(Oct. 9, 2020) Worcester County may be able to use $250,000 of CARES Act money toward the Snow Hill riverboat, as county commissioners voted to apply for it during their meeting on Tuesday.
If that application is denied for that purpose, the money will be used for a marketing plan targeting the southern end of the county.
Tom Perlozzo, director of recreation and parks, economic development and tourism, introduced the idea last month as a way to revitalize both Snow Hill and Pocomoke.
Tom Perlozzo said the county administration and Snow Hill decided to proceed with the no-interest loan that was discussed two weeks ago for the riverboat, and instead use the CARES Act money for its original designation: advertising for the southern end of the county.
Perlozzo said the goal is to get visitors to Ocean City to travel down to Snow Hill and Pocomoke during their stay. For instance, billboards could be used on Routes 50, 13 and 113. “We’re going to have to market to the mass, whether it’s in Baltimore, Washington or Ocean City,” Perlozzo said.
County Commissioner Joshua Nordstrom pointed out that the commissioners voted last week to use the CARES Act money for the riverboat.
“This was a surprise to be in this packet, but I understand that this is on the slim chance that if the application to apply to the CARES Act money [is denied],” Nordstrom said.
Perlozzo said that there would be more “push-ups” for using the CARES Act money.
“The option is to move forward quickly, because I know Snow Hill is set to close this week on the riverboat . . . we need to move quicker to allow them to get the riverboat this Friday,” Perlozzo said.
County Commissioner Jim Bunting said that in his discussions with attorneys, he didn’t think the CARES Act could be used for the riverboat.
“There’s already an effort out there,” Bunting said. “If it’s tried to be used, you will have opposition.”
County Commissioner Ted Elder said he had confidence in Perlozzo’s marketing plan.
“It adds more advertising to the south end of the county and that’s where it’s needed,” Elder said. “As far as the riverboat, this could also direct people, that’s another venue that they could be directed to.”
Wanting to stick with last week’s vote, Nordstrom moved to use the CARES Act money for the riverboat if possible, and if not, use it for the marketing plan.
County Commissioner Chip Bertino, Bunting and Elder all said they could not support the motion if it included the riverboat contingency.
Bunting said that there wasn’t a point to the CARES Act money if the county was already approving a loan for the riverboat.
When asked, Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins said that there were concerns in the community about using the CARES Act for the riverboat, and that there was about a 50/50 shot of it getting denied or approved.
“We were trying to use the CARES Act to put Worcester County back to work,” Higgins said. “If you get a riverboat, you’re going to put people back to work. If you use that angle, it might go, but there is a reluctance from anybody to give a firm yes or no.”
Bertino said this issue was the result of not properly vetting the riverboat proposal.
“Let’s not play any angles, let’s just answer the question – yes or no, is the county going to use the money for the riverboat, or isn’t it? That is certainly within our realm of authority,” Bertino said.
Nordstrom reminded him that the commissioners already voted to use the CARES Act for the riverboat.
“It’s just a matter of can it be applied according to the people giving the grant,” Nordstrom said.
When asked about additional grants, Perlozzo said that he hopes to hear from Tyson Foods in Snow Hill in about 15 to 30 days if their unused $100,000 grant could be transferred. He added that the county could apply to Maryland’s Heritage Commission for a grant, which had previously given Leonardstown and Havre de Grace grants for the riverboat.
Perlozzo added that the county needs to move on the CARES Act money, as it must be used by Dec. 30.
Elder suggested to Nordstrom that using the CARES Act money would be more beneficial for his southern district, but Nordstrom disagreed.
“It keeps it manageable for the towns,” Nordstrom said. “If it can be applied here, it should be.”
The motion to apply to use the CARES Act money for the riverboat with the marketing plan as the back-up option passed 4-3, with Bertino, Bunting and Elder in opposition.