Closing out a year that included such contentious topics as overcrowded schools, immigration status and a long-awaited update to the adequate public facilities ordinance, known as APFO, County Council members are looking to finish some of these issues and tackle new ones in the coming year.
Some of this year’s issues, including a failed bill to codify protections for immigrants and the continued battle between development and concerns of congestion in the county, created tensions among both residents and officials.
“One disappointment I have from last year is that the public dialogue became a lot less civil in this last year,” said Councilman Jon Weinstein. “I’m hoping we can take a deep breath as a community and consider how we speak to one another in public and online.”
The issue of APFO is not over as the council heads into 2018. Due to an error in the council’s legislative calendar, the Nov. 6 vote on the legislation was declared invalid, meaning it has to be introduced and go back through the legislative process.
APFO, which was first passed in the county in 1992, is a set of regulations that tie residential construction to schools, roads and housing unit allocation tests, along with a building excise tax. The regulations are meant to ensure the county’s public infrastructure, namely its schools and roads, can handle an increase in population as a result of development.
While Weinstein and Councilman Calvin Ball both said they’d like to see the bill pass without further changes, Councilman Greg Fox said he would like to make “reasonable modifications” to the bill so that the legislation can “provide the afforded protections that we do need and address some of the changes that are needed without shutting down all development.”
Fox admitted that additional changes to the bill could be an uphill battle, but said other council members’ opposition was likely due to political ambitions in an election year, rather than “what makes sense.”
Two council members, Weinstein and Ball, are running for office in 2018.Weinstein is the lone council member not at the end of his term limit and is seeking reelection for his District 1 seat, and Ball is running in the Democratic primary for a chance to face incumbent Republican Allan Kittleman in the county executive race.
“This shouldn’t be about what’s best for Calvin Ball’s campaign, it’s what best for the county,” Fox said of Ball’s opposition to his suggested changes.
Ball, meanwhile, said much of his focus going into the new year is on the county’s budget, and ensuring more funding for projects such as the fledgling bike network. Last year, Kittleman approved $600,000 for a project that includes 31.6 miles of new bike routes— funding that many bike advocates, and Ball, said was millions of dollars too low.
“We passed a bike master plan, and a plan that has insufficient funding doesn’t have the same level of commitment,” Ball said.
Councilwoman Jen Terrasa said she, too, is focused on transportation issues in the county, particularly on improving public transit, calling the issue “urgent.”
The county, along with Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, is in the midst of crafting a Transit Development Plan aimed at upgrading the region’s lagging bus system. Terrasa called for prioritizing the transit system improvements and making public transportation more reliable.
Next year will be a year of change on the council, as four of the five council members will have reached their term limits; members Mary Kay Sigaty, Fox, Ball and Terrasa have served a combined 48 years on the council. Terrasa and Fox both said one of their priorities for 2018 is making the council ready for its new members.
“[I’m] really trying to set [new members] up for the future,” Fox said. “[We’re] trying to do what we can to document procedure, everything that we can to try to leave the council and council office as a whole in good shape.”