Growth is dominant theme in Harford race

Council to be chosen by district for first time

October 20, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A schoolteacher, a recycling consultant, a doctor, several lawyers, community activists and a Department of the Interior bird bander are among the candidates vying for seven Harford County Council seats.

For the first time, voters will elect members by districts, except for the council president, whose seat will still be chosen at large.

Development is the key issue on voters' minds this election, many candidates said. Several of those running propose using an impact fee, a financial assessment charged developers to help pay for infrastructure improvements, especially for schools.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Sun incorrectly stated Harford County Council candidate Barbara Osborn Kreamer's position on impact or excise levies. Before considering any new fees or taxes in the county, Kreamer said, the council should reset current budget priorities and work with state legislators to increase state funding for school construction. The Sun regrets the error.

Council president: Two council members seek the only seat still elected countywide. The incumbent president, Dr. Gunther Hirsch, 76, a Democrat from Havre de Grace and former chief of staff at Harford Memorial Hospital, is facing Republican Robert S. Wagner, 45, a 12-year council member and a farmer from Bel Air.

Hirsch is a former Havre de Grace councilman and mayor. He said the president's job "fits me like a glove." He sees growth management as key to other issues, including education and traffic problems.

Hirsch said he would push for further redevelopment in the Route 40 corridor. He sees a role for an impact fee in growth management, and would consider teaming with private investors on school construction.

Wagner said he has been through the comprehensive land use review before, and that would help him guide new members. Impact fees, he said, "at this point, aren't going to do a great deal" because growth is slowing. New families are moving into older neighborhoods and using schools but don't have to pay impact fees, he added. He said an excise tax, spread over all real estate sales, could be more fair.

District A: This southern Harford district includes Edgewood and Joppatowne. Democrat Dion F. Guthrie, 64, of Joppa, a business agent for an electrical workers union, faces incumbent Republican Susan B. Heselton, 60, a bird bander and 12-year council incumbent.

Guthrie said he is concerned that the county isn't using its tax dollars responsibly. Residents are paying for trash pickup, have high water bills and school lawns are littered with portable classrooms, which he calls "outhouses."

Heselton said she is increasingly concerned about federal calls for local governments to turn over detailed maps of property without offering reasons why. She supports impact fees but would like to see a portion used to purchase land to be preserved as open space.

District B: This western district encompasses the growing Fallston area. Democrat Valerie H. Twanmoh, 45, former lawyer, mediator and hearing examiner, is facing Republican Veronica "Roni" L. Chenowith, 64, a longtime community volunteer and two-term council incumbent.

Twanmoh said "uncontrolled" growth is her No. 1 issue. She wants to employ an impact fee, see a revision of the adequate public facilities law to slow growth and use tax credits to redirect development to the Route 24-U.S. 40 corridor.

Chenowith said the clamor over development is largely overblown. "There's always a battle cry in an election," she said, noting that she has voted to approve new libraries, higher education funding and more public recreation space. She seeks to create more recreation space and improve senior housing options.

District C: In this Bel Air district, community planner Joan Morrisey Ward, a Democrat, faces Republican Robert G. Cassilly, a lawyer, and independent Clifton M. Dowling Jr., a recycling consultant.

Ward, 45, said "Harford is a community, not a commodity." People are looking for a more active council that is planning growth "so that it's an asset for Harford County," she said.

Cassilly, 44, a Bel Air Town Council member, said the council needs "to look at all revenue sources" to address infrastructure needs, given state budget shortfalls, and it must address growth holistically.

Dowling, 57, wants to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil by focusing on local sustainable development. He said whether homes or schools are built, tax credits can provide incentives to conserve energy and reduce runoff that pollutes waterways.

District D: In rural northern Harford, Democrat Michael G. Comeau, 46, a Jarrettsville lawyer, faces Republican incumbent Lance C. Miller, 33, a home mortgage consultant from Darlington.

Comeau said he is running to try to control growth, prompted by his children's crowded schools. He supports impact fees and said, "I seek to represent the only remaining rural area in Harford County, and I'd like to keep it that way."

Miller said he wants to be part of the comprehensive rezoning process and does not support impact fees. He said the council must work with Harford's General Assembly delegation to maximize state funding and better manage its local budget.

District E: Two Aberdeen residents, Democrat Barbara Osborn Kreamer and Republican Richard Slutzky, are vying to represent this district, which runs from the eastern edge of Bel Air, through Churchville to Aberdeen.

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