Election Candidates Discuss Economy
Candidates for Havre de Grace City Council discuss key issues with Patch.
Below is their take on the economy, with incumbents listed first and challengers listed second, in alphabetical order:
Cullum, who is very active with the Maryland Municipal League, understands that many of Maryland’s communities have struggled with the economy.
But in Havre de Grace, Cullum sees a government that has been able to maintain necessities while helping citizens cope with the economy.
“I think the city has done very well with the downturn in the economy, certainly better than many municipalities and counties, and the state,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to maintain our core services and still lower the tax rate.”
Despite the success, though, Cullum isn’t naïve enough to believe the course will remain the same.
Cutting the tax rate by a penny would save families about $25, he said, but the city could use the $140,000 it gains from that same penny to improve streets and services.
“We’re due for another round of reassessments this year. We lost almost a half-million dollars the last time in tax revenue with assessments, and we don’t know what to expect this time,” Cullum said. “There has to come some point where the tax rate has to even out in order to restore the services we provide.”
Martin draws an analogy to local marine life when describing how, as he puts it, the city has dealt with challenging times over the past four years.
“For the last four years, the City of Havre de Grace has been in a strategic retreat. We’re like the crab, we won’t run away, but we’ll walk backwards facing you," Martin said. "That’s what we do: we face our problems.”
Martin said the city has kept key services running, while “managing to put down asphalt” and repair streets despite a decrease in revenue from the state.
Martin said he believes the economy is starting to turn around, and he feels that the influx of professionals to Aberdeen Proving Ground has been crucial.
“BRAC has been a godsend for this area, not just Havre de Grace,” Martin said.
Miller, who proposed a five-cent tax cut that was rejected by council last May, said the city is taking advantage of the influx of cash from new homes in Havre de Grace, and ignoring the reality of the economy.
“The city has been doing their budgets like there’s never been a problem with the economy. They continue to spend and put money into special interest projects. We have cut the taxes, but we’re in a special situation where we have a lot of high-dollar homes coming into Havre de Grace that don’t put a burden on the city. We’re collecting money and we have extra money.”
Because tax assessments have gone up annually, Miller said the tax cuts come at a time when the city doesn’t take a major hit.
This year, as the mayor has proposed a one-cent tax cut yet again, Miller thinks the city can use the extra money—approximately $140,000 that would be generated by the one-cent cut—and use it on projects in the city.
Glenn said that ultimately, the economy has a hand in many issues in Havre de Grace.
For instance: the water and sewer fund.
“The water and sewer situation was based upon selling homes in the Bulle Rock area,” Glenn said. “And that never materialized.”
But Glenn feels the city can encourage some creative thinking from the downtown businesses to stoke the embers when it comes to attracting commerce into the city.
“As a kid at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas time, we brought our artwork down and put it in the windows [of businesses]. You didn’t know where it was, you had to look around. The object was, you had to bug your mom and dad to go downtown,” Glenn said. “If you get people downtown, maybe they’ll spend money. That costs the businesses nothing.”
Another issue he sees in drawing customers: store hours.
“If you stay open for one night a month and people see that you have something, maybe they’ll come in at your regular hours,” Glenn said. “You have to pursue all the angles, and I’m sure we’re not the only municipality that’s struggling. I’m big on lessons learned. Is another municipality doing something really special that we can capitalize on?”
Sawyer admitted that he doesn’t have a lot of details about the budgetary process in Havre de Grace.
He does, however, give credit to the city for breaking down projects and aspects of the city’s fiscal concerns into separate funds.
“I think that’s the right approach: Don’t spend the money you don’t have,” Sawyer said.
He did note that the city could do a better job to help citizens and business owners cope with the impact of the economic downturn.
“At the end of the day, I think lowering taxes and lowering property taxes would definitely help businesses and residents,” he said.
Scharbrough feels the city has done well, but still has room to consider some outside-the-box thinking to improve the financial state.
“They’re handling it well considering the problems other cities are having,” Scharbrough said. “From what I’ve looked at and heard, we’re really doing pretty well considering the times. The biggest thing is to keep businesses in pocket and provide core services. All cities, regardless of size, need to have that as a foundation to move forward.”
Scharbrough feels the city needs to continue pushing its tourism industry to remain a destination.
Within that theory, Scharbrough sees opportunity for more tourism draws,
“You need to look at expanding the marina. It may cost us in the long-term, but it’s a medium and long-term gain,” he said. “We need to capitalize on something that’s working, such as the marina, and expanding it, and charging it a shared rate based upon the out-of-town boat rates.”
Smith said Havre de Grace has benefitted from a “nice buffer” in the BRAC expansion of Aberdeen Proving Ground.
He said the city’s primary goal should be to provide and maintain infrastructure while allowing businesses to open and thrive.
“They city has really got to be responsible for the basics: making sure the roads are maintained, water and sewer are working properly, and creating a stable business environment,” Smith said.
He said part of a quality business environment includes the consistent application of rules and regulations, and a transparent government.
Smith also thinks the city should be open-minded about new business development, noting that many Bulle Rock residents blame Mayor Wayne Dougherty and City Council for rejecting a proposed development along Interstate 95 and MD Route 155 a few years ago.
“I think that’s the wrong approach,” Smtih said. “I’m not gung-ho development for just doing it, but if you can, create or attract businesses that are willing to invest that compliment downtown.”
For more on the election, read here.
The Havre de Grace Election will be held May 8 at the St. Patrick's Church Hall on Pennington Avenue.