The candidates for Howard County executive on the Nov. 8 ballot, Democrat Susan B. Gray and Republican Charles I. Ecker, were asked to respond to the following question: What is the most important issue that Howard County faces in the next four years, and why should voters elect you to deal with it? Their responses appear below:
The most important issue facing Howard County is how to maintain our quality of life during this time when our economic future is so uncertain. We must continue to give priority to education and public safety while keeping taxes down. We must watch how we spend our resources, live within our means, create jobs by continuing our economic development efforts and continuing the reasonable, practical growth management practices that have been implemented during the last four years.
I have proven I can get the job done. When I took office four years ago I was faced with two immediate major problems: financial and the rate of residential growth.
I inherited a revenue shortfall of $23 million and, in three years (during recessionary times), turned it into a "rainy day" fund of $20 million. The number of new residential housing allocations has been reduced by 50 percent during my term.
We survived the recession and the growth problems. The county has emerged as a leader, a wiser and stronger county. In fact, Howard County enjoys an excellent reputation today and is considered one of the up-and-coming counties in the United States. Life is good here. We have a vibrant community where people can live, work and raise a family. But we must also plan for the future, make the tough decisions during uncertain economic times and maintain our excellent qualify of life.
I am a proven, capable, experienced manager who did more with less. Those managerial skills are crucial because the next county executive will again deal with an uncertain economy. During the next four years, I will continue to get the job done by concentrating on those areas which define our qualify of life:
On taxes, the economy and economic development, I am committed to delivering government services without overtaxing you. The "piggy back" income tax was not increased even though the state permitted increasing it to 60 percent, and some neighboring counties raised their piggy back tax. General government was reduced by 6 percent. All of this while increasing services. The Ecker administration will continue to balance our needs and wants with our ability to pay the bills.
On education, as a former teacher, coach and school administrator, I am committed to providing a quality education for all children. During my term, the education budget has increased 21 percent. It is crucial that we maintain our ranking as one of the best school systems, not only in Maryland, but the country.
On public safety, we need more partnerships between police and citizens. Community-oriented policing will be expanded. More police officers are being put on the street. A new police substation and fire station were just opened that places police and fire service closer to the population.
On growth, planned, managed growth is now a way of life in Howard County. We have an effective, efficient growth management plan, including an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. I was the first Howard County executive to enact such an ordinance which directs growth to areas which can handle it. The county's regulations and design manuals were revised to provide better environmental protection.
We will continue to implement our growth management plan and monitor growth. Taxes will have to be increased if growth is reduced more than the 50 percent it has already been reduced during the last four years.