Property taxes could be issue in wide-open council contests

The Baltimore Sun

A slate of three newcomers is pledging to hold the line on property taxes in the quest for the three open seats on the Sykesville Town Council.

Three incumbent councilman are also running together to retain their positions in the May 1 municipal election.

A seventh candidate, Jonathan Caplan, a trial attorney and chair of Sykesville's Historic District Commission, is starting his own campaign for the council.

Attorney and real estate agent Leo J. Keenan III, pharmaceutical representative Frank Robert and accountant Scott D. Sanzone are the three candidates running as a slate. They say their business backgrounds can help them analyze the town's budget and promote commercial development.

Sykesville Town Council President Mark Rychwalski, a loan officer, and incumbents Russ Vreeland, an accountant, and Jim Kelley, director of sales for a transportation logistics company, hope their experience will help secure their win.

"We're trying to maintain that small town charm we have, and our services to residents," Rychwalski, 45, said, mentioning the police and public works departments. "In the town, we have our own group of people that we all know and can count on."

Attracting businesses to downtown Sykesville and fully renovating and developing the nearby Warfield Complex will create local jobs and add revenue to the town coffers, the candidates said.

At the same time, most candidates want to keep the historic flavor of the 4,500-resident town. Strengthening Sykesville's Police Department also concerns the candidates, especially those with young children.

In addition to the Warfield Complex, Caplan, 36, mentioned leasing the Apple Butter facility from Howard County as a commercial development strategy. Like the other challengers, he said he wants to hold the line on property taxes and open the council's closed meetings.

In fall 2006, Caplan and Sanzone unsuccessfully interviewed for a council seat vacated by Ed Cinkole. The position was filled by Jim Kelley.

Though they stress attracting businesses to town, Keenan, Robert and Sanzone said they do not want Sykesville to become "another Eldersburg."

Robert said he also dreams of bringing wind or solar energy, an energy and cost-saving measure, to the Warfield Complex.

Keenan said his slate will be the voice of the residents who successfully fought a property tax increase proposed by the Town Council about two years ago.

Incumbents Rychwalski, Vreeland and Kelley all are for maintaining a high level of town services such as trash collection. They are also proud of the recent additions to the Town House and the police station.

The incumbents said Sykesville's amenities might deteriorate if - as their challengers have pledged - property taxes do not increase and revenues fall.

The town has basically had the same tax rate for over a decade, and since property revenues make up about 40 percent of Sykesville's budget, Rychwalski said the council's hands are tied.

The candidates said they would begin campaigning this weekend, putting up signs and going door to door, now that the election is two weeks away.

Though incumbents do tend to perform favorably in municipal elections, town manager Matthew Candland said it could be anyone's race.

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