As Havre de Grace's annual election edges closer, the seven men and women competing for three available council seats are trying to make an impression among the city's residents that will lead to votes.
First-time candidates Johnny Boker, Harry Jackson, David Martin and Monica Worrell are running against longtime incumbents John Correri, Randy Craig and Fred Cullum.
Voters, who can cast ballots for up to three candidates, will be able to make their selections at St. Patrick Hall on Election Day, Tuesday May 5, between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Correri, 62, a lifelong Havre de Grace resident, first joined the city in the late 1970s, also completing parts of two mayoral terms, in 1978-79 and 2005-07, that became vacant while he was the city council president.
Correri said he wants the city pick to up some housing starts and improve its overall economy, or at the very least would like to see "a flicker of hope."
He said Havre de Grace, like much of the region, really banked on BRAC but now needs new ideas to get the water and sewer fund out of debt.
"That is our primary goal, is to get that taken care of," he said. "It's a very frustrating thing to see that debt hanging out there."
Correri also said he has been "very fiscally responsible" and he is always looking to cut the tax rate. He said he does not see the rate increasing, and "I don't think I would support an increase."
Building out the waterfront, Correri said, is a "delicate balance" between respecting property rights and looking for new opportunities.
The three Water Street properties the city recently bought in partnership with Harford County are "priceless," he said.
"If we could do this properly now, Havre de Grace would probably be one of the best waterfronts in the state of Maryland," he said of the acquisitions.
Craig, 41, a city council veteran with deep family and political roots in Havre de Grace, says he is concerned Harford County's plans to delay rebuilding Havre de Grace Middle and High School was costing the city in major ways.
"It's important to note one of the things that have hurt us from a development and new construction standpoint is the lack of action on Havre de Grace High School," he said, noting people considering moving to town look at the state of the school.
"It's a huge component of economic development," he said.
Craig said he would keep promoting work on the Havre de Grace Opera House and recent initiatives like expanding the farmers market. He also said more waterfront public space is needed, as the city has "certainly" outgrown Tydings Park.
"We need another waterfront spot like that and I think that could be a great move for the region," he said. "We are trying to do some of these quality of life things so we can show you we can get other things done. We are going to move where we can to make things happen."
On the Fund 9 – water and sewer fund, Craig admitted the city has tried many ideas "and we are going to keep trying as many things as we can, attacking it on all fronts."
"My method has always been, try everything," he said, adding the city has also been "very aggressive" in cutting its property tax rate and he thinks the council has done what it can on Fund 9.
"That's always the first thing I look at: spend less," Craig said.
Cullum, 64, who first joined the city council in 1995, has been active leading the water and sewer fund commission.
He noted money can only come from two places, new construction or having existing users pay more.
"That is my last resort, is for current users to pay for a debt that was to allow for new users," he said. "No one at the time ever foresaw the market going the way it did and housing coming to almost a complete halt at one point."
Cullum, who notes he was there "from the very beginning," said he is open to "anything that will bring the money in to pay the debt." He said he had no idea the city would end up in the situation it is in.
Cullum served on the council until 2012, after which he lost a re-election bid and then returned after winning a seat a year later.
Regarding the waterfront, Cullum said the city already has a lot of parkland and "I don't think we can afford to invest a lot more money into buying property just to buy property."
He said the city has not been able to do many things because it has to pay for Fund 9, and he believes any new money should be invested more wisely.
Cullum also doesn't think the city could lower the property tax rate more than it has, "until we get Fund 9 under control."
Boker, 49, moved to the city three years ago from New Jersey as part of the federal base closure and realignment process, or BRAC. He works at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a life cycle logistician.
Boker said he wants to lower the costs of moving to Havre de Grace, noting the hook-up fees for development are "astronomical."
"I do want people to come to Havre de Grace, not only for the weekend but I want them to stay," he said.
Boker, who was born in Illinois, also said he spoke recently with leaders at the Maritime Museum and took part in the River Sweep, where he said people want to see the waterfront extended.
"Can it be done? I think it absolutely needs to be done and we don't need to incur any additional taxes," he said, adding he believes the work can be completed in phases.
Boker's campaign flier says he hopes to build support between the city and local organizations, to make public school buildings a resource and to promote zoning laws that encourage responsible growth.
More information on Boker is available at democracy.com/Johnny4HdGCouncil or facebook.com/Boker4HavredeGrace.
Jackson, 55, who moved to Havre de Grace in 2001 after serving as a Baltimore City firefighter, is a member of the Susquehanna Hose Company.
He said he is against any increases in fees or taxes, although he could consider a temporary fee for several years in an attempt to help the city's water and sewer fund.
Jackson said the main issue he hears is concern about the water rates.
He does not think the city's plan on Fund 9 is working, as it is "based on having to sell 100 houses a year," which is unlikely.
Along with lowering water rates, he said, "I don't think the builder should be given any break on the connection fees."
"We need to go out and make our city a little more appealing for people who want to move here," he added about encouraging city development, adding he talked to some teachers who cannot afford to live in Havre de Grace.
He would start with "getting people into the empty houses," Jackson said, while also pointing out there are empty storefronts that also need more people.
More information on Jackson is available at facebook.com/HarryJacksonforCouncil.
David Martin, 60, is a newcomer to both the political scene and to Havre de Grace, where he has lived the past two years after relocating from the Jarrettsville area.
The owner of a benefits company, Martin is retired from Maryland State Police and has coached rec football. He said he does not want to see "Band Aid fixes" for issues like the water and sewer fund debt.
He said the city may need to cut the water connection rate and focus on improving vacant buildings in an effort to draw more revenue into the utility system.
"If we can get occupancy up in those buildings, we can get occupancy in some of these vacant houses, that's also going to impact the water and sewer fees," he said.
He doesn't think the city should acquire more waterfront property for recreation and instead should focus on developing what it has.
Martin also said he would try to lower taxes, and "the best way to do that is to keep the value of the properties up."
For example, he said he doesn't believe encouraging apartment buildings in the city will increase property values. He wants to see new businesses bring employment and potentially younger people into town.
"It's a trickle effect," he said about economic growth. "If we get a couple businesses coming downtown, we will get a bigger tax base."
More information on Martin is available at davidalanmartin.com.
Worrell, 50, who last year made an unsuccessful bid for the Harford County Council, says on her campaign website that she can be counted on "to research, to investigate, to listen, to communicate, to follow and to lead."
"We can't make everyone happy all the time, but we can use strong research skills, a knowledge of our history, good communications and an understanding of long range strategic planning to do the job," she wrote.
Worrell said she hopes to investigate ways to reduce the debt of the water and sewer fund and at the future of the city's waterfront.
She said the water and sewer fund needs to be dealt with "one bite at a time" and she is also considering applying a user fee, looking at raising rates and getting spending in check.
Worrell, who works in marketing at Advanced Eye Care, said she wants to get all the pieces in front of her.
About taxes, Worrell said first and foremost her goal is to run a fiscally responsible government.
She said fiscal responsibility is a matter of looking at the overall budget, "cutting spending and lowering taxes at any opportunity."
With business development, she would focus on projects that would bring a return on the city's investment.
Worrell formerly worked in the local hospitality industry and remains very active in tourism development in the region. She also formerly served as chief spokesperson for the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
More information on Worrell is available at monicaworrell.com.