Loss of More Downtown Office Workers Possible

Over the past several years a number of serious threats to the revitalization effort in downtown Elkton have emerged.  One of the biggest occurred in January 2008 when county government moved its administrative offices out to the Delaware State Line. This loss had a significant impact, which was noticed immediately by anyone paying attention. Suddenly nearly 200 county government workers and the hundreds of visitors to their offices were no longer parking on the streets, stopping in the eating establishments, or shopping in the stores.

We were surprised that the Alliance, as our Maryland Main Street program, didn’t get more involved in trying to turn that situation around. There was virtually nothing done (at least in public) by the Alliance. However, we do recall that the Mayor and Commissioners of Elkton met with the county commissioners to try to get them to change their mind. Considering the challenges already existing with downtown Elkton, we would have seen this as one of the biggest threats and pulled out all the stops to try to turn that situation around. It will be hard to overcome that economic loss.

Now there’s another threat that is being considered by the county. In early April, Pam Howard, the county treasurer, presented a plan to the county commissioners to have her workers take over the job of recording official documents. Presently the Clerk of the Court’s office in the courthouse on Main Street in downtown Elkton handles that work. The treasurer has noted that assuming this responsibility would require her to hire additional staff, which would probably mean a loss of positions in the court house on Main Street, since the function will no longer be handled there. Last year there were over 6,000 transactions handled of this type and this recordation process generates a lot of visitors to the courthouse.

We hope the Alliance is considering this impact and speaking up about the costs it will have for our Main Street. Each time we lose a cluster of desirable workers and visitors, it has a steep economic cost, which is hard to overcome these days. While this one isn’t as big as the move of the county offices, it is a continuing trend that has been going over for some time now. Soon our town center will be strictly that of a criminal justice center.

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7 responses to “Loss of More Downtown Office Workers Possible

  1. There were many that wanted the Alliance and they got their wish. Now they have no Chamber of Commerce and no one to speak for the few old time members. Be careful what you wish for.

  2. Joan:

    I do hope the Alliance has this one on its radar screen and is trying to intervene. Every time office workers are moved out of the central business district, it has such an impact on downtown, espcially these days. As they work on strategies to revitalize downtown, they’ve got to put energy into keeping our employment base, especially after we lost the 200 courthouse workers and some from the private sector.

  3. Hey Mayor Joe are you watchin this. Someone sure needs to be watchin out for downtown cause nob ody is watchin out for it now. Nope all they are doing is forkin over people’s taxes. How much you given em this year Mayor Joe to make downtown better

  4. Richard Glover

    I was always under the opinion that this function was handled by the Clerk of the Courts so that the records were convenient for the Courts. I believe the system to be working well and with most records available on the internet, I believe having the actual files in the Court Building serves a usuful purpose. In the long run, I don’t believe the county would come out ahead by changing the system due to having to hire additional people and moving the filing and storage facillities. And yes, it would have a negative impact on the downtown.

  5. Richard:

    I agree. Historically it always seemed to be a part of the court system and served the system’s important recordkeeping function. I wonder if it’s been done anywhere else. To split it seems to be a real complication.

    Too, another four or five workers being displaced downtown and moved out to the Delaware State Line, that has a real impact these days. Then add to that the number of visitors that come to that Main Street location and we’ll once again have another negative impact on downtown.

    I never understood why the Alliance didn’t do more to keep the 200 county office workers downtown. After they moved out of town in January 2008, the impact was devastating. You hear it from the business people on Main Street, especially the eateries.

    If I were involved with advocacy for the central business district, I would have pulled out all the stops to try to turn that decision around.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts.

  6. Actually Mike, the Elkton Alliance met many times with the County Commissioners. The Alliance showed them a copy of their Downtown Master Plan that included plans of how to expand the courthouse. It seemed they were interested in staying in Elkton but wanted to negotiate with the Town on the cost of permits and fees. To my knowledge, the Town did not actively pursue a working relationship. We all know a certain Commissioner would never want to lower fees even if it meant keeping all those workers. Storke didn’t even want to wave the fees when the Courthouse wanted to renovate. I suppose if the Mayor and other Commissioners voted that down and the Courthouse left you would blame that on the Alliance as well.

    I don’t know how many times the Mayor and Commissioners tried to speak with the County when they heard about the rumors of relocating, but I do know they met with them after the decision was already made and I have a feeling that was the only time. So now, we get to listen to Storke rant and rave how the County moved out at Town meetings when he is part of the reason why.

    As for the downtown businesses suffering, you are right the County did have an effect on them. But it was not the move that affected them the most. It was when the county switched from an hour lunch to a 30 minute lunch and that happened well before the County moved out of Town. At least that is what I was told by some of the eateries.

  7. Betsy Ross:

    I think if you check the record, you will find that the new office building that is on the Delaware State Line is still in town. I think you’ll find that the same fees that would have impacted them downtown would do so out there in that field by the First State since they’re still in the municipality (I doubt the town would waive them out there, when they wouldn’t downtown!); I think that since it was new building, they incurred even more fees since there’s a requirement for for new hook-ups. If all of this is correct, the fees didn’t seem to be the reason for them leaving downtown. A little fact-checking, something that isn’t done enough, will let tell us about the accuracy of these assumption.

    I’ll follow up on that shortly to see what we can gather. As you reminded me in an earlier post, it’s important to get it straight.

    On the point about the lunch hour, I can tell you that after those nearly 200 workers moved out that cold January of 2008, there was a noticable gap in the eateries and on the streets. There may have been a decline with the reduction of the lunch hour, but this one was immediatley apparent to anyone paying attention. With these workers making Elkton a destination in the morning, they just might buy a cup of coffee and a bagel before heading into the building. They might stop into one of the shops on the way home. And there are the thousands of citizens making the courthouse a destination. Now they aren’t routinely stopping into Elkton for that cup of coffee or to shop. There are more convenient places for that half-hour lunch break. This one had a devasating impact on downtown. It’s that simple from an economic development standpoint.

    I’ve heard these arguments blaming the town before from a certain group of downtown stakeholders. While I’m definitely not speaking for the town, I can tell you one more thing, beyond the logic presented in the fees argument. This would’ve been one to pull out all the stops on for both the Mayor and Commissioners and the Alliance. There are connections and relationships that should be exercised to the maximum, to intervene in a situation like this. There’s the public to turn to. There’s political pressure to be created. There’s media attention you’d want to draw to the situation; don’t forget letters to the editor. Do whatever you can in terms of advocacy for downtown in a case like this, if you’re responsible for economic development. Heck a blog might have been a good idea, to add to the attention that you’d want paid to the subject.

    I do recall the town have a meeting with the commissioners and the Whig covered it. You seem to know something about the Alliance so perhaps there were some meetings there, that weren’t covered by the media. I can’t comment there except to say I would’ve sought media coverage to apply pressure to the county commissioners.

    The Whig barely addressed the subject. At least the Herlad wrote a few insightful pieces.

    This loss will be very hard to overcome. I’ve heard Cathy from Judy’s Java talk about the impact it had on her and what she’d would’ve done if she’d known the courthouse was going to move out. Her talk just made outright sense for any businessperson.

    We do want our old downtowns to hum with energy and I look at some other Main Street Programs that have made progress and I often think about how we could draw on those opportunities. I realize each is different and one has to figure out their community’s strenghts. For Elkton, it was once being the actual seat of government, instead of the criminal justice center.

    Still I think Elkton has opportunities. We just need to focus on building wide community synergy (very wide) and draw on the assets that we now have.

    Is anyone speaking up about this situation with moving the land records operations out of downtown? I hope so. Each of these losses hurts.

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