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Taneytown council candidates discuss downtown business, parking, truck traffic at in-person forum

Improving downtown Taneytown was on the minds of those asking questions at a recent in-person forum for the four candidates running for three seats on Taneytown’s City Council.

Barbara Cook and incumbents Diane Foster, Judith Fuller and Joe Vigliotti were peppered with questions from audience members and from emails and texts from those watching the Community Media Center’s broadcast. The April 14 forum was sponsored by the Taneytown Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Bob Miller with Chamber President Chris Tillman assisting.

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Taneytown’s election is set for May 3, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Taneytown Police Station.

City residents seem to be most concerned about parking downtown, big trucks rumbling down Main Street (Md. 140), and attracting and retaining downtown businesses.

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Each candidate was asked to make a case for their election.

Foster stressed economic development, noting there’s been none for the pandemic-stricken past 13 months, but said that after having hired a new economic development director, “we look forward to resurrecting the business community in Taneytown and bringing in new business.”

Vigliotti noted that during his eight years in office the council has backed police, cut water and sewer rates, not raised taxes, paid down debt and enacted family-friendly and business-friendly initiatives.

Fuller said she wants to continue to work on projects that create alternate revenue streams, and she has long-term goals she wants to see through to fruition. “I love our city and know there is room for improvement.”

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Cook outlined her background, being born on the shores of Lake Erie and moving to a farm between Chicago and Detroit. “You can learn a lot about humans watching chickens — the hens do all the work and the roosters make all the noise,” she said.

The candidates were asked about the most pressing issue facing Taneytown today.

Vigliotti said there were two: Supporting law enforcement and getting the city’s fiscal house in order. “It’s important that our police have the manpower and the resources necessary to do their job. It really is not an accident we’re one of the top 10 safest cities in the state,” he said, adding that paying down debt has been “fiscally prudent” and gives the city flexibility.

Fuller said the most pressing issue is how the city will pay for things. “We have a very limited amount of space, which is a good thing as we stay a small city, but that also kicks into our revenue,” she said. “We have to figure out ways to in the future to pay for services that are going to get more advanced ... without have to raise taxes.”

Cook said Taneytown has a lot of history and a lot to give, but “right now it seems to be in a stage of sleeping and it needs to wake up.”

Foster said economic development is the most pressing issue. “If everybody shuts their doors and goes away, guess what, we can’t keep the tax rate what it is,” she said.

Since business was already being discussed, the candidates were asked if they have a master plan for economic growth.

Fuller said the new director of economic development has a lot of new ideas and is ready to try new things. She said it’s important to incentivize businesses, to give them a reason to stay and expand.

Cook said her plan would preserve the history and the buildings of Taneytown and at the same time would “move us into the 21st century so that we could move ahead like a team of horses.” She said that team could wind up being a team of Palominos or Clydesdales.

Foster said her economic master plan would involve bringing in new, varied businesses that could help make Taneytown a destination. She said the city worked with a consultant a few years ago that produced some ideas and she would like to get back to them.

Vigliotti said rather than a master plan, “I want to be flexible and adaptable to a business environment because in a free market system, businesses and the environment itself are going to change over time.” He noted the way the city had dealt with parking concerns by coming up with free customer parking passes.

That led to questions about the difficulty of parking in Taneytown.

Cook said she would buy a fleet of small vehicles, possibly golf carts, park them near Memorial Park and then have drivers shuttling people downtown, perhaps giving young people jobs. She said she originally thought of this idea for Annapolis, which has parking issues.

Foster wondered if there is really a problem. “I’ll go out on a limb here and say I think more has been made of downtown parking than is the problem. On any given day, there’s plenty of parking downtown and nobody’s there. ... For the last 13 months, nobody’s been shopping anywhere.”

Vigliotti said parking meters were originally put on the street because businesses were concerned residents were taking up street parking in front of their storefronts. Then, customers didn’t want to pay to shop. So the free customer parking concept was developed.

Fuller said she understands that people may be afraid to parallel park. She also noted that she personally hasn’t had any problems parking and that people seem to have no problem walking all the way across a Walmart parking lot to suit their needs.

The candidates were asked about their goals.

Foster said, in addition to bringing in new business, she’d like to revisit a plan to bring a planetarium and a nature park and that they have some acreage they would like to develop at Memorial Park.

Vigliotti reiterated his goals are to support police and business and be fiscally careful while making sure to retain downtown’s family-friendly atmosphere. He also wants representatives for the city, police and fire companies to come together to develop a disaster plan, given Taneytown’s relative geographic isolation.

Fuller said her goal is to overhaul all departments to make sure they are running effectively and efficiently as well as to seek out alternative revenue streams. She also said she is a big proponent of getting people into the city for holidays like Christmas and that she wants to see a combination ice rink/splash pad that could make money and serve residents.

Cook said the city has a rich history not being taken advantage of. “If we just sit here and mildew, nothing will happen.” She said she wants to get the big trucks out of downtown to “take back our town. If we want to have dancing in the streets, I think we should be allowed.”

That led to more talk about the trucks that pass through the city on Md. 140, with one audience member saying that with the big, loud trucks blaring through Taneytown, it’s not a comfortable place to take one’s family.

“I share that same concern,” said Vigliotti, who noted that traffic calming measures such as more stop signs, traffic lights and reduced speed limits can be looked into. “One of the other ideas talked about is a bypass. ... At this particular moment in time, it’s not financially feasible.”

Said Fuller: “We really are at the mercy of state highway. It is their road.” Of a bypass, she said it won’t be just trucks, but everyone bypassing the city. She said they are in frequent contact with state officials, but “they deal with places that really have traffic and high truck volume.”

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Cook again brought up her idea for the small vehicle fleet.

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Foster was blunt: “Unfortunately, Taneytown’s downtown is on a state highway. You are never going to get the trucks off of it.” She said she talks to state officials frequently and that studies are done saying that truckers will not be delayed by being forced to use an alternate route.

They were asked what the city will do to match population growth with services, noting an urgent care center that had closed.

“Each business comes in and they look at a need,” Fuller said, noting that, unfortunately for Taneytown, businesses already established in nearby Westminster, Gettysburg or Frederick think it makes no sense economically to duplicate services in Frederick.

Cook did not answer.

Foster said after talking to LifeBridge Health about the urgent care center that closed, there simply was not enough use for it to make it work, but that now that more houses are going up and more people are moving to Taneytown, “I’m sure we will revisit this.”

Vigliotti called losing the one health care center in the city “problematic” and that city officials are urging them to reconsider. He also noted that as population and revenue increases, the city will be able to expand the police department.

In closing, Fuller called for cooperation, Cook alluded to a $2 million plan that will preserve the history of the city, Foster said she would work hard to get new businesses into Taneytown and Vigliotti said that America’s best days are ahead and so are Taneytown’s.

The forum can be viewed in its entirety on cable channels HD-1086 and 19 or on the Community Media Center’s YouTube channel.

Westminster forum

The Community Media Center is partnering with the Carroll County Times to hold a Westminster Mayoral Candidates Forum on Wednesday, April 21 at 7 p.m.

Mona Becker and Dennis Daniel Dillion are running for the office of mayor of Westminster and have confirmed participation in the forum. The forum will be held virtually and streamed live on cable channel HD-1086 and channel 19. The forums will also be streamed live to the Community Media Center website, www.carrollmediacenter.org and on Facebook and YouTube.

The public is encouraged to submit their questions prior to the forum by emailing them to bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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