The irony of the Town of Berlin’s budget and taxation predicament is if it had focused on maintaining a financially self-sufficient water and wastewater operation 10 or 15 years ago, kept tax rates closer to that of other area towns, and not devoted so many resources to infrastructure improvements and revitalizing the town’s economy and image, the current protest over a substantial tax increase would not exist.
There would be no need for a spike in the tax rate, and many of the businesses aggrieved by the mayor and council’s current proposals would not have set up shop in Berlin had not town government devoted time, energy and money to revitalizing what had become a typically somnolent, economically stagnant Eastern Shore town.
Businesses don’t open where people don’t visit and shop, neither of which featured prominently on anyone’s agenda during the lull between the town’s heyday as an agricultural and commercial center and its rebirth as a tourist destination.
Unfortunately, the town rolled the dice on its finances, when it elected to keep some utility rates lower than they should have been by subsidizing them with money from the general fund, which it also used to cover some other capital projects.
Officials apparently figured that debt would be repaid eventually by new revenue produced via the renewed economic vigor it helped to bring about.
Obviously, that hunch did not work as hoped, but it can also be argued that the same ambition that caused the town’s current difficulty also helped it accomplish something that few, if any, other Eastern Shore communities have been able to do — reestablish a vibrant downtown.
It shouldn’t be argued that town officials don’t care about businesses or raising Berlin’s profile, because pursuing those goals at the expense of other needs is the cause of the current situation.