by Geoff Fox
Last Friday afternoon, Town Manager Mike Faith did something no town official has done before – went live on Facebook, taking questions from residents about projects and other concerns around town.
The live stream lasted around an hour with a high of 106 people watching.
One of the first things Faith addressed was the future of a pool and splash pad. Most notably, he addressed the $150,000 donated from Stanley Fulton.
When discussing the pool, Faith looked to the past and how everything went down under past administrations.
He explained under either late in the Dan Murphy administration or in the Ralph Salvagno administration, a new pool was put out to bid with the town receiving qualified bids.
However, the costs were around $800,000 for the pool. Faith said the engineering alone would have cost $150,000.
Now, the cost would be $1 million for the pool because of inflation, Faith said.
A professional grant writer who’s going to be working for the town told officials there are no grants available for pools, but a splash pad could be funded with a grant.
Faith added when he was growing up, the pool was opened and people would get passes and go all season.
“It’s different now. Everything’s different,” he said.
In that time, Faith said people having pools in their yards weren’t as prevalent or accessible as they are now. He noted those people wouldn’t pay for use of the town’s pool.
If Hancock were to build a new pool, they’d need the money from Fulton and significant money from grants, which state and federal governments don’t want to put money into swimming pools because they know what happens – the money is given and the pool is built, it’s “beautiful” and “awesome, the novelty wears off, and in just a few years, the town or municipality is stuck with the pool.”
Faith said they’d be stuck with a pool and unable to find and hire lifeguards and employees, repairs, and yearly costs becoming too much of a burden.
“What I’m saying is, trying to say in plain language, is that it would be almost impossible to put a pool in Widmeyer Park, or any place else, unless we had someone strike a check for a million dollars,” Faith said.
Grant money wouldn’t be available and the tax base isn’t available to support it.
He noted it might upset some people, but “that’s the truth.”
This is why the town has decided to go the route of the splash pad due to the lower insurance rates and liability, wouldn’t require lifeguards and staffing, lengthen the time it would be open, cheaper and the grant money is available for splash pads.
Faith also addressed upgrades to Widmeyer Park such as future upgrades to the new basketball and pickleball courts, the old bath house from the former pool, and a host of other upgrades.
Faith explained to those watching how the town’s finances are handled in the bank and when being audited.
Other things discussed were blighted buildings, Kirkwood House, police officer hires, speeding on Main Street, crosswalks on Main Street, a dog park, BFS update, wastewater facility explanation and Lanco annexation, paving on Fulton Street, pump stations, wheelchair accessible areas, and bringing hotels to Hancock.
Faith told those watching they could bring their concerns to him during the live stream and take it to town officials or attend a town meeting, which is the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
“When a citizen shows up at a meeting, it always makes a greater impact on the mayor and council because that’s how government works,” he said. “They want to be responsive to constituents.”
Faith also gave everyone his phone number and email so they can contact him with questions or comments.
The idea for the live stream came from wanting a transparent government.
Faith said he’s been attending “a lot” of training sessions on Maryland’s Open Meetings Act and transparent government is a huge priority in the state, including access to public officials.
“I’m trying to find more creative ways of getting info out to the public,” Faith said in an email Monday morning.
He said not everyone can attend the town meetings and by making access more convenient with platforms like Facebook, “we hope to encourage public participation.”
The next step, Faith said, would be to live stream town meetings.
There were times someone would ask a question or make a comment, Faith would turn to his other computer or get a piece of paper to give to town officials or the town attorney.
As of Monday, Faith hadn’t given those comments to officials or town attorney, but he will provide them during the town meeting which was held after the paper went to press.
With a high number of 106 people watching the live stream, Faith said he was surprised at the attendance and hopes to see even more participate in future live streams.
“I feel the stream was a huge success,” he said. “I had a lot of good questions and ideas. Also, a few things that we need to address were brought to my attention.”
There are plans to do more in the future running twice a month. Faith said he is flexible on scheduling the streams.
“If something important comes up or there is more demand, I will try to accommodate everyone,” he said.
There is also a good chance Faith can have the mayor or a member of the council to participate in a future live stream, he said.