In Severna Park, candidates repeat two words again and again this primary season: rain tax.
County Councilman Dick Ladd, a Republican who represents Severna Park, Arnold and Broadneck in the 5th District, is being targeted by six challengers, most of whom criticize him for voting for the county's stormwater fees, derided as the "rain tax" by opponents.
"People are worried about taxes. People don't like the rain tax that not only Dick Ladd voted for, but said he voted for with pleasure," said Republican challenger Joseph M. Campbell.
Ladd defends his vote, arguing the county is required to complete stormwater remediation projects to meet state and federal mandates, and the rain tax — or stormwater fee — is the best way to pay for them. He understands his vote was not popular but stands by it.
"It's a free shot. That's fine. I have to be big enough to stand up and take it, and that's fine. I think what we did is right," Ladd said.
Ladd said none of his challengers have offered a viable alternative for how to reduce pollution that harms local rivers and streams as well as the Chesapeake Bay. They simply want to eliminate the stormwater fees.
Ladd, an Army veteran and retired defense consultant, said he isn't bothered by the number of people trying to claim his seat. "You run for election knowing that there is accountability, and this is how accountability works," he said.
Ladd's opponents in the June 24 GOP primary include Campbell, a driving school owner and retired police sergeant from Millersville; Maureen Carr-York, a Severna Park community activist who lost to Ladd four years ago; Jack Norman Wilson Sr., a retired electrical contractor from Broadneck; and Michael Anthony Peroutka, a lawyer and constitutional activist from Pasadena.
In the Democrat primary, David Whitney, pastor of an Annapolis church, and Patrick Armstrong, a retail manager from Arnold, will square off to determine who advances.
Carr-York, a former nurse and attorney turned consultant, said she was lobbied by many people to run again. She said she tried to persuade Ladd not to support the stormwater fee.
"I've been most distressed about his tax increases. He voted for a lot of them after he said he never would," Carr-York said. "You can't just keep creating taxes every time there's a need."
Wilson said the stormwater fee is what put him "over the edge" and persuaded him to run. "I would be for repealing the tax. If not, I would like to see a cap put on the tax so they can't just run away with it," he said.
Peroutka, too, cites the stormwater fee as a top issue. A former Constitution Party member — he once ran for president — Peroutka believes the stormwater fee is effectively a tax on properties and thus violates the county's property tax cap. "I believe it's an end run around the tax cap," he said.
Whitney, also a former Constitution Party member, says the stormwater fee is also his biggest issue. "He was glad to impose this tax," Whitney said of Ladd. "The people need an alternative."
While most of the candidates in the district are opposed to the stormwater fee, Armstrong agrees with Ladd that it's important. "To me, it's the best thing we've done for the bay in decades," he said.
Armstrong said he's been focused on making sure Democratic primary voters know that he is a "true Democrat." He notes Whitney's history with the Constitution Party. "My goal is to make sure as many people know the difference between the two of us," said Armstrong, who ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates on the Eastern Shore when he attended Salisbury University.
Ladd also has been targeted by the local firefighters union, which is running an "Anybody But Ladd" campaign with signs and a website. The firefighters aren't openly supporting any one of Ladd's challengers, though.
Ladd says he may have some differences of opinion with the union but supports the needs of the Fire Department. "I've worked hard with the Fire Department to do what's right," he said.
In Crofton and the southern Anne Arundel communities that make up District 7, the next councilman will be determined in the primary election. Incumbent Republican Councilman Jerry Walker of Crofton is being challenged by Michelle Corkadel. No Democrats are running.
This election is a repeat affair for Walker and Corkadel: She finished second to Walker in the Republican primary four years ago.
Walker said he hears about the stormwater fee all the time. "It's an issue that's at the forefront of Republican primary voters' minds," he said.
Walker voted against Anne Arundel's stormwater fee and would support an effort to repeal it if there are enough votes on the council. Barring that, he'd like to cap the fee.
Walker said that if he's returned to the County Council, he would work to put the county on solid financial footing. He notes the council has changed benefits for retired county workers; next, Walker would like to replace pensions for new employees with defined contribution plans.
Corkadel, an Edgewater resident who formerly served as chairwoman of the county's Planning Advisory Board, criticized Walker for voting with Democrats too often.
"I understand that you do have to reach across the table," she said. "But you don't have to abandon the principles of the party."
Walker counters that Corkadel hasn't specified which bills she thinks he voted incorrectly on. He's posted all of his votes on his campaign website. "My voting record speaks for itself," he said.
Corkadel said she'll better represent Republican values such as keeping taxes low, while being more responsive to constituents' concerns.
Corkadel said she values the environment but would like to repeal the stormwater fee. If that's not possible, she wants to make sure the money is spent efficiently on stormwater projects.
"I was extremely upset we had to form a new department to do what the Department of Public Works had been doing," she said.
Western Anne Arundel County has an open seat, as District 4 Democratic Councilman Jamie Benoit is leaving the council after two terms.
The West County district has a three-candidate Democratic primary with Scott Hymes, Andrew Pruski and Devin Tucker. The sole Republican candidate is E. "Chike" Anyanwu.
Hymes is a longtime activist from Crownsville who works for the state Department of Natural Resources and is also a professional musician. Pruski works for the Baltimore County school system and is a member of the county's school board. Tucker has been an advocate for issues in the western communities of Russett and Maryland City.
Pruski said he'd use his experience on the school board to advocate decisions that would benefit the schools, including public-private partnerships to build new schools at lower cost to the county.
"Bringing that knowledge, that background to the council would be a benefit," he said.
Pruski, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2006, said he wants to forge a better relationship with Fort Meade, make sure the former Naval Academy dairy farm is a successful organic operation, develop a convention center in West County and make sure stormwater fees are being spent efficiently. His school board term isn't up until 2018, so he would resign from that position if elected.
Hymes, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2006, is advocating for independent investigation of how the county is handling a request for new tenants for the dairy farm. He also wants public-private partnerships for new schools, to allow for homeowners with pro-environment practices to earn a 100 percent credit against their stormwater fee and to promote the completion of the Odenton Town Center project.
"The ideas I have, and my leadership style, are based on the fact I have a long history with connections in the district that are going to benefit us," Hymes said.
Tucker could not be reached for comment.
Districts 2 and 3
In the Glen Burnie area, District 2 incumbent Republican Councilman John Grasso has no primary challengers. Two Democrats are running in the district: Andy Werner and Derick D. Young.
Werner is a lifelong Glen Burnie resident who works in the freight industry, while Young is a Millersville resident who owned a transportation company and worked in the school system.
In the northeastern part of the county, District 3 incumbent Republican Councilman Derek Fink of Pasadena faces two challengers: Bob Legge and Millard T. Snowden Sr. On the Democratic side, Theresa Belinda Martin is unopposed.
Legge is a retired county police officer from Pasadena who now works for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's police force. Snowden, who lives in Glen Burnie, frequently attends council meetings. When John R. Leopold resigned as county executive last year, Snowden was one of 16 people who applied to fill the county executive position.
Districts 1 and 6
Two of the seven council districts have uncontested primaries.
In District 1, the northwestern part of the county, Democrat Pete Smith — who filled in as councilman when term-limited Daryl Jones served time in federal prison — and Republican Bill Heine are the only candidates.
In the Annapolis and Annapolis Neck area that makes up District 6, Councilman Chris Trumbauer is unopposed in the Democratic primary and Dean Matthew D'Camera is the only Republican candidate.
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