Smart growth, stormwater fees and a growing senior population were among the issues that candidates for Frederick County executive dissected during a Thursday forum.
The event hosted by The Frederick News-Post gave roughly 60 crowd members the opportunity to pose questions to Blaine Young and Jan Gardner, who are competing with each other to become the first Frederick County executive. The candidates found common ground on certain issues, such as the increasing needs of seniors in the community, but differed sharply over growth policies, as they have throughout the campaign.
The conversation grew specific, as the rivals went back and forth about several housing projects approved during Young's time as county commissioner.
For example, Gardner, a Democrat, and Young, a Republican, differed over whether the 1,250-home Monrovia Town Center development was appropriate for the area. Gardner said Monrovia was not traditionally slated for high-density development and is outside a priority funding area, regions targeted by the state for school and road funding.
Young blamed the state for the density of the Town Center plan; Maryland smart growth policies take away freedom to build large-lot developments served by wells and septic systems, he said.
"I do not subscribe to the notion of smart growth, where everyone lives on a postage stamp," he said.
Gardner said the current board of commissioners has placed less burden on developers for funding infrastructure like schools and roads. These costs will fall instead to taxpayers, said Gardner, who accused Young's board of "turning over the keys to managing growth to the development community."
A recent analysis completed by a local education advocate found that with all the development that has been approved, county residents will have to pick up the tab for $110 million in school construction costs, she said.
Young countered that during his board, developers have made $468 million in commitments for expanding county infrastructure, such as schools, fire stations and libraries. Gardner asked Young if the money was in the bank. Young said it was not, but the developers would have to pay before they secured a building permit.
"I think you've been confused into thinking that development is paying its way," Gardner said.
"It is paying its own way," Young said.
The candidates agreed that the county should work toward meeting the needs of seniors in the community. Young said he would expand the senior property tax credit to reach individuals who make up to $100,000 each year. He said when he speaks to older voters, they "ask about tax relief more than anything else."
Young also said he would follow up on the senior needs assessment completed last year.
Gardner said sitting commissioners have not taken action based on the assessment. First, vacancies should be filled on the Frederick County Commission on Aging, which should then move forward to develop an action plan based on the needs assessment, she said.
Gardner also said she disagreed with the current board's action to sell the county-owned nursing and assisted living center.
The candidates also agreed that the estimated cost of state water cleanup mandates are not affordable for Frederick County residents. Young said during his term, local leaders have formed partnerships with other counties to examine the science behind these requirements and determine whether local jurisdictions are being asked to bear an unfair burden. If all else fails and state officials don't back down, the county might have to take them to court, he said.
Gardner said she doesn't think threatening a lawsuit is the correct approach. She said she would work with the state and show that the county is making an effort to improve water quality. One way of doing this would be by increasing local stream setbacks, which were reduced during the current administration, she said.
Correction: Due to a sources error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the source of a recent analysis Gardner sited about school construction funding.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.