappointment with the County Council for not supporting my partnership with the State of Maryland to move the toll gantry to a location just north of Bouchelle Rd on I-95. Such a move would’ve greatly benefited the citizens of Cecil County who pay the toll everyday as they travel outside of our county for work. By a 3-2 Council Vote, the Council voted to remove our share of the NEPA study from the budget, which is the required first step. Nevertheless, I want to thank former Councilman George Patchell and current Council Vice President Jackie Gregory for their support on that initiative. On a more encouraging note, we also opened a new and long-needed modern wastewater treatment facility in Port Deposit. The Facility was crucial to getting the long-abandoned Bainbridge property developed – a 20 yr goal, as Bainbridge is a huge swath of land that’s contamination required a concerted effort from many partners and has been spearheaded by the Bainbridge development Corporation. I am happy to announce that two months ago, we signed an agreement with Bainbridge to begin the first phase of building 3.7 million square feet in new development—a project that will bring thousands of jobs to the County.
Part of the Bainbridge property includes the Historic Tome School and Olmstead gardens. My administration will not support that portion of the property being consumed by big business plans for warehouses. We are excited to continue discussions with the BDC about what the Tome school property can become for the community. In keeping with the Maryland historical trust we will work to preserve this iconic piece of our history. Thinking now about the county’s more than seventy-three thousand acres of farmland, we must remain mindful to preserve our rich agricultural economy and heritage here.
Last October, the County Council approved my bill to stop the unchecked placement of solar power stations on agricultural land. The new law is one of the most comprehensive in the state and requires large buffers, bonds to ensure cleanup, and minimum parcel sizes. it greatly limits what can be done on Class A agricultural land. It was a team effort and I appreciate the Council’s support of my legislation. Listen, I support solar and clean energy, but not at the expense of protecting our farms and bounty they provide us.
While much has been accomplished in the year since my last address, there is still more to do in service to you and to our communities. COVID-19 continues to make the headlines, but we are also battling another health crisis here in Cecil County. The Opioid Epidemic continues to be a major issue—plaguing our communities and tearing families apart. After a devastating year of Opioid deaths and overdoses in 2020, I found it imperative to bring the opioid issue back to the forefront.
I am happy to report that overdose and death statistics declined in 2021. HOWEVER, I will not be satisfied until the number is zero and we have altogether eradicated the horrors of opioid abuse from Cecil County. With that goal in mind, my Administration hosted an Opioid Summit last March, bringing together health professionals, individuals in recovery, government officials, community partners, and law enforcement to discuss the opioid crisis and deliberate on solutions. It is Critical that Cecil works together to solve this issue, so having all the stakeholders together—public, non-profit, and private—was essential. The summit fostered genuine conversation on ways to collaborate, current practices and resources, barriers, ideas to overcome those barriers, and how best to share data and information between stakeholders.
Following this Summit, I relaunched the County’s Opioid Intervention Team, which had not been in operation since 2019- of which I am an active member. Based on reports from the Opioid Summit, my Opioid Transition Committee, and the Pandit Group—all of which are available on the Cecil County Government website—the Opioid Intervention Team created a list of goals and strategic priorities for the County. Those goals are to: Reduce the number of overdose deaths in Cecil County; Increase the number of people receiving evidence-based treatment and recovery services; Foster a culture of health including mental wellness and substance use prevention; Develop a comprehensive data management and program evaluation system to inform services and track outcomes; Improve access to treatment programs, recovery services, and support for families and professionals; Reduce stigma associated with mental health conditions and substance use; and improve and enhance collaborative efforts between community partners and systems. These objectives were created to steer the development of a County-wide action plan to combat opioids, which we will announce in the coming months.
Turning once more to our economy, I look forward to being able to cut property taxes even further in fiscal year 2023. YOU know how best to use your hard-earned money, and how to invest in and grow our economy. And during this time of economic uncertainty and rising inflation, it is imperative that local government does what it can to offer relief. Think about what more money in your pocket will mean for you, for your family, for your work, and for your community. It means that more people will be able to afford their bills and spend money in our economy. It means that tax revenue from that spending will support things like improvements in infrastructure and education. With that increased revenue for roads and schools, parents will be able to safely drive their kids to classes that have re-opened for in-person learning.
These and more are all things I look forward to continuing to work toward and improve on in service as your County Executive. Last year, I promised to have your back no matter what, and today I make that commitment once more. I encourage you to reach out to me and to my team when you need us—that’s why you elected me! We look forward to troubleshooting with you through challenges, And assisting where possible as you pursue your ambitions. We ESPECIALLY look forward to hearing about your successes. A special thanks for tuning in today and taking an interest in the future of your government and your community. I assure you my administration is FOR the people. But remember, government is always stronger when it is BY the people. Thank you.