Hood College held the first Republican debate of the season for Frederick County executive and County Council at-large hopefuls, where the candidates found more in common than not.
With the 2018 primary election just two months away, county executive candidates Delegate Kathy Afzali (R-District 4), Councilman Kirby Delauter and Regina Williams squared off Monday night, followed by at-large candidates Phil Dacey, Danny Farrar, Justin Kiska and Jason Miller.
All said they would take a fiscally conservative approach to governing if elected, supported economic development and would put a high priority on property rights. To that end, the Republicans universally opposed Livable Frederick, a plan two years in the making that aims to de-emphasize zoning maps in favor of a more holistic approach to planning. The candidates said the measure was too subjective to protect property owners’ rights. For similar reasons, they also opposed the Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan, which is stalled in an advisory board, because they believed the plan to ensure water quality could infringe on the property of people living along the river.
One of the biggest distinctions between the candidates was Afzali’s and Delauter’s positions on growth. Delauter said he favored “responsible growth,” just enough homes to generate the revenue to finance the county’s bond debt and keep it from having to raise taxes. Afzali said she favored slower growth with less high-density development, noting that Montgomery County’s high rate of growth had not kept it from having high tax rates.
The county executive candidates outlined their agenda for their first 100 days in office, should they be elected.
Williams, a former budget director under the Board of County Commissioners, said her first task would be to focus on the budget. She would institute a hiring freeze and meet with directors and department heads to evaluate the efficiency of county services.
“We need to be run lean,” she said.
Afzali said she would freeze property taxes among what she said would be a flurry of other changes. While she did not go into details, she said her first 100 days would be very fast-moving.
“If you like spunk, I’m your gal,” she said.
Delauter said his aim would be to make the county more business-friendly and reduce taxes. He would also revisit his school leasing plan. His proposal would build schools using bond market or private financing and have the county rent it back. While an initial hypothetical leasing arrangement found the lease deals would more than double the cost of a $41 million school over 30 years, Delauter has said it would allow the county to build more schools more quickly and “catch up.”
Moderator Don Irvine, publisher at Accuracy in Media, kicked off the questions to the council candidates asking for their take on charter government.
The group uniformly said the charter did not give enough authority to the council. Miller said the system gave the county executive “immense power,” and until the council addressed that, the candidates would not be able to make good on any promises to constituents.
Kiska said he would propose an amendment to allow the council to increase line items in the budget. Currently, the council can only reduce items in the county executive’s budget, except for education.
“This would enable the council to be that check and balance,” Kiska said.
Dacey said he didn’t agree with giving the council the ability to increase the budget because he believed the charter was designed to control spending.
Farrar said he would try to rein in the county executive by making it so that the county attorney did not serve at the pleasure of the official.
The council candidates all emphasized the importance of being willing to talk through issues to accomplish results, even in the face of philosophical disagreements.
The primary election will be held June 26, with the favored candidates moving on to the general election on Nov. 6.