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Tomlinson: Some tempting, new entrees on the Westminster election menu

With three Carroll County municipal elections in the rearview mirror, the results have been interesting so far. In Sykesville’s election, there was a 7% voter turnout in a race that had four candidates competing for three Town Council seats. In Mount Airy’s town election for three Council seats, there was a 6% voter turnout. This was most likely due to the election essentially being decided four days before the polls opened, when one of the four candidates dropped out of the race. On the other hand, in Taneytown’s hotly contested election, which featured four candidates battling it out to become mayor and three candidates seeking to take two spots on the City Council, there was an astonishing voter turnout of 24%.

Tuesday, the residents of Union Bridge, New Windsor, Hampstead, and the county seat of Carroll, Westminster, will have an opportunity to pull the lever in their local elections. Westminster will have six candidates competing to take three spots on the City’s Common Council. Two incumbents, including longtime City Common Council President Robert Wack, chose not to seek re-election, leaving the race wide open. The non-incumbent challengers are Kate Carter, Steven Colella, Kevin Dayhoff, and Jessica Laird and Ann Thomas Gilbert. Gregory Pecoraro, the sole incumbent seeking re-election, has served on the Council from 1994 to 2003, 2005 to 2011, and from 2015 to now. Pecoraro, the former chair of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, has been a member of the Democratic National Committee since 1996. He worked in the administrations of Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, Governor Parris Glendening and Governor Martin O’Malley. In 2016, Pecoraro served as superdelegate for Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

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In his combined 19 years as an elected official in Westminster, Pecoraro has been involved in some decisions and proposals made by the Common Council that have, and will severely impact the wallets and pocketbooks of folks who live, work, and play in the City.

In 2010, Pecoraro voted to increase Westminster’s property tax by 33%. Council President Wack, who served with Pecoraro at the time of the tax increase, recently wrote in the Carroll County Times, “I’m very proud of the tax increase in 2010 … probably a record of some kind.” Instead of raising property taxes, Pecoraro and the Council at that time, should have worked toward attracting more businesses that would have increased the commercial tax base, thereby lessening the tax burden on homeowners.

This past April, Pecoraro introduced an ordinance that will “prohibit any business establishment within the corporate boundaries of the City of Westminster from providing single-use plastic carryout bags to its customers, except in certain circumstances” according to City of Westminster’s website. If the city’s elected officials decide to enact Ordinance No. 911, Westminster would become the third municipality to do so in Maryland, after Chestertown and Montgomery County’s Takoma Park. Besides being an annoyance for Westminster shoppers, the ban will increase overhead costs for businesses who will then pass it on to customers. Westminster’s merchants should have the freedom to decide for themselves whether they want to distribute plastic bags, paper bags, or no bags.

Pecoraro and the rest of the Common Council will vote on Ordinance No. 911 at tonight’s City Council meeting. If the City Council decides to vote in favor of Ordinance No. 911, Westminster business owners might want to consider calling 911 because they will need to report a fiscal mugging.

At Westminster’s candidate forum last Wednesday night, candidates were asked "what is the most pressing issue facing Westminster?” All of the candidates answered public safety and crime except for Pecoraro. His reply — water.

The moderator also asked the candidates if they would pledge to bring Westminster into compliance with the State after the Maryland General Assembly passed a law nine years ago that required all county municipalities to pass ethics requirements that were at least as stringent at the State’s. All of the candidates pledged to bring Westminster into compliance except for one candidate — Pecoraro.

Westminster’s last non-mayoral election was held in 2015 and had a voter turnout of 8%. Every single vote in this election will make a difference. Witness the Town of Sykesville’s recent election as an example, where a mere seven votes made the difference between winning and defeat. Will the good people of Westminster improve their voter turnout and show up to the polls on Tuesday to vote?

Voting will take place from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14 with voters east of Maryland Route 31 voting at the Westminster Volunteer Fire Company’s headquarters at 28 John Street (W01) and those living west of MD 31 casting their ballots at the community building at 325 Royer Road (W02). All registered voters who live within the Westminster city limits are eligible to vote.

Do you have a Westminster ZIP code but are not sure if you live within the city limits? The easiest way to find out is to visit https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/votersearch and plug in your name, date of birth, and ZIP code. Under the “My Voting Districts” banner, look for “Municipal Districts.” If that line is there, it will say W01 or W02. If that line is not listed, you do not live within the city limits.

Before going to the polls, the citizens of Westminster should take a closer look at the candidates. Those with an appetite for change will have a menu of six candidates to choose from for three seats. For Westminster voters, there are five tempting and fresh new entrees to consider. Choose well.

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