After seeing that a forum wasn’t going to be held before the upcoming Mount Airy election, a South Carroll High School senior decided to host his own with the Mount Airy Town Council candidates.
Matthew Geiger decided to hold a roundtable discussion and post it online for members of the community to see. Geiger first started connecting with the candidates and residents through a Facebook group called “Mount Airy Election Forum.”
“I reached out to all four of the candidates and I just started looking for a date and time,” Geiger said. “I didn’t really have a concept of what I was going to do just yet, at that moment it was just get people organized, get the time slotted. Once we got the date set, which was April 23, I started to look for a space and design the concept of this.”
One of the candidates, John Stuehmeier, couldn’t make the roundtable event, but the other three candidates were in attendance: Karl Munder, Jason Poirier and Pamela Reed.
Geiger posted the roundtable recording on both YouTube and Facebook without an in-person audience, purely a digital one. The video had been viewed more than 1,100 times on Facebook as of Tuesday evening.
Mount Airy’s Election Day is set for Monday, May 6.
The roundtable covered seven main topics: taxation, alternate methods of revenue generation, trash services, voter turnout, the flat-iron building, Center Street, and population and town growth. Here is a selection of the candidates’ responses to questions Geiger asked.
“Do you support any proposals that would potentially raise taxes within the town? If not, can you commit to not raising the town tax rates during your term as a council member?”
Reed: “Currently, I would not support raising taxes — our property values are high, and we have quite a substantial reserve. With that said, there’s no way to predict the future, so I could not guarantee that the need wouldn’t be there.”
The other two candidates agreed that they would not currently support a tax raise.
“Do you support or propose any methods of revenue generation that do not include taxation? If so, what specifically?”
Poirier: “I would look at a public-private partnership, especially with the expansion of Center Street and our downtown vision plan. The public-private partnership would allow some of those private business industries to maybe have some naming rights or provide funding that the town wouldn’t necessarily need to pay for and would allow that additional revenue through the town and the residents could benefit from.”
Munder said he would have to wait and see various factors before supporting or denying a fee increase.
According to Reed, the town’s main source of income is personal property tax, but the town should focus on commercial growth to create opportunity for addition growth.
“New Windsor has recently piloted the ‘pay-as-you throw’ trash service. In short, the program requires town residents to use specialized garbage bags to have their waste picked up and recycling is free, essentially turning trash services into a metered utility. Do you support implementing this program in Mount Airy?”
Reed and Poirier both want to engage with the community to see if it would work for them to bring the program to Mount Airy. Poirier had concerns about residents adding trash to their recycling to reduce their trash and the possibility of more trash because of restrictions on recycling.
Munder said he couldn’t say yay or nay to the program because he would like to see a final report on the New Windsor program.
Increasing voter turnout
“Local politics are notorious for having a low voter turnout. In what ways will you increase political engagement and voting numbers within the town?”
Reed suggested reaching out to young voters.
“This could potentially ensure their involvement as they become of age,” Reed said. She also described ideas of educating the community and putting the fun back in voting by making it more of a festival kind of event.
“I think it’s also up to the town to do a better job of making sure better advertisements, signage and banners are posted,” Poirier said. “It’s not just the three or four people who are running for council and/or mayor, I think it’s also up to the town.”
Munder agreed with Poirier that they need to advertise across multiple mediums and that it’s up to the town to get involved and go vote.
“The flat-iron building seems to be brought up every election cycle. The building sits sandwiched between Park Ave. and Main Street and has been owned by the town for decades. What plans do you have for the flat-iron building if elected?"
The candidates all agreed that the flat-iron building is important to the town and that, as Reed said, “it is time to sit down and have the discussion.”
Reed pointed out various factors that need to be weighed, such as the vision plan, the town’s comprehensive plan, what’s best for Mount Airy, the historical sentiment and what the community wants. If done appropriately, redevelopment of the building could enhance the community, she said.
Poirier said he would like to memorialize the building in some way but he wanted to make sure that any work on the building would not bring negative impacts on residents and Main Street businesses.
Munder said he wants to make an informed decision on the building’s fate and he would like to meet with organizations that have expressed interest in working on it in the past. He would like to see the building repurposed, possibly for use among the arts community.
“Another subject of longstanding debate is Center St. Do you support connecting it to [Md.] 27? If so, how do you plan to accomplish such and how would you develop the surrounding area?”
Munder: “The completion of Center Street can be done in one of two ways: Either the town completes it or wait for a developer to purchase the back property and make the connection. I would prefer the first option since it would not require the town to potentially make concessions to a developer for the completion of the road. I would prefer it to be the other way around, where if a developer came in to complete the back property, they have to pay us for the road so we would recoup the costs.”
Reed and Poirier both support connecting Center Street. Poirier would like to use the vision plan for the town as a guide.
“Mount Airy’s population is estimated to have grown only 1.6% from 2010 to 2017. This is in stark contrast with the past few decades and will be the first time since the 1940s in which the town hasn’t grown at least 25% or more in population. Who or what is to blame for this population stagnation, and do you foresee it as an impediment to future development?"
Reed mentioned restrictions on building permits placed after the record growth the town experienced between 2000 and 2010 that contributed to the lower growth rate. In order to grow, Reed warned that the town must be careful not to over-develop but grow enough to sustain the town’s economy.
Poirier agreed with Reed but added that future development is on the way and investors need to see the town’s potential.
Munder listed various factors that contributed to the town’s population stagnation such as “the recession, the town being put on hold for building for the state from lack of water and the completion of several major residential developments in town.”
According to a post from Geiger on the Facebook page, the roundtable will air on Comcast Channel 19 at the following dates and times:
- Thursday, May 2, 10:37 p.m.
- Friday, May 3, 8:00 a.m.
- Saturday, May 4, 1:43 p.m.
- Sunday, May 5, 4:14 p.m.