Candidates answer questions at forum

March 03, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - Candidates running in this year's City of Hagerstown elections who spoke Wednesday at a public forum are divided over whether taxes should be lowered, and what should be done to save taxpayers' money.

Sixteen of the 20 candidates attended the only forum that will be held before Tuesday's primary election. The candidates remaining after Tuesday will face off in the May 17 general election.

About 40 people attended the forum at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown sponsored by the Washington County League of Women Voters.


Not in attendance were Republican council candidates, the Rev. Haru Carter and Ruth Anne Callaham, Democratic council candidates Penny M. Nigh, an incumbent, and Walter "Nick" E. Carter, and Republican mayoral candidate Roger Dean Weber, who will be listed on the ballot as Charlie Baker.

The forum lasted nearly two hours.

After two-minute, timed introductions, moderator B. Marie Byers took written questions from the audience and asked them of the candidates.

In the only issue-oriented question posed to all the candidates, Byers asked: "How would you plan to lower taxes and ... increase services?"

Here are the responses:

Democratic council candidates

"Nobody likes high taxes," Donald L. Souders Jr. said. One way he said to ease the tax burden on current city property owners is to look to the real-estate development community, which could pay an adequate public facilities ordinance fee - commonly called an APFO.

Souders said he is interested in a law under consideration in the General Assembly, which would allow municipalities to raise taxes for fire and rescue services.

Henry R. Renner Jr. said he agrees the city should look into an APFO, but he said the city should expand the city's electric distribution, which is run by the City Light Department.

Renner said the city could help its bottom line by doing so because City Light is a profitable department.

Alesia D. Parson said that while taxes might be able to be stabilized, "I don't think we can lower them."

She said with the increased number of businesses coming into the city, she sees a necessity of charging more taxes.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the only way to reduce taxes and increase services is "you get a bunch of smoke and mirrors. ... You're either going to cut service or you are going to continue to increase your expenses."

Metzner said he believes the current council has shaved the "fat in government," but there is rising price inflation and are needs facing the city, including 13 more paid city firefighters.

Ira P. Kauffman Jr. proposed a cap on the number employees, or holding some positions open longer. Kauffman said one costly item that should be looked at for some savings is the benefit package given to employees.

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said the city has cut expenses - "We're so lean, we've got to be careful" - and to prepare for the expected city population growth, money needs to be spent.

"If you want the services ... you're gonna have to pay taxes," Hendershot said.

Kelly S. Cromer said she doesn't know how a tax-rate reduction could be done, but she would like to stabilize the rates to make sure they do not increase as rapidly as they have in the past.

Cromer suggested other tightening measures, including looking for efficiencies, raising developer fees and filling empty downtown buildings, which would generate more tax revenue.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said he will continue pushing for budget cuts - he laid claim to $500,000 worth in his first year in office - and increased fees to pay for new city employees, such as planning and engineering staff.

The Republican mayoral candidates

Anthony T. Campello said he wouldn't promise to cut taxes, but he thinks there are ways to hold them at bay, including looking at APFOs for developers and better promoting the city.

"We do hold some of the cards," Campello said.

Robert E. Bruchey II called for a revenue sharing plan between the city and Washington County that is "fair and equitable," and more beneficial to the city.

"Until we, as a group, go up and knock on those doors up the street, you won't see a change," Bruchey said, pointing in the direction of the county building.

Richard F. Trump said he would push for goal-setting among the city departments as well as for introducing more efficient technology, such as the police camera system.

"The key is to get motivated about" making government more efficient, Trump said, but "we have to do it to provide the level of services that are needed."

Not on the primary ballot

Mayor William M. Breichner, a Democrat running for his second term, said voters don't want to hear that an increase in services requires an increase in taxes, but with disappearing money sources, "we're gonna have to find some other source of revenue."

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