Forum Recap: Candidates Debate at Bulle Rock
Bulle Rock held a candidates forum Wednesday
For a subset of the Havre de Grace community often criticized for being uninterested and uninvolved in the city, the Bulle Rock community proved differently Wednesday night.
Bulle Rock residents turned out in droves for a candidates' forum less than a week before the city holds its May 3 election.
A crowd of approximately 150 was on hand at a banquet room in the Bulle Rock Residents’ Club for Wednesday’s candidate forum sponsored by the Bulle Rock Civic League. The League aims to promote civic awareness among residents of the upscale, gated neighborhood.
Mayor Wayne Dougherty, seeking a third term, and Councilman Mitch Shank, Dougherty’s lone challenger for mayor, were on hand. Five of the six registered candidates for City Council were in attendance, including Councilman John Correri, Councilman Randy Craig, and three challengers -- Diane Lawder, Lori Maslin and Barbara Wagner.
Candidates were given three minutes to introduce themselves before a series of questions submitted by Bulle Rock residents were presented to the candidates. The forum lasted about an hour and 40 minutes.
Here's a summary of the candidates’ responses to questions:
Mayor Wayne Dougherty was asked the assessed value of the Bulle Rock property inside the gates. Candidates were also asked to give their take on the proposed Upper Chesapeake Health campus to be built near Bulle Rock Parkway.
- Said he was unable to provide data on assessed value of Bulle Rock
- There have been no site plans submitted to the city for the hospital
- The CEO of Upper Chesapeake told Dougherty the hospital is looking at a three-to-five-year plan for construction
- Says he is wholeheartedly behind the project
- Said she wasn’t aware of the plans and said she would like to see specifics
- Provided the assessed value of Bulle Rock: $272 million
- Said City Council has not been briefed on the proposed hospital
- Supports the concept of the hospital, but said the “devil is in the details”
- Said Harford Memorial Hospital is largest employer in Havre de Grace and it needs modernized facilities
- Said she is in support of the new hospital because Harford Memorial is aging
- Said she is aware plans are in the works, but would want to see details.
- Said she understands concerns about the impact a medical campus would have on the Bulle Rock community
The candidates were asked if they would identify a conflict-of-interest and recuse themselves from voting on issues where a conflict may lie
- Said she would absolutely recuse herself at any appearance of impropriety.
- She said she could see a conflict with a vote or discussion involving the Havre de Grace Seafood Festival, which she organizes
- Feels that all conflicts of interest should be revealed
- Feels its difficult to be free of conflicts in a small town like Havre de Grace
- Said he recused himself regarding the St. John’s Commons project which he had advanced while a member of the board for St. John’s Towers. The project also involved the acquisition of property owned by his brother
- Said he recused himself while on County Council for a project involving Larry Dougherty, brother of the Mayor, who was also working on a project at Shank’s home.
- Said he recused himself while on City Council for a proposed new sign to be built in the city right-of-way at his church.
- Said she would recuse herself from any vote that would pose a conflict
- Said he wouldn’t stand for any conflicts of interest from his colleagues or himself
Candidates for Mayor were asked how they envision the development of Route 40. What type of development would be involved and how would it be done in relation to the city’s downtown business district?
- Would like to see the city maintain and take advantage of its designated arts and entertainment district.
- Would like to see businesses on Route 40 that compliment the downtown district rather than compete with it.
- Would like to see the junkyard on Route 40 removed in favor of new development
- Would like to see the Economic Development Manager’s title be changed to the Director of Economic Development.
- Said changes on Route 40 aren’t coming as easily as anyone would like them to.
- Said private property—such as the junkyard—is just that: private property.
- Would like to see more professional offices.
- Said he would like to see another grocery store. Said two major food chains are in talks with the city about building a market, but that there is insufficient population to support it.
Candidates for Mayor were asked their takes on transparency in local government, specifically pertaining to the release of information involving city employee’s salary and pension figures.
- Said he would like to see those figures himself.
- Said one of his objectives is more transparency in government.
- Said the books are open, provided there is no conflict with personnel information
Councilman Correri was asked where he feels there is more opportunity to cut spending from the Mayor’s proposed one cent tax cut, which he has supported
- Said his “door is always open” to discuss bringing the tax rate down further.
Candidates were asked if the number of city employees was commensurate with the size of the city and its needs
- Said, simply: “Yes.”
- Said yes, but that there’s always the opportunity to look at efficiencies and determine if there is opportunity to shift personnel
- Said she knows the employee base has increased substantially and would be interested in seeing where the increase occurred, and if there’s the opportunity to shift employees to other areas of need
- Said she’s more than happy to look at the size of the employee workforce.
- Said the city must run like a business, as businesses are forced to constantly evaluate their workforce.
- Said she would like to determine if salary and benefits are on par with other municipalities
- Said no, stating that in 2005, Havre de Grace had 108.5 employees and today has 131 employees—a “20 percent increase in six years.”
- Said he would like to see more cooperation with surrounding municipalities and that the city needs to start thinking outside of the box.
- Said Bulle Rock—with its $1.6 million annual tax payment to the city—has funded the increase in city staff
- Said everything should be looked at.
- Said that six years is a long time, and would like to know if there has been a boost in citizens or need, and which departments have grown the most.
- Said yes, but that he’d like to examine workforce numbers.
Councilman Craig was asked about his statement that the city needs to keep a watchful eye on the water and sewer debt services, which he said rely upon volatile revenue—new home connection fees.
- Many people take for granted the services the city provides.
- Said tax dollars do not support the water rate.
- Said providing water is the most important thing a city does.
Lawder was asked about the fresh perspective she hopes to bring. She was asked which she saw as more important: increasing revenue, reducing services or improving efficiency.
- Said improving efficiency is paramount.
- Said the number of city employees needs to be looked at if there has been an increase, and if so, how efficiently they’re working
Maslin was asked, due to her role in the zoning review committee, if zoning could direct development. She was asked which city entity should oversee the overall plan to guide the development downtown and along Route 40.
- Pointed out that a furniture maker planned to move to the city’s arts and entertainment district, but he was deemed “light manufacturing,” and was initially unable to open in the zone he wished to build his business. He later was able to open the business.
- Said that a lack of clarity in zoning regulations makes it difficult to attract and support the opening of new businesses.
Candidates for Mayor were asked if there’s a way to expedite the process for new businesses to open
- Said the city is finishing its total review. The most recent review of its zoning regulations were in 1982.
- Said the city needs to sit down, face-to-face with business owners interested in the city and offer whatever means necessary to promote new business
- Said the process needs to move more swiftly than it does
- Said it took the furniture maker Maslin referenced in the previous question “months” to become approved, which he said is “way too long.”
Wagner was asked about an “incubator business” that she helped start—offering free rent and utilities for a short time for a business to get off the ground—and if the idea could work in a strategic plan for the city?
- Said she and her husband offered a property they own with six months of no rent, utilities or phone charges.
- Said she’d like to see an entrepreneurial contest through the economic development department to help fill some of the empty buildings in the downtown area.
All candidates were asked if they supported the city taking control of Bulle Rock’s maintenance—including snow removal and road repairs. Bulle Rock is a gated community.
- Said “its all in the timing,” pointing to the recent incorporation of The Paddocks, a satellite neighborhood under the Bulle Rock umbrella
- Said the city has offered its services to Bulle Rock, but that the neighborhood’s homeowners’ association did not want to make their roads public by removing the gates around the community
- Suggested a tax district overlay for Bulle Rock would allow the residents to keep their gates and also be included in all city services while receiving a tax discount
- Said that it cost the city about $120,000 for snow removal this year, while it cost Bulle Rock $1.2 million
- Said she fully supports the city taking on Bulle Rock’s roads
- Said the door is open
- Said she thinks Shank’s idea is interesting, but that Dougherty raises a good point with the gates
- Said that citizens choose where to live, that her tax rate costs her about $1.82 a day to live downtown, and that she understands it's probably much more in Bulle Rock
- Said she would be open to discussing ideas after the city passes its tax rate and budget
- Said she would like to see what the city’s budget looked like before Bulle Rock and what it looks like since Bulle Rock was built and then analyze the proposal.
- Said some “really bad mistakes were made” and that the neighborhood is not “sustainable in the long term” because homeowners’ associations rarely save funds for major road repairs
- Said he is open to incorporating Bulle Rock in to Havre de Grace as much as possible and is willing to pursue any alternatives necessary
Questions were then taken from the audience. One resident moved to Bulle Rock five months ago and asked candidates for mayor about their proudest accomplishments in their current roles.
- Said he’s most proud of providing a safe city for residents and visitors
- Said cleanliness is also important to him
- Said that there’s room for improvement city-wide
- Said the designation of the city’s downtown area as an arts and entertainment district
- Said he’s also proud of his efforts in making the city’s government operations more transparent—something he vowed to continue if elected
Candidates were asked about comprehensive zoning—particularly along the Route 155 corridor.
- Said the area at the end of Bulle Rock Parkway at Route 155 is designated MOE—mixed office/employment. There are no formal plans before City Council at this time.
- Expanded upon the Mayor’s comments by saying the MOE zoning is for the area surrounding the planned hospital project. The rest of the Route 155 area is residential.
A woman who has moved from New Jersey as part of BRAC said she loves the small downtown area in Havre de Grace but says the city needs “real shopping” and is concerned that the residents in Bulle Rock are forced to take that business to Aberdeen and Bel Air instead. She also wants a theatre and other entertainment and shopping development
- Said people often come in without a business plan and little capital to carry the first year.
- Said she was excited by the resident’s enthusiasm and wants to pull all the ideas of the Bulle Rock community for business development.
- Said the biggest issue with the downtown area is the shops close at 5 p.m. or earlier. She said businesses need to balance the aim toward tourists and residents and look to be more of a sustainable, year-round business environment
- Said he’d like to talk with County Executive David Craig about getting more shopping in Havre de Grace. Said Craig regularly attends a conference in Las Vegas that involves many large department stores, and he praised Craig’s ability to bring Wegmans and Kohls to Harford County.
- Said he would like to build more bridges out to the county to work with them to market Route 40 and bring in more shopping.
One resident said there are many more amenities needed. They asked what happened to a plan for more development along Bulle Rock Parkway, including a grocery store and restaurants. She said her understanding was the City Council killed the project.
- Said the project, which was being planned by developer JDH, would have amounted to a strip mall. He said Council “worked hard on that one,” but said they wouldn’t tolerate the plan