Council candidates discuss local issues at forum
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 13:15

Government Center, jobs, budget debated

by Ben Boehl

    The six candidates running for the 7th District Baltimore County Council seat sparred over the North Point Government Center, jobs and economic development, taxes and other issues at a May 21 forum at the North Point-Edgemere Volunteer Fire Department hall.            The event was hosted by the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce and the Millers Island-Edgemere Business Association, and was moderated by Chamber president Jim Russell.
    Each candidate had two minutes to answer a question from Russell. Topics included hot-button issues such as the sale of the Government Center property, the future of the Seagram’s distillery site and the business climate in the region.
    On the topic of the Government Center, Joe DiCara said he is not sure if legal action can be taken,  as some have suggested, but said the community needs to sit down with the potential owners to get the best deal possible.
    “I don’t know the legal situation, but the building has been sold,” DiCara noted.
    “We might be able to [file a lawsuit], but we need to cut the best deal possible with the property owner.”
    Scott Holupka took a similar approach and recommended that the community take a look at all the angles of the deal.

“I think if we want to improve our community, we need to hear more ideas,” Holupka said.
    Ron Yeatman said that he was against giving up any field space, but wants to see how the PUD process plays out.
    Brian Weir, C.O. “Bud” Staigerwald and Todd Crandell, who is the only Republican in the race, said they were all against the sale of the property.
    “I will do everything in my power as councilman to protect parks and the North Point Government Center,” Crandell said.    
    “I don’t believe in taking away fields where kids play.”
    Staigerwald disputed DiCara’s claim that the property had been sold.
    “It’s a park and it is not for sale. We were told it would not be voted on if it was not equal or better [than the current building],” Staigerwald said. “I don’t think it is a done deal because it’s a PUD that must go through.”
    The candidates were also questioned about the future of the Seagram’s site.
    Crandell said he lives near the site and called it an “embarrassment and a public safety hazard,” referring to the deaths and fires over the past several years.
    Crandell claimed that John Vontran, owner of the Seagram’s property, has been a beneficiary of favoritism and added that he would consider pursuing condemnation and eminent domain as a last resort if he didn’t see action taken to improve the property.
    “As councilman, I will work with the owner to provide as much assistance as I can to create something worthwhile there,” Crandell told The Eagle after the forum.
    “Only after significant efforts and a complete failure would we look into the possibility of moving toward condemnation, a process that would come at taxpayer expense and would have to be investigated thoroughly before being started.”
    DiCara and Staigerwald  agreed that the Seagram’s site would have been a better location for North Point Police Precinct 12 than the planned Eastwood Elementary School site.

Economic development
    Regarding the local economy and job creation, many of the candidates blamed taxes, such as the “rain tax,” for hurting local business.
    Yeatman, a business owner, said he was against the tax because he said it is determinantal to small businesses.
    “It needs to be adjusted. You can’t put people out of work to clean the bay,” Yeatman said.
    Staigerwald agreed with Yeatman that the tax is harmful to small business, which he called “the economic engine of our economy”
    “Rain is to generate crops, not revenue,” Staigerwald said.
    Crandell said it is about more than just the “rain tax,” and pointed to the gas tax, saying he has talked to business owners who say they have been hurt by that tax, too. Crandell also pointed to his proposal for a District 7 job creation team to market the area.
    Holupka suggested the idea of giving grants instead of loans. He explained that a business owner could pay the grant back if the business became successful, but added that the grant would allow the owner to take a chance if the business fails.
    “There are a lot of loans, but how about grants when people need start-up money?” Holupka said. “If it is too hard to start up, people wouldn’t try.”
    DiCara noted that he was deputy director of small business in the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development during the Dennis Rasmussen administration and he has experience reaching out to business owners.
    Weir pointed out that that there are over 160 empty business locations in the district and proposed a two-year tax break for businesses locating in the area.

The budget
    When it came to the county budget, candidates had different viewpoints.
    Holupka said that citizens might complain about paying taxes, but stated that the county has a fair tax rate.
    “Baltimore County has a good tradition of not raising taxes over the last 20 years. The county runs a lean operation,” Holupka said.
    Crandell responded that  the county has not raised the tax rate over the last 25 years, but that taxes have gone up when property values rise. Crandell also said he wants the 7th District treated like the rest of the county.
    “[Fifth District] Councilman [David] Marks is building parks in his district and we are selling ours,” Marks said. “We want an equal share.”
    Staigerwald wants to see the councilman have the ability to compromise, noting that council members can only take an item out of the budget.
    Instead, he said, he would like to see a system under which, if something is taken out of the budget by the County Executive, the councilman would have the ability to put that item or another budget item back in for his district.
    DiCara said that the community has needs all year long and would like to look at budget items throughout the year.
    “It’s important to work with people not just during budget time, but all through the year,” he said.

    On the topic of recreation councils in the area, Weir, a Board of Recreation and Parks member, said that the field conditions in the area are some of the worst in the county and he wants to see more
done for local programs.
    “Instead of Dundalk, we should be called Detroit. We are a neglected area,” Weir noted.
    Yeatman, who noted he took part in the Edgemere Little League parade, said he was impressed with his local recreation council.
    “I’m not going to bash the Edgemere rec council. I think they do pretty good work,” Yeatman said. “I think we have a nice rec council. Sure we could use a building, but I’m proud to be with Edgemere.”