WESTMINISTER — WESTMINSTER -- County Commissioner hopefuls continued to make broad policy statements at a candidates forum Monday, but discussion of specific proposals remained, for the most part, absent from the campaign.
The six candidates addressed a gamut of issues -- affordable housing, growth management, government spending and education among the most prominent -- at the Carroll Chamber of Commerce sponsored forum at Frock's Sunnybrook Farm.
Although often agreeing, the candidates continued to seek strongholds in the niches each has carved throughout the campaign.
Of the Republicans, Julia W. Gouge, the only incumbent, championed her experience and ability to provide continuity; Westminster farmer Donald I.
Dell promoted his vision of a county preserving its rural character while allowing progress; and Richard T. Yates stressed his austere views on spending.
Among the Democrats, Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy Jr. emphasized what he said is his fiscal conservativeness balanced by open-mindedness; Richard F. Will Sr. painted himself as the common sense leader willing to make tough decisions; and Sharon L. Baker identified herself as the candidate with a social conscience.
Candidates distinguished themselves on certain issues, however, disagreeing with their opponents and occasionally offering some tangible solutions to problems. Yates' conservative stances often placed him at odds with the other, more moderate candidates.
Baker was the only candidate to say unequivocally that affordable housing is a problem that must be addressed by Carroll government. She suggested rehabilitating vacant buildings, revising zoning definitions and regulations and providing builders incentives, such as a fast-track system to speed the permitting process.
Except for Yates, the candidates agreed that school construction is the top capital improvement priority, and that the county should continue borrowing to finance the projects rather than relying primarily on annual revenue. Yates, who did not identify his high-priority projects, said he prefers the "pay-as-you-go" system, especially during uncertain economic times, to ensure the county doesn't overextend spending.
Dell and Yates were the only candidates who denounced the imposition of user charges, such as development impact fees and landfill "tipping fees."
Yates said lifetime Carroll residents should not have to share costs for new facilities and improvements needed because of growth. Gouge and Lippy called the fees important tools in managing growth.
The candidates unanimously agreed that the Board of Education, whose budget comprises about 50 percent of the county's operating budget, should not be given taxing authority. They vowed to scrutinize the education budget, which has increased more rapidly than any other government agency, and trim any excesses.
Baker was the only candidate who said the county should switch to charter government, in which local elected officials could enact laws instead of going through the General Assembly, within the next decade. At the other end of the spectrum, Yates said there is no reason to change and residents have demonstrated their opposition based on past votes. Lippy said a movement afoot to educate citizens on alternate forms of government should be heeded.