The next installment of The Dagger’s Q & A with candidates in the 2014 Gubernatorial Primary Election features the Republican candidates running for the Harford County Council District A seat, representing the Edgewood and Joppatowne areas.
Incumbent County Councilman Dion Guthrie faces no opposition in the Democratic Primary Election, so he will advance to the General Election in November where he will face the victor of the Republican Primary Election between for county council candidate Yvonne Baldwin and Mike Perrone, Jr., both of Joppa. Their answers to The Dagger’s three questions appear below. (Note: Baldwin did not respond to any of multiple attempts to reach her.)
Dagger: County council members often make decisions in areas where they may not have expertise, such approving tax increment financing proposals, expanding the development envelope, or approving multi-million dollar capital projects. Briefly describe the experience/skills you would bring to the county council and how you make decisions in areas outside your expertise.
Baldwin: No response.
Perrone: I am currently employed as an accountant doing income tax work. Previously, I worked as an accountant in the advertising industry, and have also worked in the property/casualty insurance business as both an actuarial analyst and an underwriter.
I have spent the past eight years doing accounting and financial modeling work, and spent five years before that as an actuarial analyst. I believe this experience will help me to handle the complexity of the budgeting process. I also have regular personal contact with many of our community’s neediest residents through my work as director of The Sharing Table, and a clear picture I believe of many of the economic issues facing our community.
Regarding decision making in areas outside of my expertise, I believe elected officials should always consult multiple people who do have expertise or a stake in a particular issue. Because different people have different agendas, the best way for elected officials to avoid making decisions based on biased information is to solicit as many opinions as they can.
Dagger: Please cite a previous decision by the Harford County Council with which you either strongly agree or disagree, and why.
Baldwin: No response.
Perrone: I disagree with the Council’s decision in early 2013 to implement the Rain Tax, and the Council’s failure many months later to being the Rain Tax repeal bill to a Public Hearing. This speaks to the broader issue of how we deal with state mandates. A state that walks away from its teacher pension obligations and burdens counties with massive cuts in highway user revenue appropriations is in no position to tell county governments how to spend money.
The most basic function of local government is to allocate our limited resources as best it can. Stormwater remediation programs need to be objectively evaluated for costs and benefits, and prioritized along with schools, police protection, fire & EMS services, infrastructure, parks, etc.
Dagger: The Harford County Council is charged with certain responsibilities. Among them are: Enacting legislation, adopting the budget, overseeing the redistricting process, and serving as the Zoning Board of Appeals. Looking ahead, what issues within the council’s purview are of specific interest or concern to you and why? Please cite two issues.
Baldwin: No response.
Perrone: The first issue of interest is unfolding right now – that is the livability code update that is currently before the Council (Bill 14-16). What this bill seeks to do is help to fight blight in our communities by requiring regular inspections of rental properties. I believe that landlords who do not (or cannot, for financial reasons) maintain their properties contribute less to blight than do abandoned properties. Moreover, I understand that many blighted properties in Edgewood are delinquent with respect to HOA fees, which raises the question – if a landlord isn’t paying their HOA fees, why would we expect them to pay fees to the County?
My opinion aside, there is a more fundamental problem with the bill and that is this: Livability codes aren’t a new concept. As the bill’s sponsor pointed out, Harford’s three municipalities have livability codes that are much more expansive than what is proposed in this bill. So, instead of making the case for a stronger livability code based on theory, the case should be based on experience: How much do Bel Air’s, Aberdeen’s and Havre de Grace’s inspection programs cost? How many citations have been issued for owner-occupied versus rental properties? How many cited property owners have complied? How have property values among neighborhoods trended since? Questions like this should have been answered before the bill was introduced.
The second issue is something that rears its ugly head from time to time, and that is Tax Incremented Financing (TIF) deals for developers. We’ve seen them most recently with the Beechtree development in Aberdeen and the James Run project near Belcamp. I suspect we may yet see a TIF application for the proposed development of the Eva-Mar property in Bel Air.
TIF deals allow developers access to taxpayer-financed loans, and allow developers to repay the loans with property tax payments – which means those payments don’t go into the General Fund as they are supposed to. These deals are yet another way for the government to pick winners and losers when it comes to economic development. If a developer cannot find investors to finance a project at a cost the developer is willing to pay, then that is a clear market signal that the development should not move forward. County government should not subject our tax dollars to investment risk, nor should it give property tax breaks to developers.