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Port Deposit grant funds allocated for Tome Gas House, not Freeman Hall

A few Port Deposit residents, frustrated about the reallocation of grant money, showed up at Tuesday night's meeting to let the town council to know about it.

The Town of Port Deposit, according to Councilwoman Judy Leonard, received $75,000 from Cecil County in grant funds, originally allocated to the restoration of Freeman Hall for an African American museum.

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Because the town would have to wait a year to receive the matching funds from the Maryland Historic Trust African American Foundation, Leonard said they chose to reallocate the $75,000 to two other projects.

A portion of that - $30,000 - will go to the purchase of a new police car and the remaining $45,000 is slotted to go to the stabilization of the Tome Gas House.

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The Gas House, Leonard said, could eventually become a visitors center, but not right now because the roof is in danger of collapsing.

But for Terrell Brown, 19, who last December offered to head a renovation of Freeman Hall, the lack of grant money was disappointing.

The Freeman House was originally a school for African-Americans, having been constructed in 1937. In the December town council meeting, Brown brought up the idea of renovating it so it could eventually become an African American Museum.

When the grant money from the Perryville Casino was distributed, it was assumed that it would be going toward Freeman Hall, according to Mary Jane Alperin's public comments, and could be saved for a year for the project.

"I can't sit on the money, Mary Jane, for two years," Leonard said.

Councilmember Kevin Morton, too, said the Freeman Hall project was not off the table, but it was just a "timing thing."

Brown spoke briefly, too, at the meeting, saying he was "appalled" to learn that the money would be used for the gas house and that he would rather it go to Freeman Hall as a community center.

Another man, Blaine Brown, spoke as well, against the council. Brown accused the council of racial discrimination over the issue and threatened to file a lawsuit.

He also spoke specifically to Mayor Wayne Tome, saying he voted for him because he thought Tome would be "equal to all people in this community."

Tome called the comments "speculation," saying that Brown had made no attempts to even talk to him and that the council was doing their best to get Freeman Hall restored.

Other members, such as Treasurer Peter Kirksey and Councilmember Jeff Spangler, too, said Terrell Brown had yet to come to the council with a solid plan for restoration.

Because they have to wait another year for matching funds anyway, Spangler suggested in that time, Terrell Brown could improve his business plan for what Spangler called a "multi-year deal."

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"[We're] not near where we need to be to move forward with major commitment of funds," Spangler said, adding that they would reassess the situation next year.

"To say that there was racism involved and anything like that, it's BS," he added.

Morton, too, said that the council originally requested $250,000 to $300,000 in grant money to restore Freeman Hall specifically and didn't even get a "fraction of that" for the entire town.

"It's been a struggle, it's been a battle but we're not laying it down," he said.

Overall, the town received approximately $106,000 from the casino grant funds, according to Office Administrator Terri Bushnell. Aside from the Tome Gas House and a new police car, the remaining funds will go toward a computer upgrade and a large portion will go to renovations of the King Property.

Other Business

The council also approved a motion to require the chamber of commerce to change the event information on signs in Marina Park.

Council members also approved a $3,000 budget transfer to the fire department to help them fix a town lot adjacent to the firehouse. The total cost to fix the holes and deteriorating asphalt, as well as seal and stripe the parking lot was proposed at $8,000.

With a $5,000 donation from the railroad, the fire department was $3,000 short.

The council also approved a second motion dealing with the budget, allowing Police Chief Joe Swam to use the special events fund to purchase school supplies for the Back to School Supplies for Port Deposit Children event Aug. 19.

Leonard also mentioned the town received grant money to update the Spot n Rock Playground, which is slotted to be used to upgrade equipment and to add a fence, grills and picnic tables.

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