An evening (and day) at the Wicomico County Fair in pictures and text

While its root event, the former Wicomico Farm and Home Show, would have celebrated its 80th anniversary last year, the Wicomico County Fair officially celebrated its third edition in the county’s sesquicentennial year. As I sometimes do, this post will meander between photos and text to tell its story.

We actually attended all three days of the WCF, although Friday was just for a brief stop to see how our photos did.

Do you see the purple ribbon signifying Best in Show? One of mine is next to that on the left, just one of the also-rans. Kim had two of hers place in their categories, but that was about it between the three of us. I thought I had some nice photos, but I guess the judges liked others better.

So that was the extent of our Friday, although our daughter stayed to watch the concert (from local boy gone Nashville Jimmy Charles) and fireworks.

Now that we knew the fate of our entries, we came back on Saturday to see one of our favorite events at the WCF, Cowboy Mounted Shooting.

When the WCF became a fair in 2015, this was an event that was brought in. It’s probably the biggest draw they have as the bleachers are usually well-filled to watch this competition, which is one of a handful of fairs the local Mason Dixon Deputies group does around the region. Of the evening shots I took I thought this was the best.

Once the competition stage was over – each runs about an hour, give or take – I decided to get off my behind and walk around.

I did so only to find that a lot of the WCF was hidden across the road behind the rides.

I found several vendors and some other attractions not easily found by the casual visitor.

Because the Cowboy Mounted Shooting runs its own soundtrack (a surprising mix of country, classic rock, and a little bit of other stuff) I didn’t hear the bands until I was almost on top of them. This one was called Rip Tide, which played a few classic rock staples to close their act.

As we had a bite to eat from the (somewhat limited) selection of vendors back there, this group called Swamp Donkey took the stage as we ate. They were in the same vein as a number of albums I’ve reviewed over the last couple years – sort of a mix of country, Americana, and roots rock. The band sure put a spin on Pink Floyd, though.

This photo was just a cool shot that provides a transition break.

On Sunday we were there before noon in order to hear Pastor Oren Perdue preach, with a message gleaned from the Book of Amos. It’s not one of the more studied books, but he made the message interesting. (If your child attends the Summer Fun camp at Salisbury Baptist, you’ll know who Pastor Perdue is because he runs the Friday evening rodeo. That’s how Kim met him.)

Since we started from the side I’d seen the evening before, we made our way back. This train wasn’t doing much, nor had it the evening before.

I noticed the ride price had been changed to “free,” which helps make a point I’ll return to in a bit.

And if it’s a agricultural event in this county, you’ll see one company there almost every time.

I liked this truck better, though.

That blue-and-yellow Perdue label was found a lot, not to mention the orange and green of competing tractor companies, too.

The orange ones did more work, as their local outlet was a sponsor of the mounted shooting.

The state of Maryland even had its nose in with an agriculture RV.

Cops on one side, fish on the other: the state was well-represented.

You could even find a few non-native beasts.

And here’s a clash of cultures: a cowgirl on her smart phone.

Day 2 of the CMS competition was packing them in again. And I swear I didn’t touch the second shot, but I used it solely because that point of light was in a rather interesting place.

Yet the mounted shooters weren’t the only equestrians there, as much of the grounds were taken up for more traditional competition.

And I don’t think there’s much call to remove this plaque from their venue.

Nor would it be a fair without barnyard animals.

Look, I grew up in a rural county so I’m aware of the extent 4-H is still popular among the youth here. Inside the Carriage House was their competition field (as well as that for the rest of us) in arts, crafts, and yummy looking items from the gardens and kitchens of Wicomico County.

I was disappointed by the truck show, though. It wasn’t what I was expecting – these would have been nice additions to some classic old restored Big Three trucks and maybe a few Jeeps and imports. Not just a handful of work trucks.

And while it wasn’t unexpected, we arrived too late on Saturday to see LG Boyd Rutherford. In fact, I really didn’t see many candidates pressing the flesh at the WCF when I was there, even though the local GOP was in its usual place. Most of them participated in the Saturday afternoon parade, then skipped out to other events, I guess.

The only candidate with a regular presence there was Jamie Dykes, a Republican running for State’s Attorney. Granted, she was very diligent about being there and engaging voters.

Next year, however, the joint will be crawling with them. I wonder if they will resurrect the buffalo chip tossing I once participated in as someone on the ballot to be elected.

But if I were to make a suggestion for next year, it would be to somehow better tie in the two sides of the fair. Because of the lay of the land, the poor vendors on the east side of the road had hardly any foot traffic (and at least one I spoke to complained about the lack of it.) Maybe the rides need to go at the very end, with the beer garden and vendor row placed closer to the center. In fact, I was told by city councilman Muir Boda (who I did see there) that the dunking booth the Jaycees were sponsoring was vandalized overnight on Saturday. So something needs to be done about that issue.

Once they got through the sauna of Friday evening (and the monsoon that followed, luckily after the fair ended) though, the weather turned out near-perfect. It looked like they had great crowds, the likes of which I haven’t seen before at the Fair (or especially its predecessor Farm and Home Show, which was about on its last legs.) So if they can get the siting issue fixed for next year (a large map would definitely help!) they may have a strong event worthy of the county it represents.

Yes, it’s still “drill, baby, drill”

I ran across an interesting piece of polling thanks to the Energy Tomorrow blog. Their American Petroleum Institute parent group commissioned a Harris Poll of likely voters in four states – Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia – and asked them a series of questions to gauge their support for offshore drilling. As I would expect, the topline numbers showing support for the practice are quite solid, ranging from 64% in Florida to 77% in South Carolina. (Virginia weighed in at 67% and North Carolina at 65%, so it worked out to roughly 2/3 overall.)

But before you assume this is going to be another shill for offshore drilling (which I indeed support) I wanted to point out a glaring flaw in the poll methodology. For example, read through the Virginia polling data and see if you can figure out what’s missing. I’ll give you a second.

The first piece of the puzzle I would have liked to see would be a breakdown of support in coastal areas vs. inland. Using Virginia as an example, it would be nice to know how the question did in the 757 area code, which covers the Norfolk area and the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I would bet that support in that particular area was closer to 50-50, if not slightly negative.

But the key omission was the question: “Would you support offshore drilling off the coastline of your state?” The API’s point is that much of our coastline is off-limits to drilling because of shortsighted policies which ignore the overall safety record of the industry as well as the “peak oil” hysteria helped along by those same environmentalists who wouldn’t mind putting aquatic birds at risk with offshore wind turbines. But their point would have been buttressed even better if they had a clear majority of Virginians (or any other affected state) indicate that drilling off their coastline was an acceptable practice.

While these particular states were probably selected due to the length of their coastline, I wonder how Maryland and Delaware would feel with the same question posed to them. Granted, between the two there’s just 59 miles of Atlantic coastline but they indeed have oceanfront within both states so they could be hosting oil exploration and extraction in their waters someday. My guess is that they would still fall in the 60 percent range as far as drilling support, but only run 30-35% for drilling off their coastline. (A large part of that might be because so much of it is state- or federally-controlled parkland.)

Certainly it’s reassuring that offshore drilling still enjoys support after all its bad press over the last half-decade, but I’m not convinced the impetus is there yet for much motion on the issue. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the question is pretty much moot until 2017 at the earliest so we have time to create the necessary shift in public perception.

The O’Malley/Brown legacy: debt

At the most recent Wicomico County Republican Club meeting last Monday, gubernatorial candidate Ron George briefly mentioned that our state’s debt was cycling from a five-year payback to a fifteen-year payback, thanks to the desire of Martin O’Malley to keep annual debt service down and appear to balance the budget without further vast tax increases. George further expanded on this point in a release Thursday morning:

Delegate Ron George opposes Gov. Martin O’Malley’s increase in the state’s bond limit.

“I agree with Comptroller Franchot that we cannot afford more bond lending,” George remarked. “O’Malley is shifting today’s debt onto our children. He cannot fund the budget with existing revenue so he has backfilled the budget with bond bills.”

Delegate George also noted that it was the O’Malley/Brown administration who extended our debt service from 5 years to 15 years thus creating ever increasing future structural deficits.

The “out of left field request” for $750 million additional bond debt was made last Monday at a hastily-called Capital Debt Affordability Committee meeting, which also ran afoul of public meeting notice requirements – not that anyone else called O’Malley out for this violation, excused with the weak pabulum of “we overlooked that.” (Some seem more interested in $1,600 a particular Republican candidate is fighting over with the state.) Granted, $750 million over 15 years will not break the state’s $37 billion-plus annual budget, but we don’t yet know what they will spend it on.

At least Ron has room to talk: with the exception of Martin O’Malley’s very first budget – which was opposed by just five House GOP members – George has been a steadfast opponent of state spending over the years.

But the more important pieces of the puzzle come in the fact that it’s the piece of our property tax we turn over to the state which pays these bills, and unlike our local government’s revenue cap the state has no barrier to raising property taxes at any rate they wish. Currently, the state rate is 11.2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, a rate which has remained constant since fiscal year 2006. Since the state’s property tax was reformed in the 2000 legislative session, the rate has varied: 8.4 cents from FY2002-2003, 13.4 cents from FY2004-2005, and 11.2 cents since. For the owner of a home valued at $200,000, the state’s take is $224 a year – overall, the state derives around $750 million in revenue from property taxes.

By comparison, residents here in Wicomico County endured a county rate increase this year alone of 6.82 cents per $100 valuation, or $136.40 more from their pockets for a $200,000 home. In 2010, the rate was 75.9 cents per $100, now it’s 90.86 cents – in three years, the county’s increase has been higher than the state’s overall rate and is the largest increase from 2009-2013 in Maryland at almost 20 percent, despite the revenue cap. So it’s a sure bet the state can justify a nickel jump by stating it’s less than some counties fluctuate in a year’s time; this despite the fact four counties (Allegany, Baltimore City, Carroll, and GOP opponent David Craig’s Harford) have decreased their rate over the last half-decade while an additional seven have held the line.

So while Martin O’Malley can’t run a deficit in this state, he has the power to bond our children into submission and he appears to be using it to keep today’s bills paid.

Since it was Ron who brought up the subject of property taxes, perhaps a good question to ask is how he will reconcile this promise

Grow the tax base in Baltimore, allowing other jurisdictions to keep their money home for infrastructure and education needs.

…with the fact that Baltimore City has a property tax rate over double that of any other jurisdiction in the state, even as it’s decreased slightly over the last few years. Indeed, bringing it back to parity with other jurisdictions would be a major achievement but you can bet your bottom dollar Stephanie Rawlings-Blake would scream bloody murder and demand a state handout to make up the difference. But if I’m looking at property in Baltimore proper vs. suburban tracts, the taxes alone would be discouraging for urban development.

Then again, we know what “solution” the Democrats have in mind, and it involves more from our wallets.

Time for a guilt trip

I manage to somehow forget about this every year, but the Competitive Enterprise Institute reminded me once again that tomorrow is “World Car-Free Day.” (I should remember because I usually get a card or two, have some cake and/or go out to dinner on the same day WCFD is “celebrated.” Yep, 29 again.)

So how did the day which they share with me get selected? Well, like most liberal ideas it comes from Europe, where the date falls within its “European Mobility Week.” Their idea is for “encouraging European cities to promote (public transport, cycling, and walking) and to invest in the new necessary infrastructures.” CEI’s point is that the automobile is among the most liberating inventions ever created, allowing personal transport and freedom of mobility. Try taking a bus to the mall, grocery store, or your place of work on their schedule.

Surprisingly, the state of Maryland (which is led by a notoriously anti-growth, anti-freedom governor in Martin O’Malley) isn’t doing anything special for WCFD, but Montgomery County and the University of Maryland are. Washington, D.C. is also participating, with a mixture of private- and public-sector sponsors. (I’m definitely disappointed in the Washington Nationals’ participation, which makes little sense because they’re playing this week at Philadelphia. Did the players use public transit to get there?)

Certainly if someone wants to participate, well, more power to them. Walking or riding a bicycle presents health benefits, although those can be negated if you don’t follow basic traffic rules (walk outside travel lanes and against traffic but ride a bicycle with traffic. If there’s no dedicated bike lane, bicycles are entitled to the 3 feet of pavement closest to the extreme right-hand shoulder as I recall.) But the idea expressed in the Mobility Week credo is more the true aim of organizers – just read “invest in” as “subsidize” things like bike paths few use or mass transit that not many people ride because it’s not possible to take everyone from their thousands of different origins to thousands of different destinations. Even something which has point A to point B ridership, like Washington’s Metro system, still needs a heavy subsidy to survive.

Again, it all comes down to freedom. Having access to my car makes it possible for me to do my job because I cover a large geographic territory. But it also allows me to drive to a so-called “Smart Growthmeeting where I can say my piece and then come right home to write about it, without having to wait for a bus or traverse dark streets at night for an hour.

We already have restrictions on how fast we can travel and what we do within the car, but we still have that opportunity to get up and go where we need to when we want to. Others can be car-free for a day, a week, or even a lifetime, but don’t force me to do the same.

‘Buffett Rule’ = unintended consequences

Really – how dumb does President Obama think we are? He’s playing that old tired class envy card again.

His latest scheme goes like this:

Middle-class families shouldn’t have to pay a higher tax rate than millionaires and billionaires.

So President Obama has proposed the “Buffett Rule,” which would require the wealthiest Americans to pay a tax rate at least as high as the middle class. Republicans are already calling this “class warfare,” and they will fight this plan with everything they have.

Yeah, that will do wonders for investment and job creation. So I don’t call it ‘class warfare’, I call it ‘sheer stupidity.’

Continue reading “‘Buffett Rule’ = unintended consequences”

The federal land grab

Over the past few weeks there’s been a push to place more of the land below our feet under federal control.

Using the lure of potential tourism dollars, Democratic members of Congress from both Maryland and Delaware have submitted bills to set aside land for a national historical park – Maryland’s would honor Harriet Tubman while Delaware’s would encompass a number of the state’s historical sites. In particular, the Delaware lament is that they are the one state without a national park. (Hey, they’re also one of just five states where their state capital isn’t served by an interstate highway either, but I’m not seeing a clamor for something more important like that.)

Certainly there can be a case made that some historical areas are worth seeing and rank among the nation’s top tourist attractions. But the argument can and should be made that, if an area were worth preserving, it would have already been done by now. And, as fellow bloggers in both states point out, what other restrictions will be placed on those who live in areas surrounding the parks? In particular, Ann Corcoran speaks from experience, and as she notes:

I’m not saying economic development is bad.  It’s just that when governments and developers team up to cheat or trick landowners that’s where I object.  Our Founding Fathers would, I am positive, agree with me.

By the way, the strategy is always the same—they dupe those true historic preservation-minded citizens with this “preserving our heritage” mumbo jumbo into being shills for the plan.   What about our heritage of private property rights and limited government?

And a side note: remember awhile back when there was a development planned for a tiny sliver of the Blackwater area? Well, those 3200 homes and the golf course will be a distant memory now that the state has its clutches of the land, but perhaps the even more onerous taskmaster would be the federal government. They’ll allow the state its $8 million boondoggle that’s already in the works, but that’s about it. Isn’t it nice to have a park suitable for maybe a three-hour day trip but nowhere to stay or play nearby because the natural beauty of farmland must be preserved?

It’s worth pointing out too that the federal government already controls about a third of the land mass in the country, although the vast bulk of the area is west of the Mississippi. Yet they can’t maintain what they have, nor are they eager to allow mineral, coal, or fossil fuel exploration under their land (which could help defray part of their upkeep costs.) Although it’s doubtful we have that particular concern under the Delmarva Peninsula, the counties affected will have to deal with the projected vast increase in tourism without the help of the property taxes they may have collected from the government-owned land.

Sometimes the powers that be just do something because they can. The state already has its mitts on the most important part of the Tubman area and presumably the same situation applies in Delaware for its historical sites. To me, that’s plenty enough protection – we don’t need Fedzilla telling us what to do as well.

If anything, let’s start returning land to taxpaying status and encourage upgrading our infrastructure to accommodate more commercial and industrial development to go along with the bid for more tourism. While it wouldn’t be appropriate to render these historical sites worthless by crowding them with development, we don’t need them to exist in isolation either.

Sizzle without the steak

Because of the inclement weather which hit us on Sunday the annual State of the County address from County Executive Rick Pollitt was postponed. While the original indication was that it would not be rescheduled, Pollitt’s own statement leads me to believe otherwise.

I believe Pollitt’s spoken remarks – whenever given – will be of great assistance in discerning the direction Wicomico County will travel in 2011, for while the Annual Report released today is heavy on achievements it needs to be considered in the context of Pollitt’s prepared remarks. Most of what was included in the 24-page report dealt with items already completed or issues we already knew were in the pipeline, such as the upcoming comprehensive plan; however, the spoken remarks for at least the last two State of the County addresses were more forward-looking.

While we are doomed to repeat history we don’t understand, to me as a county resident the future agenda is the more important part of the program. “I believe that the time has come to grasp the reins of government with vigor and solid purpose to bring our community to its fullest potential” reads as a nice statement Pollitt adds to his Annual Report but gives little clue to how that goal is achieved. Obviously Pollitt’s reins will be yanked by the demands of a much more conservative County Council than he has dealt with in the past.

His brief written statement in the Annual Report also demands an end to the “moaning and groaning about how bad things are” and calls on citizens to become more involved. But will he follow his own admonishment if the state decides to pass the hot potato of teacher pensions on to the county? (Secondary to that is Pollitt’s stated desire to adopt the LEOPS pension plan for sheriff’s deputies – a state-run defined-benefit plan similar to the teachers’ plan that the state wants to offload. The prospect of change for educators has drawn the ire of the Maryland State Education Association.)

Furthermore, if the citizens are involved as Pollitt wishes but aligned against his interests, will he listen? Obviously there will be a number of issues where friction between the Republican-dominated County Council and the executive’s office will cause no shortage of heartburn for Rick and the executive branch. Contention could ensue over a number of issues, not just the budgetary process – leading contenders include the county’s comprehensive zoning plan, the need for a Public Information Officer, new land acquistion, and the prospect of an elected school board. On the other hand, talk of repealing the revenue cap – a favorite Pollitt whipping boy in the past – is most likely off the table, or at least on the far back burner.

Certainly it’s good that Rick has adopted a more healthy personal attitude leading to a leaner physique (as the report notes in a page about the Executive’s Council on Physical Fitness and Healthy Living.) But for the next four years, our fair county will most likely be placed on a strict financial diet where budgets will be lean and mean – that is, unless we can bring increased economic activity to the Salisbury area. It’s worthy to note that simply bringing back income tax collections to FY2009 levels would allow Wicomico County to roughly restore the spending cuts made in FY2010 to public safety and education – the shortfall in income taxes collected between the two fiscal years totaled nearly $4 million. We receive more income tax when jobs are created.

Needless to say, the chicken and egg scenario often uttered by Pollitt is that job creation depends on the quality of life, but we can’t pay for quality of life items with the reduced budgets brought about by a lack of job creation. Yet I contend that quality of life is created by people and not government policy – a better policy for business growth where innovation and entrepreneurship are encouraged will eventually place citizens in a position where they can invest in their own quality of life in the manner they desire. It’s up to all of us, and not the place of society to wait on the government to take the lead – in fact, ’tis better if government retreats out of the way.

Without getting to hear the remarks Rick Pollitt would have provided as context and guidance to the Annual Report, we are left with the sizzle but not the steak. In a county hungry for answers, let’s hope that the rescheduled presentation will occur sooner rather than later.