… Jobs, economic growth – and a few barbs – emerge at debate …
By Steven Schuster
There was no shortage of sparks — and barely an empty seat in the house — at Wednesday night’s Baltimore County Executive forum at Stevenson College, as Democrat Kevin Kamenetz and Republican Ken Holt conducted a debate that was, at times, a bit fiery.
Topics at the 90-minute forum included the economy, education, national security, transportation and the environment.
There wasn’t much the candidates agreed upon. Kamenetz said he would put his legal background and 16 years of experience on the County Council against Holt’s tenure as a state delegate, and said his experience is what’s needed for a county executive.
The debate was generally cordial, though at one point Holt interrupted a Kamenetz statement, prompting Kamenetz to assert, “Pardon me.”
In another exchange, Holt criticized some current county government practices as not being “transparent,” and cited several county fees that will increase late this year with little or no fanfare.
Kamenetz responded by saying Holt was “completely uninformed” — though he qualified to say he meant “no disrespect.” He said the increase in fees is done within the scope of the law and has been the same practice for decades.
Later, Kamenetz said that if Holt implemented all of his ideas, “Ken Holt has just given his recipe for giving us the highest tax rate in the country.”
That sparked a bit of laughter from the audience when Holt shot back, “That’s fuzzy math.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Greater Greenspring Association, the Baltimore County Community Political Action Committee, the Community Association Network and the Falls Road Community Association. Questions were submitted via the web from Baltimore County residents prior to the event.
Job creation and economic growth were key aspects of the debate, and Holt also said he would like to create what he called a “cyber security compound” at Baltimore Crossroads in the White Marsh Middle River area, which he said would, “in a very significant way … support the federal government.”
Holt also said he would increase public transportation options in Woodlawn where several federal agencies — including the FBI Baltimore Division office, Social Security Administration buildings, Health and Human Services, and others — are located to make it easier for federal employees to commute to work.
“One of my ideas in my seven-point economic plan is to provide rapid bus service to serve federal installations in Woodlawn,” he said.
Kamenetz offered public transportation initiatives, too, including creating a public transportation shuttle in Towson that, he said, would operate without cost to taxpayers. He said the project would be funded between the local area universities, hospitals and businesses.
Kamenetz said that as executive, he would focus on safe neighborhoods, schools and sound fiscal policies, and noted that the current council has balanced the budget, avoided furloughs and not raised taxes.
Holt said if elected, he would serve honorably, honestly, efficiently and with transparency, and emphasized the importance of Baltimore County partnering with the federal government’s national security interests for mutual benefit.
Holt said if elected he would “eliminate regulations burdening companies” and vowed to lower commercial property taxes to zero percent, “for a couple of years” — a proposal Kamenetz took issue with.
Other topics drawing varied responses between the two included placement of cell towers in the county and a proposal, by Kamenetz, to create a water utility oversight commission to work with Baltimore City — which currently handles water delivery and infrastructure in the county.
In regard to expanding cellular towers in the county, Holt said he’s against the idea. Building more cellular telephone towers “is basically ugly and undermines the property value and quality of life,” he said.
But Kamenetz said the County Council has created a committee that reviews requests to expand towers. He acknowledged there are two sides to the issue, but noted that when electric power lines were erected, people were upset — but then he asked the audience to consider how electricity has changed their lives.
“We need to have some flexibility, it’s all a balance,” he said.
In regard to the water system, Holt said he is pleased with the current arrangement with Baltimore City.
“I think the relationship (for sharing water between Baltimore city and county) has been a very constructive relationship for 85 years,” said Holt, citing relatively low costs county residents pay for drinking water.
Kamenetz, however, said he trusts the county’s management skills more than the city. He cited examples of when the county fire hydrants were dry, and the city was unresponsive to fix them.
“They are not responsive … It’s not an alliance, it’s city owned and controlled. All we do is pay, but we have no say,” he said.
Another hot topic for the 2010 campaign season has been the possibility that the state government will shift some of the burden of employee pensions — particularly teacher pensions — to the county governments.
Holt said he thinks the state’s move is likely because if the fiscal situation in Annapolis, but should be spread out over the course of three years, with a maximum of $30 million per year taken on by the county.
Kamenetz said, in some regard, he supports shared responsibility, but said, “I think its intellectually dishonest for the state to transfer the pension system over to the county.”
Asked what county agencies the candidates would add or remove, Holt said, “The department of sustainability would be unsustainable in my administration.”
Holt also said he would increase the department of economic development, “probably five fold.”
Kamenetz said he would increase the office of information technology.
In his final statement, Holt said “When you talk about fiscal management, I took a dime and stretched it into a dollar” — referring to how he has managed to spend less money on campaigning but has stayed “neck and neck” with Kamenetz.
Holt said that the debates and campaigning have been challenging but fruitful for voters, and that, “we have shed a lot of light on our value system.”
Earlier in the forum and in conclusion, Kamenetz expressed gratitude for endorsements he received from The Sierra Club, The Baltimore Sun, The Towson Times and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, but said, “the most important endorsement I can receive is from all of you.”
Owings Mills Times