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Baltimore County Council candidates contend at Catonsville forum

First District Councilman Tom Quirk, left, and his Republican opponent Al Nalley explain their views during a forum Wednesday, Oct. 1, at the Catonsville Library.
First District Councilman Tom Quirk, left, and his Republican opponent Al Nalley explain their views during a forum Wednesday, Oct. 1, at the Catonsville Library. (Staff photo by Lauren Loricchio)

Residents heard from the two candidates vying to represent the 1st District describe different visions for the future of economic development in their community.

One-term incumbent Councilman Tom Quirk, a Democrat, and Republican Al Nalley, presented their views to an audience of about 24 during a candidates' forum in the Catonsville Library Wednesday evening.

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Quirk said he wants to continue the "momentum" he has built over the past four years, while Nalley said it is time for a change.

"This time, I hope to turn things around," said Nalley, a salesman who serves as president of the Patapsco Valley Republican Club. "I think I bring a perspective that would be more beneficial to the constituency and less beneficial to the developers."

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Quirk said he's more interested in making the district a walkable and bikeable community that will attract young home buyers.

Nalley, who resides in Catonsville, said if elected he would take a more hands-on approach to representing those in the southwest portion of the county.

"I think we need a consistent approach applied to the entire district," Nalley said, adding that he would like to see sidewalks and curbs added to streets in Baltimore Highlands.

Nalley explained that a lot has been done to promote walkability within Catonsville, but doesn't think enough has been done in communities such as Arbutus, Lansdowne and Baltimore Highlands.

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However, Quirk said Lansdowne and Baltimore Highlands have seen over $150 million of investment in the past several years, citing the addition of a Kaiser Permanente facility off Washington Boulevard, a new housing development being constructed on Hollins Ferry Road as well as road resurfacing.

"We've spent a lot of money on Catonsville but we've spent a lot of money on this district," said Quirk, who lives in Catonsville.

When it comes to public transportation, Nalley said he does not support the Red Line, a 14-mile light rail transit line that will connect Baltimore County with Baltimore City, preferring to improve traffic flow for motorists instead.

Quirk said he supports the Red Line and other modes of mass transportation, which he sees as relieving traffic congestion.

Nalley, a Lansdowne native, has never held public office, but has run two unsuccessful campaigns for state delegate in District 12A in 2006 and 2010.

Quirk has served as 1st District county councilman since 2010. He owns a financial planning business.

Both agreed on the importance of keeping government spending in check.

Quirk, 44, who serves as chairman of the spending affordability as part of the county council, said he wants to continue the county's prudent fiscal path. The county is one of 38 in the nation assigned a Triple-A bond rating by all three rating agencies, which means it is able to issue bonds at the lowest possible interest rate.

"We're incredibly well-run fiscally. We do not spend money that we don't have, period," Quirk said.

He said he plans to continue to keep property and income tax rates at their current level, which haven't increased in many years, he said.

Nalley, 64, said if elected he would take a closer look at the property tax rate, to make sure it doesn't increase.

A former part-time car salesman at a Russel Toyota dealership in Catonsville, Nalley said he would work to get "blue laws" that require car dealerships in the county to close Sundays repealed. That would create jobs and promote economic development, he said.

He said he would also decrease the number of signatures needed for referendum petitions.

"I am a firm believer in the petition process," said Nalley, who grew up in Lansdowne. "The percentage of signatures required for a petition in Baltimore County at 10 percent is rather onerous."

Quirk responded that he is not in favor of making it easier to petition.

"I think that allows extremes to have more voice," Quirk said. "I think the voting process and elections allow everyone to have a voice in our community."

Nalley said he wants to add two new councilmanic districts to the county's present total of seven, "not to increase the size of government but to reduce the number of people the councilman represents."

Quirk disagreed with the idea, saying it would be too costly to pay additional salaries.

Council members are paid a salary of $54,000 according to the county website.

"I don't agree with that, but what I do think makes sense is expanded staff," Quirk said.

The southwest portion will soon see new Catonsville, Relay and Westowne elementary schools built and an addition to Westchester Elementary, part of a $100 million investment.

"When I took office four years ago, the number one issue, by far, was school overcrowding with our elementary schools," Quirk said. "I'm working with County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the County Council and school overcrowding is being solved."

Nalley expressed concerns about a county decision to convert the site of the present Bloomsbury Community Center into a new Catonsville Elementary School.

He suggested building a new school on a tract of land at Spring Grove State Hospital, instead of renovating the Bloomsbury building, a building added to the Baltimore County Final Landmarks List. The building had been used as a high school and a junior high school, before being converted to a community center in 1998.

The forum was the last of five county council candidate forums organized by the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County.

Early voting for the general election will begin Thursday, Oct. 23, and continue through Thursday, Oct. 30, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at eight centers around the county.

The voting center in the southwest area is the Bloomsbury Community Center at 106 Bloomsbury Avenue in Catonsville.

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