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 E seat, representing the Aberdeen and Churchville areas.
With county councilman Richard Slutzky running for county council president, the District E seat is guaranteed new representation. The crowded Republican Primary Election consists of 5 candidates – Daniel Lambros of Churchville, Blane Miller III of Aberdeen, Diane Sengstacke of Bel Air, Patrick Vincenti of Churchville, and Melvin Wehrman, Jr. of Bel Air. The winner will advance to the General Election to face the victor of the District E Democratic Primary Election between former county councilwoman and state delegate Barbara Osborn Kreamer and Duvowel Peaker, Sr. Their answers to The Dagger’s three questions appear below.
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.
Lambros: I am in the real estate investment and property management industry. Tax credits and capitol investment and how to fund projects are things I have been doing in the private sector all my life. I do not approve of TIFs; if the project needs government help to prosper than the project is unsound. The government should not provide taxpayer funds or guarantee loans or bonds to fund unsound projects. If TIFs are the only way that a project can move forward, there is something else in the way, probably the government itself. The development envelope is something I have watched for years, but, I personally have never developed any raw land. I do believe I have a very good understanding of permitted use, under specific zoning classifications. These classifications are very important, when investing in any piece of real estate and it’s effect on the surrounding properties. For example, the issue of B3 zoning, in reference to Bel Air Walmart.
Multi-million dollar capitol projects should be prioritized to need and affordability. You can’t always get what you want, particularly if you cant afford it. Debt is very dangerous.
In the private sector, when you need a specific skill set, you go to your existing network for answers. I have a significant network that I have built up over the past 30 years through the private sector.
Miller: My experiences come from working in and around the local and federal government for the last 20 years, working with million dollar budgets, acting as a mediator, being a taxpayer, serving my country in the Armed Forces, and in general, being a contributing member of society. My commitment extends further than just that. I was an elected member of the Harford County Republican Central Committee in 2002. I have been a coach, a volunteer fire fighter, and I have helped out with many different local organizations. It will be from those experiences on which I draw to be an effective county council member.
Sengstacke: I bring a great amount of experience and skills to the Council. I am a woman in business. I run two companies. I’m an attorney – I earned my JD degree from University of Baltimore Law School in 1985. I am the senior partner in Sengstacke & Evans, LLC law firm since 1991; and am the President & owner of Home Title Co. of Md., Inc. since 1991. But, what I don’t know or have experienced I will seek other skilled people for advice. I have a network of colleagues that are readily available by phone or email. I also am capable of doing research and investigation into any matter.
Vincenti: In my thirty years’ experience owning and operating our successful Harford County business there have been several instances where we have had a need to seek the assistance or advice of an expert in a certain field. For example, eight years ago we expanded the square footage of our retail store to include the adjoining building. Several Engineers and Contractors were consulted with and thru a bid process the work was completed, the entire front facade of the two buildings and the interior were greatly enhanced.
As President of the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum and Board Member for the past Seventeen years I have been involved in all areas of operations, management, finance, collections, special events and Capital Improvement Projects. In this role I have had a close working relationship with local, County, and State Government Representatives. As a lifelong Harford County resident for sixty years I have had honor and pleasure working with many Harford Non Profit and Conservation Groups, with our number one charge being fundraising. Preserving Harford County’s Heritage has been our primary mission and I believe we have achieved our goal. Thru all of this I have had the opportunity to work with and meet many professionals with many years of experience which could assist me in any area outside of me expertise.
Wehrman: Just a quick Bio. My parents moved to Harford County in 1964. I was born in 1966 and raised in Joppa. I attended public schools and graduated from Edgewood High School in 1984. I attended Essex Community College and graduated with an A.A. degree in Emergency Medical Technology. I have been married to my wife, Jen, for 20 years and have 3 daughters who attend Harford County public schools. I have worked for the Baltimore City Fire Department for 27 years and currently hold the rank of Fire Lieutenant/ALS. I am a Life member of the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company where I have served for the past 30 years as a Firefighter/Paramedic and serve on the Board of Directors which is responsible for all financial activities of the company. I have served in the following positions with Joppa-Magnolia, President, Vice President, Secretary, Financial Secretary and many terms as a member of the Board of Director’s. These are positions I was elected into by the membership. I was also elected as Senior Class President in High School. This is the extent of my elected positions. I ran unsuccessfully for the County Council District E position in 2006 and was defeated by the incumbent. It’s hard to beat an incumbent who caters to special interests. On that note I have no ties to any special interest groups or developers and come from a strictly blue collar background. I have no budget for electioneering hence the lack of signs plastered all over the County.
As far as experience goes I feel my time served in the Fire Department both here in Harford County and Baltimore City has allowed me to see many different demographics and socio-economic divisions. Some major milestones I was responsible for at Joppa was the implementation of EMS Billing. This was accomplished by working closely with then Delegate Helen Delich Bentley. This allowed us to bill for EMS services and to use that money to improve our EMS operations as demands for service increased tremendously during the boom years of the early 90’s in the County. I also introduced a streamlined method to do our semi-annual fund raising by having an outside contractor do the work for us. This moved us from stuffing thousand’s of envelopes to having a company do it allowing more free time to focus on Fire/EMS activities. I lack any real business skills but I believe I can make an honest and fair decision on any matters presented to the Council. I would research all sides of any legislation submitted to the Council for our approval. I firmly believe in honesty and integrity in all matters personal or public. I also don’t believe in being the sheep who follows a leader but being the leader who the sheep follow and support.
Dagger: Please cite a previous decision by the Harford County Council with which you either strongly agree or disagree, and why.
Lambros: The TIF for the development of Beech Tree Estates was something I strongly disagreed with and spoke out against in Council Chambers. My experience in the private sector tells me that if you need $14 million in county guaranteed subsidies, to make a project profitable, there is something wrong with the project or the governmental environment where the project takes place.
Miller: Bill 14-18 Deputy Directors classification is one of the most recent bills that the county council passed that I don’t agree with. In my opinion, this bill has the potential to create problems and confusion. It is going to tear away the continuity of the departments and lead way to political favoritism. Many of us who have worked in the government or been in the military know the importance of consistency in leadership roles; not to mention the knowledge and experience that come from these managers. I think this is just a bad way to do business and the people of Harford County are going to suffer from it .The good thing is that it has to be put on the ballot in November and the voters have to vote on it. It will be one of my goals after the primary to make sure that I advocate against this bill to make sure it doesn’t come to fruition.
Sengstacke: The Budget process is the most important part of being on the County Council. I agree with actions of the County Council that maintain our AAA bond rating. I believe in fiscal responsibility and balancing budgets. Income and expenses need to be reviewed. More needs to be done to lowers costs and expenses, just like a business or family has to do.
Vincenti: I do agree with the Harford County Councils decision to lessen the sting of the Storm Water Management Fee commonly known as the Rain Tax. This will allow proper time to either look for alternative funding sources or repealing it all together.
Wehrman: The biggest action that I disagree with concerning the County Council decision is to adequately fund Education. This is one of two key points I hold near and dear and the other is Public Safety. Education is the key for our young people to have marketable skills in a Global economy. We need to be on the cutting edge and have all the technology to go along with that. Our teachers deserve a raise considering the amount of time they put into their jobs. I envy them doing what they do with minimal resources. As Maryland has been designated one of the richest states in the Union shouldn’t we have our children receive an education worthy of that designation? Our schools are in disrepair and some seem forgotten all together. Children need a comfortable, safe and inviting environment to learn in and we must provide that for them by adequately funding the educational budget.
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.
Lambros: The livability code is an example of legislation designed with the purpose of cleaning up problematic areas of certain sections of the county. It will directly take away from the citizen’s sovereign property rights to real property, increase the cost of affordable housing and allow an agent of the county to require you to enter your home. They can demand repairs, whether you can afford them or not. If the repairs are not completed to their timeframe and satisfaction, they will fine you and potentially seize your property. This legislation throws the baby out with the bathwater and it will not have the desired effect because the fundamental issue is unemployment and the lack of available jobs.
The budget comes from the county executive. The council makes recommendations and sends it back, then eventually adopts it. Property taxes are the largest source of revenue for Harford County government and an easy way to take from the productive tax-payer. This source of revenue, for county pilfering, needs to be frozen. This will cause the county to rethink it’s spending and create an environment that will move to smaller government over time.
Miller: As I look head there will be many issue that the new council will have to deal with. To be honest I look at all these issue and responsibility with concern and interest. Not one issue or duty is more important than the other. When you start prioritizing issues or problems then you start creating an order of importance. I think that is what is wrong the system in the first place. There all important. I will look at each issue with a clear head. Making sure I have all the information and have talked to all side before I ever make a vote or conclusion. No matter if it has to do with the budget, legislation or the appeals board. But I can promise you this with great certainty, whatever my decision is it will always be in the best interest of the community and that of Harford County.
Sengstacke: Taxes and Roads. We need to lower taxes, fight the rain tax, redirect money to essential services, combine doubled items – like doubled HR Departments, think about ways technology could enhance efficiency, improve our roads and infrastructure, especially Routes 22, 543, & 24.
Vincenti: It is my understanding that the next County Council along with Planning and Zoning will start the Comprehensive Rezoning Process and will be looking at the expansion of the Counties Development Envelope. This is a concern and interest to me because I have lived just off Rt.22 in Churchville for the past Thirty Nine Years. Traffic has increasingly become a challenge. In 1996 I was appointed to the Churchville/Creswell Community Planning Council, among other issues traffic was a concern then. Smart Growth is inevitable and can be achieved while maintaining our Rural and Agricultural Communities. Harford County’s Heritage has many facets from Farming, Waterfowl, Maritime, Thoroughbred Horses, Cattle, Military and Industry to name a few; it is our charge to pass this to the next generation. This is part of what makes Harford County a great place to live and raise a family. “ I will be your conservative voice for Low Taxes, strong schools, safe roads and neighborhoods. On June 24th, I would be honored to receive your vote.”
Wehrman: As I stated in number 2, the biggest issues for me are Public Safety and Education. Serving for over 30 years as a member of a fire department I want to ensure when you call 911 someone is going to show up. I applaud the County for finally creating a Director of Emergency Services but much more needs to be done to improve our current system. On the police side we need an aggressive Sheriff who will enforce the laws making Harford County a safe place to live and work. We need to saturate high crime areas and stem the abuse of prescription drugs that permeate the County. It would be nice to go back to the ways of old in Harford County where you could leave your door unlocked and not worry. No way we can do that now.
Hopefully this covers the topics asked and all voters can compare our responses to make an informed choice when they go to the polls. Regardless of who you think can do the job I implore you to get out and vote!