Bulle Rock Forum: 7 Candidates, Big Crowd
Patch gets you inside the gates to hear what the candidates had to say.
For the first time in this election, all seven candidates for Havre de Grace City Council were in the same room.
A crowd of well over 100 was in attendance at the Bulle Rock Residents' Center Wednesday night to hear the candidates discuss items from water & sewer fees to tourism and downtown business to the potential of the city providing more services to the gated community of Bulle Rock.
The candidates—incumbents Fred Cullum, Bill Martin and Jim Miller, and challengers Dave Glenn, Robert Sawyer, Barry Scharbrough and Joe Smith—spoke to the crowd for approximately two hours.
It was the third and final candidates' forum, and the first with all seven candidates in attendance.
Below is a recap of of the live blog reported directly from the front row of the meeting:
9:01 p.m.: The forum closes with candidates and residents offered the chance to mingle.
9 p.m.: A resident who said he was with a group that approached the city to discuss services said the city was receptive and open to conversation. He expects the conversation to continue after the election.
8:58 p.m.: Miller is asked about a quote in The Baltimore Sun regarding allowing Bulle Rock to be brought into the city, particularly as it comes to services:
- Miller: Original builder wanted narrow roads to squeeze in houses. He continues to support bringing Bulle Rock in. Is not on board with the gates having to be brought down first to allow for services to be brought in. Miller adds that you can't believe everything you read in the Baltimore Sun, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd.
It was determined midway through Miller's response that the quote was actually Martin's. Martin now responds:
- Martin: Understands some like the services they receive through HOA, and others want the city's services. If the will is for the city to take over, he is willing to take it over. He said the gates would have to come down. He said if nice streets are desired, it may be best for the HOA to be left in place. Martin said it may be better off to remain in an HOA, pointing to a 44-percent build-out at this point. Once built out, the neighborhood's HOA fees should drop.
8:52 p.m.: Challengers are asked what one initiative they'd like to see accomplished in their first term:
- Glenn: Wants to push hard for a new high school with a magnet program. One of the only ones in the county without a magnet program. Local kids need same opportunities as kids in Bel Air and Fallston. Said the process won't be short, and it won't be easy.
- Smith: Completing zoning review and work on new guidelines that would call for more sophisticated architectural guidelines. He points to the new 7-Eleven, noting that it could have been built to fit into the downtown landscape better. Cautions that he's not looking for a "Disney-fication" of downtown, but better guidelines. Smith said there isn't much the city can do for a new high school, as the budget is governed by the county and the board of education. City can lobby, but decision is made at county level. There's a vacancy on the school board, as well.
- Scharbrough: Would like to form a citizen's committee from various sections of the city. Those committee members would get feedback on a "top-10 list" of wants and concerns. Helps push forth citizen involvement.
- Sawyer: Would like to see trash pickup and snow removal by the city offered to Bulle Rock.
8:46 p.m.: Incumbents are asked about two initiatives they spearheaded that provided tangible benefits to the city:
- Miller: On parks and marina commission, was able to oversee the permanent bathroom at Tydings Park. He said he fought hard for the building. Otherwise, it is a team effort, he said.
- Martin: First year on council there was a movement to create three-year terms. He was against it. You can’t wipe out the whole government in one year, but you can wipe out half of it, he said. Now, any term change must be put to vote by residents. Carbon monoxide detector ordinance was a proud effort of his.
- Cullum: Said he was in support of three-year terms. He is most proud of initiating formula for funding the Susquehanna Hose Company and the Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps. The organizations couldn't budget, never knew what they would have. Helped to establish alotment based upon taxable assessments of properties in the city.
8:40 p.m.: Cullum is asked: does Havre de Grace have a multi-year capital budget? What are the long-term priorities?
- Cullum: There’s no long-term budget like there is the annual budget. There is a five-year plan for projects that was recently submitted to the state. Cullum explains there are three funds: the general fund, the marina fund and the water & sewer fund—all of which have their own programs and capital.
8:37 p.m.: All candidates are asked about the proposal for a five percent increase in water and sewer costs every year for the next three years, and would they support it:
- Glenn: This is an ongoing problem. We have to support it now and can’t keep kicking the can down the road. If it materializes sooner, the rates can be changed back.
- Cullum: Has dealt with the issue almost every year he has been on council. Water and sewer commission was established to remove politics from the rate approval process. Wastewater improvements are not paid for, and completion of Bulle Rock development is a problem. Plan brings city back into the black, but new building would shorten the time frame for the plan.
- Smith: Decisions were made in the past and we're left with them. Should revisit this on an annual basis to see if connections have picked up. A regional water authority would spread cost across larger group of people to bring rates down quickly. That is a long-term solution.
- Martin: Said a need and a want are different. Voted against the rate increase recommendation two years ago. The three five-percent rate increases are necessary. Martin recommends everyone takes a nice long bath tonight.
- Scharbrough: Supports the rate increase. Many of the costs are mandated from the top down. Flush tax is also tacked onto the water bill, he said. Willing to revisit and seek alternative options to pay off the debt.
- Miller: Does not support raising rates to balance the water and sewer fund. For the past 20 years, rates weren't raised to keep up with inflation, he said. Will not vote to raise rates until someone is brought in to prove that all the money being spent is being done so efficiently. Said he conserved, like many did, during the last increase of fees.
- Sawyer: Agrees with Miller. Against adding any bonds to take care of debts.
8:25 p.m.: All candidates are asked about the city's sharing of purchased supplies or services with other municipalities:
- Sawyer: Is not aware of any shared services. If there are any available, he's in support.
- Miller: There are shared services. Says there's a major issue in that routine expenses are not bid out and awarded to the same businesses all the time. Share equipment with Aberdeen.
- Scharbrough: Has heard about, but has concerns about the idea of a regional water service.
- Martin: Most of the shared services are through the department of public works and neighboring communities. Council turned down sign boards, which are now borrowed from the state.
- Smith: In support of shared services. Allows for economies to scale. Could be applied to health care. Question of giving up control.
- Cullum: Questions always arise: who operates and who covers operator? Not as simple as buying and sharing. Some sharing is done with county and state.
- Glenn: Not familiar with shared supplies. Tried to work out a deal with Aberdeen for water. Offers potential for economies to scale. What are other municipalities doing? Use that info to sell a program here.
8:18 p.m.: Incumbent candidates are asked about the published budget, which shows large descrepencies in the hospitalization costs for employees. Can those fluctuating figures be reduced?
- Miller: Finance director said the numbers in the budget are a worst-case scenario. He sees the numbers as an opening for lag money for the mayor to put through whatever programs he sees fit.
- Martin: Some employees are single, others married with kids. Some don't require healthcare. The city is shopping for best healthcare option.
- Cullum: Solid numbers are not available at the time the budget has to be passed.
Follow-up: Have you compared costs of other municipalities to Havre de Grace:
- Cullum: May be higher, but there is very little turnover. Benefit package is offered for that reason.
- Martin: Not highest-paid municipality in Harford County, but the benefits package is attractive. City implemented wellness program.
- Miller: The cost is there, whether it is the right cost is not known until later in the process.
8:14 p.m.: Challengers are asked about any inefficiencies they see in teh city's structure and what solutions they would bring:
- Glenn: By nature, he challenges processes. Doesn't have any inefficiencies in mind.
- Smith: Can't know inefficiencies until on council. There is room for improvement. Background as project manager and in human resources will enable him to conduct job analysis.
- Scharbrough: Less chance for inefficiencies in smaller city. Problems are fixed quickly due to small government, connection to community.
- Sawyer: Has worked in improving government process for a long time, including replacing personnel. Typically redundant personnel, with politics involved.
8:08 p.m.: Smith is asked—and the question is opened to others, too—if he would support an ordinance that would mandate appearance upkeep of vacant properties:
- Smith: Difficult to legislate against private properties. In favor of creating incentives for property owners, rather than penalties for offenders. Saw similar issues in Annapolis recently.
8:05 p.m.: Martin and Scharbrough are asked their take on a restrictive law that prohibits businesses that serve liquor in another Harford County location from opening a second shop in Havre de Grace:
- Martin: It's an antiquated law that needs to be opened up. Commercial property along Route 40 has maintained or gained value.
- Scharbrough: Harford County liquor board is very stringent. Public safety concerns, potentially adding DUI-related accidents to the area.
Follow-up question: Is the law prohibitive to Havre de Grace only? Is it a city or county law?
- Cullum: It's a state law that would have to be changed by delegation and state senate. Delegation and senators have turned a shoulder to city on the issue, similar to the hotel tax issue for Harford County.
- Miller: It was a franchise liquor license law that prohibited multiple licenses in Harford County. Del. Mary-Dulany James wanted to keep Havre de Grace and Aberdeen unique, so the bill excluded the two municipalities. Havre de Grace is still left out. Change can be made in November.
7:58 p.m.: Miller is asked about the zoning review and where the process stands:
- Miller: Planning committee has spent about three hours every Tuesday night going over the zoning matrix. Intends to have a joint review and public work session to move the process along. A long, difficult process.
7:55 p.m.: Miller and Sawyer are asked how to redevelop the Route 40 busiess corridor:
- Miller: Proposed changes to zoning that would encourage development. Fear is that developers will take advantage of Cecil County’s expansive Route 40 frontage.
- Sawyer: Market research needs to be done. Outside of Bulle Rock, the region may not support upscale development.
7:53 p.m.: Miller and Cullum are asked about the status of the proposed Upper Chesapeake hospital project near Interstate 95 and Bulle Rock Parkway:
- Cullum: Preliminary work underway for hospital complex and proposed retail section and office section. Proposal is a phased program. Four phases: hospital, retail, hotel/retail, followed by office buildings. Proposed over a 10-year period. No plans submitted yet.
- Miller: Upper Chesapeake already owns the 65 acres needed for the project. Zoning changes have been requested, and submitted to planning commission. Five-year period between ground-breaking and the first patient.
7:50 p.m.: Martin and Smith are asked about the destination study and the proposal for a conference center in the county:
- Martin: Havre de Grace is why people come to Harford County. Feels a convention center and hotel needs to be located here. Hopes a developer sees a market in Havre de Grace.
- Smith: Multi-night stays need to be encouraged. Small conference center should be part of the plan. Ripken Stadium needs to be included. The combo of Havre de Grace and Ripken Stadium is a great draw.
7:47 p.m.: Incumbents are asked about the high rate of defaults on loans that are administered through the city:
- Miller: Has asked for the city to reorganize the way the program works. Frustrated by the process, and the city's slow response. The council has no oversight. Full amount would be loaned after documentation is received.
- Martin: About $1.7 million has been given out in RAD loans. Ten are paid off, 13 are active with about $700,000 still out there. Four defaulted, some others are defaulted with an explanation. Others are seasonal. RAD loan program in Havre de Grace is considered the best in Maryland, and follows state guidelines.
- Cullum: Has been a successful program with successful businesses. Money comes back in and helps start other businesses. It hasn't been a failure, he said. State has asked city's RAD loan committee to be more open to lending money. Defaults took place after state asked for loosened reigns. City Council should oversee approval.
Second part of question is asked, whether more transparency is required in the process:
- Cullum: All for transparency, but some items in that process can't be made public until after transactions are done.
- Martin: Business can't lay out business plan.
- Miller: It's a mess now and it needs to be fixed.
7:39 p.m.: Martin and Glenn are asked about businesses closing and what can be done to prevent such closings:
- Martin: Closings happen often, as much as he hates to see it happen. Economic Development Manager Meghan Simmons does a great job bringing businesses to the city. Main Street and Chamber work to support businesses. All businesses offered tax credit up to $500—it's a start, he said.
- Glenn: Attended budget work session Monday, supports making a part-time position in economic development a full-time position. Attends all council meetings, and visited all business owners to gather input. Tries to give his business to downtown businesses. Businesses can't close at 5 p.m. Student artwork placed in windows downtown will make kids force parents downtown to visit shops.
7:35 p.m.: Cullum and Scharbrough are asked about downtown businesses and tourism, and what improvements can be made:
- Cullum: Small, independently-owned stores can't compete with box stores and malls. Downtown areas are nice, but less practical. Key events and First Fridays draw visitors to downtown. Business hours need to be altered and allow for business class to visit after work.
- Scharbrough: Sees opportunity to increase places for docking boats at the city marina. Suggests bed and breakfasts and restaurants could offer long weekend package. Look for niche markets to target with marketing.
7:32 p.m.: Candidates are asked: what is your position on the fact that Bulle Rock residents pay full city taxes without receiving full city services?
- Glenn: Open to discussion. Reduction in taxes means someone else has to pay the bill. Work together, find a middle ground. Not here to reduce taxes, but here to listen.
- Cullum: Spent a lot of hours on Bulle Rock. The developers won out, leaving unhappy residents. Mentions street service and garbage collection as two key services, as residents in attendance shout out: "snow removal!" Said garbage collection proposal was made to residents at Bulle Rock, and it was rejected. Willing to talk and listen.
- Smith: Said its not unusual for residents to pay taxes for services they don't use. There are considerations to be made. Supports a solution that creates partnership for trash pickup and street lights.
- Martin: Sister is in attendance. She owns home, father previously lived in Bulle Rock. Bulle Rock provides $1.6 million in tax revenue, about 13 percent of operating costs for city. City should be prepared to take on Bulle Rock if need be. He helped broker deal to bring Paddocks neighborhood into the city. Plowing and trash pickup under city watch wouldn't be as comprehensive as under HOA.
- Scharbrough: Was among founding members on community covenants. Not sure if economic climates will allow for disolution of HOA. Some HOA members do not pay fees. Street modification may be required to meet county or city codes.
- Miller: Ed Abel saved city from a NASCAR track on the property here. Abel wanted to two world class golf courses. Miller said Abel was like a carpetbagger who sold the city a bill of goods. Miller is cut off from his statement, and is willing to share his written notes with anyone in the room.
- Sawyer: Should be a simple way to work out trash service. Snow plowing sounds more complicated. This is the primary reason he is running.
7:18 p.m.: Candidate introductions are under way, with candidates responding from left-to-right on the table at the front of the room:
- Robert Sawyer: Moved to Bulle Rock in 2005. Has three children, including a newborn. Works as an IT contractor with the government, including department of energy. Primary motivation to run: Bulle Rock is underrepresented in City government.
- Jim Miller: Been a councilman for six years. Represents all the city, he said. Notes that he is matter-of-fact, says what's on his mind.
- Barry Scharbrough: Moved to Bulle Rock in 2009. Master's degree in business management.
- Bill Martin: Finishing fourth year on council, second year as council president. Is an eighth-grade history/government teacher at Aberdeen Middle School. Has three children.
- Joseph Smith: Thanked his neighbors on his street for wearing shirts in support. Has family ties to the area, including land that is now Susquehanna State Park, despite having grown up in Michigan. Elected to Harford County Democratic Central Committee. Founding member of the Bulle Rock Civic League, which is organizing tonight's forum.
- Fred Cullum: Has lived in Havre de Grace for 44 years. Retired from Aberdeen Fire Department, where he was a batallion chief. Has been on council for 16 years, including four terms as council president. Very active in the Maryland Municipal League. Says he sticks to committments and sees them through.
- Dave Glenn: Has been with federal government for 32 years. Past president of PTA for Meadowvale Elementary School. Coached Little League baseball for 30 years. Says his seat is the residents' seat.
Questions are about to begin.
7 p.m.: The forum is under way. It will close around 9 p.m.
Candidates will have a three-minute introduction, followed by questions asked by a moderator. Questions were submitted from residents all over the city, not just within Bulle Rock. Responses are limited to two minutes.
6:50 p.m.: All candidates are in attendance, including Robert Sawyer, who did not attend the previous two forums.
6:45 p.m.: The Bulle Rock Candidates' Forum will begin at 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday at the Residents Center.
The event is run by the Bulle Rock Civic League and is open to Bulle Rock residents and their guests. If you're not invited, don't worry—follow along right here. I'll try to hit on all the topics and the statements by candidates.
Candidates invited include incumbents Fred Cullum, Bill Martin and Jim Miller, as well as challengers Dave Glenn, Robert Sawyer, Barry Scharbrough and Joseph Smith.