The race for Harford County Executive, among the most high profile races in any election, took an unexpected and tragic turn earlier this year when Republican candidate Stephen Wright died in a one-car accident.
When finished their mourning, Wright’s sizable following was left with a decision for whom to support – the incumbent, a political outsider, or a political unknown.
There is no Democratic candidate on the ballot, so incumbent David Craig faces former Harford County Council President Robert Wagner and Fred Silva in next week’s Primary Election to determine who will square off with Constitution Party candidate Mark Fisher for the job of county executive in the November 2 General Election.
One of these men will take the helm of a county in transition – fighting to preserve farmland in the northern end while ushering in an unprecedented era of high-tech industry in the Route 40 corridor; balancing a down-turning economy and cries for lower taxes while meeting the demands for increased infrastructure and public safety expenses.
The Dagger caught up with those candidates – David Craig, Fred Silva, and Rob Wagner – and posed to them the same set of questions.
Those questions, and the varying answers of the candidates, are listed below:
In one paragraph, please give a brief biographical sketch of yourself.
I am a seventh-generation Harford Countian. I have been married to my high school sweet heart, Melinda, for 39 years. We have three children and seven grandchildren with an eighth on the way. I entered public service because as a father, I wanted to make sure that my children enjoyed a safe community, with great schools and a good quality of life. Today, family remains at the core of why I continue to serve. Whether it is managing your tax dollars wisely, lowering the tax rate, ending overcrowding in our schools, protecting our rural heritage or preparing for BRAC, the issue affects your and my family. And while we have made tremendous progress on many of these issues, there is still much work to be done. I want to remain your County Executive to ensure a bright future for all of our children and grandchildren.
I am fifty eight years old, married and have two sons. I have lived in Harford County since 1983. For the past thirty eight years I have served and supported the mission of the United States Army in various capacities. Twenty one of those years were proudly served on active duty in the US Army. I retired from the Army in 1992 and settled in Harford County with my family. For the last eighteen years I have worked for several Department of Defense contractors at Aberdeen Proving Ground and currently serve as a term government employee. I have over thirty years experience in management, program and systems analysis. My formal education includes studies in Automotive Engineering, Political Science (with honors) which included American Government, State and Local Governments, Sociology, American, and World History. My Political Science internship took place in Annapolis with the help of a dear friend and mentor – the late State Senator, Bob Hooper. I am a fiscally conservative Republican committed to serving the people and protecting the Constitution at any cost.
I am Rob Wagner, a life-long resident of Harford County, graduate of Bel Air High and Harford Community College. I come from an agricultural background having spent most of my life working the family farm. I have served on the Harford County Council from 1990-2006, 2002-2006 serving as Council President. While serving on the council I developed proficient knowledge of zoning codes and law and reviewed the county budget 16 years. I have a strong conservative voting record as a Councilmember. This County government experience coupled with my life experiences and successful business ventures have well prepared me for the undertaking of being your County Executive for the next four years.
What is at stake for Harford County in this race?
The future of Harford County is at stake. Our County is facing a major transition. We need leaders who can preserve our agrarian heritage and rural vistas, while at the same time can embrace the promise of BRAC and the high-tech jobs it brings. We need leaders who understand that opportunities like this require investment and place certain demands on local government to provide the infrastructure (schools, water treatment plants, waste-to-energy facilities, etc.) needed to support business development and job creation. We need leaders who are not afraid to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions, if we want to take full advantage of the opportunities BRAC presents.
There is a great deal at stake in this election. First, our democracy is at stake thanks to the caliber of people we entrusted with our public offices over the years. This administration behaves like a supreme ruler, thumbs its nose at the Constitution and the Charter, and treats the citizens as royal subjects. Second, our quality of life, public safety and the environment are at stake. Over the years reckless development without consideration for adequate public facilities and collateral environmental damage are placing our citizen’s health and wellbeing at risk. I am the only candidate for County Executive who is focused on restoring a constitutional citizen government and enforcing the laws outlined in the County Charter. I am not motivated by money or power; my only motivation is to honorably serve the public as I have done for most of my adult life.
There is a lot at stake in this race affecting many. If we stay with the status quo, the people of Harford County will see a significant tax increase to cover the additional growing of government and reckless spending. We have watched over 5 years our local government become more entrenched with certain developers and tailor bids to cater to certain contractors. We must move this County forward with an open, transparent, ethical and business-style approach that promotes fairness and is responsible to it’s citizens. We must treat the money we are entrusted with in a manner that is frugal and most beneficial. The next four years are going to be a challenge and the direction we take on September 14 will make all the difference for our future.
What is the biggest problem facing the county, and what would you do to improve the situation?
I think the biggest challenge Harford County faces is the economy and tendency of the State to push unfunded mandates onto the County. I believe we have done a good job responding to the economy. Over the past four years we have reduced property taxes by over $24 million and reduced the size of government. At the same time, we worked hard to improve Harford County’s economy by attracting employers who brought 5,400 new private sector jobs to the County. While I am proud of this, the truth is that I could have reduced the property tax rate by 10 cents more, had it not been for the state pushing unfunded mandates onto the County. Hopefully this will be solved when Bob Ehrlich is elected Governor and Harford County has a real partner in Annapolis.
The biggest problems facing our citizens and businesses in the county are high taxes and out of control spending. Small businesses are unable to expand, buy new equipment or hire new employees. Many citizens, particularly retired seniors on fixed income cannot afford the high property taxes. Once again this administration has needlessly grown the county government and is guarantying loans to individuals and private businesses that in my opinion are not entitled to any public money. The exact amount of debt the county citizens are on the hook for guaranteed loans is not known at this time but, estimates place the amount in the hundreds of millions. First, I will stop the practice of financing or guarantying loans to any private business unless the services are provided for a public need. Corporate welfare will not exist in my administration. And second, I will appoint a committee to review the impact of taxes on individuals and businesses, and look for a means to reduce the tax burden on those most affected without reducing necessary services.
I believe the biggest problem facing our County will be how to pay down our indebtedness in an already down-turned economy. Over the past 5 years our indebtedness has soared and we are facing further reductions of State dollars while absorbing more expenses. It will be a struggle to maintain the current level of services without placing additional burdens on our taxpayers if we stay on this course. Our upcoming County budget is already starting with a substantial deficit due to the spending of one time monies for reoccurring expenses. I believe it can be accomplished but it will require a more business-style approach. I will bring a well qualified Director of Administration that has sound financial and management skill to help us achieve our goal.
In addition to the other benefits that BRAC might bring to the area, what impact do you feel that the injection of income will have on the local tax rate? Will the new arrivals allow the county to hold the line on taxes–or even lower them? Or will the added residents increase the burden on the county to provide services, and cause further tax increases?
I am excited to see that our investment in infrastructure (schools, water treatment plants, waste-to-energy facilities, etc.) has helped Harford County attract new businesses as part of BRAC. The 5,400 new jobs we have realized (with many more to come) are helping improve our local economy and tax base. Our goal is to cut the tax rate to below $1. BRAC is helping make this possible, as is our continued commitment to making County government more efficient. If, however, the State continues to pass unfunded mandates onto the County and to defer its responsibilities onto County Government, achieving this goal will be more difficult. As with any growing community there will be some upfront investment costs, but if the growth is managed well then the continual long-term benefits outweigh those costs. I firmly believe that if we continue to manage BRAC well that Harford County will become central Maryland’s economic engine.
The additional income should provide much needed revenue for Harford County. I don’t foresee any significant changes to the property tax rate however; income tax rates may rise given the current administration’s lust for spending.
Since the property taxes here are lower than most places in New Jersey, the new arrivals may have more spendable income due to lower property taxes. Given the current administration the new arrivals will most likely have no impact on lowering taxes. More than likely the current administration will find a way to increase taxes because of the new arrivals.
The added residents have already increased the burden on the county before they even arrived. New housing and improvements on the infrastructure are being finance by Harford county taxpayers. Tax increases will be necessary if we continue to subsidize the development industry to accommodate the influx of BRAC. The new arrivals will more than likely search for more affluent areas with lowest crime, better schools and lower taxes. Cecil County or Delaware may be more attractive to many of the new BRAC employees than Harford County. If we continue to increase taxes we may find that BRAC personnel won’t want to relocate to Harford County.
I have never believed that BRAC would deliver as much to our County as was projected. The numbers we hear today are substiantially lower than earlier projections. While many of the “new people” are renting in the County, the positive impact is lessened. Certainly if there are large numbers of “new people” arriving, they will add burden to our already stressed infrastructure (i.e. roads, schools). Little has been done in preparing for any infusion of additional people resulting from BRAC. What has been accomplished thus far yields little tax benefit to our County.