BG Alderman Forum - NL

Five of the aldermanic candidates, from left, Roger Wilson, Bryan Chaney, Kelly Russell, Donna Kuzemchak and Nate Power, answer questions Thursday night at the United Way and League of Women Voters forum for city mayoral and aldermanic candidates.

Almost half of Frederick city families didn’t earn enough to afford basic necessities in 2014, according to a recent report published by the United Ways of Maryland.

Helping those families succeed was a common goal cited by candidates running for Frederick mayor and Board of Aldermen. But when it comes to accomplishing this mission, and how to pay for it, solutions varied.

The plight of residents who struggle to make ends meet served as the basis of a forum hosted by United Way of Frederick County and the League of Women Voters and moderated by Michael Powell, a political science professor at Frederick Community College.

Thirty-two percent of Frederick County’s 89,084 households — about 28,507 — in 2014 fell below the ALICE threshold, the report stated. That’s any person who earned less than $31,536, or combined earnings of $75,732 for a family of four, based on the report’s “survival budget” calculated using market conditions, growth rates, demographic realities and the cost of living in individual states, counties and even municipalities.

The prevalence of ALICE was even higher within the city limits: 43 percent of the city’s 27,209 households as of 2014.

Shrinking the gap in affordable housing that plagues the city and county was one solution shared among a host of candidates, and given a particular focus during the mayoral portion of the forum.

Mayoral candidate Michael O’Connor, a Democrat and current alderman, emphasized housing as the most basic human need, and one where the city falls short. He suggested density tax credits as one way to incentivize the development community to create more affordable-housing alternatives.

Mayor Randy McClement highlighted more projects like Sinclair Way, a workforce housing project developed by Conifer Realty with financial support from the city through revenue from fees charged to developers that don’t build the required affordable housing in new projects.

Increasing education options — both two- and four-year colleges and alternative skills training — was also a common answer among candidates for both offices, as was public transportation, senior citizen services and economic development.

As a person who has for much of his life earned below the $30,000 ALICE threshold, Republican Hayden Duke, a candidate for alderman, spoke of the solutions that would have helped him — expanding the MARC train system that connects Frederick to jobs in D.C., for example.

Fellow Republican aldermanic hopeful Bryan Chaney also drew upon personal experience. He suggested establishing a help desk to connect people in need to services, similar to a component of the business he and his wife own.

Maryland’s 211 call center service is one such centralized resource, responded Alderman Kelly Russell, a Democrat seeking re-election. Russell maintained that the city has a strong relationship with charities, although she suggested more pedestrian friendly transportation paths and incubator spaces for startup businesses as improvements that could also help ALICE families.

In addition to partnering with local charities, connections with the county, state and federal government were also crucial, according to Roger Wilson, a Democrat running for alderman. As an example, he cited expanding the state’s earned income tax credit program, which helps families who earn below a certain income recoup a portion of their income taxes.

Aldermanic candidates of both major political parties recommended tax credits for senior, a disproportionate number of whom fall below the ALICE threshold. Party divisions emerged more clearly in terms of funding for service agencies and programs, though.

Republican hopefuls leaned toward tax credit and tax reduction programs, while Democrats called for increasing program funding. Alan Imhoff, a Republican, also suggested revenue from the city’s parking decks as a source of funding for public transportation programs, while Chaney stated a preference for public-private partnerships.

Republican Nate Power called for eliminating pension taxes as a way to help struggling seniors.

Wilson, however, questioned the logic of tax cuts, noting that demand for services will only increase. And Ben MacShane, a fellow Democrat running for alderman, emphasized the importance of not leaving people behind.

MacShane referenced contacts in his cellphone, people he will never be able to call again because they have died from drug overdoses as example of what happens when people fall through the cracks.

Democratic incumbent Donna Kuzemchak suggested restoring a city shuttle between downtown and Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium, as well as the Golden Mile in west Frederick. It would come at a cost, she warned, although she also said the cost for public transportation would pay for itself in the long term.

Derek Shackelford called for the city to take a leadership role in working with other government and charitable organizations to accomplish these lifesaving services. Shackelford, a Democrat, suggested establishing a living wage and an innovation center to foster younger generations’ creativity as ways to bolster economic growth.

Political ideology was not as clearly a source of division between McClement and O’Connor as the difference between an incumbent and a challenger.

McClement defended many of the services currently provided, such as those under the Frederick Community Action Agency. He also highlighted the constraints of the city charter, which limit his ability as mayor to enact change in programs outside the city’s purview, such as the Frederick County TransIT program.

O’Connor, while acknowledging the limits of power and resources, spoke to the benefits of change and new ideas. While the city might not control the TransIT program, it can add public transportation via bicycle and pedestrian paths, he said. And it might be time to expand the Frederick Community Action Agency’s food bank program beyond a single location.

Shelley Aloi, a former alderwoman who lost to McClement in the Republican primary and has since launched a write-in campaign, also spoke in between the aldermanic and mayoral discussions. She highlighted the relevance of adverse childhood experiences in people’s need for social services later in life. Since city code does not require write-in candidates to file, voters can write in anyone’s name on the ballot to be counted.

Republican candidate Katie Bowersox did not attend the event.

The general election is Nov. 7, with early voting on Oct. 27 and 28. All registered city voters are eligible to cast ballots.

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @NancyKLavin.

Nancy Lavin covers social services, demographics and religion for The Frederick News-Post.

(6) comments

BstD59

I think they missed the mark on affordable housing. It's not so much the cost of housing it is the cost of living, especially in Frederick City where residents pay both the county and city tax for duplicate services. The county is supposed to refund the city resident's portion but for all the years I have lived in the city I have never seen any type of tax relief after paying for duplicate services. If more affordable housing is made available, many still won't be able to afford it because of the property taxes and duplicate service fees.

public-redux

The county property tax rate in the city of Frederick -- 0.934 -- is lower than the county property tax rate outside of the city -- 1.06. Myersville has a similar deal. I think this has something to do with not paying for duplicate services.

http://dat.maryland.gov/realproperty/Pages/2015-2016-County-Tax-Rates.aspx

BstD59

Thanks, Public. I stand corrected on the duplicate tax, but property taxes are still very high and I believe taxes are what is keeping many low income residents from owning a home, not so much the lack of affordable housing.

bryan

I agree that property taxes are the biggest issue for residents and businesses in the City based on what I am hearing. I just released a proposal yesterday on the Tim May showe, with specifics, fully vetted, that will save the city $1 million to $2 million over 5 years that I will introduce on day 1 if I'm elected into office. If implemented, I'll introduce a proposal t reduce taxes dollar for dollar immediately. Details on the "News" section of my website, www.chaneyforalderman.com.

abowers1

We need to start teaching financial literacy in our school systems. So much time is spent preparing children for standardized tests to help them get into colleges that they may not be able to afford rather than the life skills that the need to know to manage their lives.

Shemp

It's ridiculous that Aloi is given an opportunity to speak at these forums. Any voter can write-in any name: Donald Duck, Santa Claus, Jesus H. Christ, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Harvey Weinstein, but those potential candidates are not given an opportunity to speak. Aloi ran as a Republican and lost the primary, time to give it up.

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