List grows as 2 more mull race for executive

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

October 02, 2005|By LARRY CARSON

The political pot continues to bubble after County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone's announcement last week that he will pursue a seat in the House of Delegates instead of running for Howard County executive on the Democratic ticket next year.

Two more potential candidates for executive popped up after the initial speculation: businessman Steven H. Adler and Councilman David A. Rakes, who represents east Columbia.

Both would appear to be long shots for the Democratic nomination. Adler was the Republican nominee for the job in 2002, and Rakes' campaign bank records are being examined by the state prosecutor.

Adler has said he could be a conservative Democrat or a moderate Republican because party labels aren't important to him.

"I do feel a responsibility to the county and the citizens. I was never looking for a political career," he said.

Adler, managing partner of Historic Savage Mill, said he has a comfortable life but has received several phone calls from people wondering whether he might switch parties and run again.

"I'm still kind of weighing my options. I still don't see a very strong, qualified candidate out there," he said.

Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, is the only active county executive candidate.

Rakes said he, too, is giving the executive race some thought, though his intention has been to run for re-election. To that end, he plans a fundraiser in November, he said.

Confusion over Rakes' links to a liquor license applicant who was his campaign treasurer and errors on his campaign finance reports filed in January apparently produced a request for his bank records from the state prosecutor, though Rakes was cleared of wrongdoing by the county's ethics commission.

County Democratic leaders also are concerned about Rakes' seemingly contradictory votes on several issues.

As Guzzone seeks a District 13 legislative seat, he could end up on a ticket with County Executive James N. Robey, who has confirmed that he and his wife, Janet, have contracted to buy a condominium near Timbers of Troy golf course in District 13. That strengthens speculation that Robey might run for the state Senate next year against Republican incumbent Sandra B. Schrader.

Robey declined to comment on his political plans, though he did talk about his plans to move early next year as he winds up his two terms as executive.

"I saw the [condo] plans a year ago," said Robey, who lives in a detached single-family house off U.S. 40 in western Ellicott City. "It's time to downsize. I don't need four bedrooms anymore."

Tax relief

Housing costs are another political hot potato, and the issue pops up in different ways.

One proposal surfaced at a recent legislative breakfast hosted by the Association of Community Services, an umbrella group for 150 county social service agencies.

It seeks to address one of the problems created by soaring house prices and the damage they have done to the county's moderate-income housing program.

The association asked legislators to consider a bill that would cut property taxes for moderate-income homebuyers by holding them responsible for property taxes only on the portion of the home they own, often 60 percent or less. The county Housing Commission owns the rest.

Now, even if the purchase price is half the price of market-rate units, moderate-income buyers must pay full property taxes. Combined with homeowner fees, those costs can make the monthly payments too high. The association proposes to defer the rest of the tax bill until the home changes hands again.

"If they only own 60 percent of the house, we should share that burden," said Neil Gaffney, the deputy county housing director who helped present the association's agenda to legislators.

A similar proposal is to be made to the County Council because the majority of property taxes are paid locally, Gaffney said.

Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said he favors the concept.

"It addresses two issues, fairness and making homes more affordable to working families," he said.

"Given the nature of housing these days, even more affordable isn't affordable," he said.

Property taxes for the elderly are on the mind of Republican Del. Gail H. Bates.

Although the County Council enacted legislation allowing longtime homeowners who are older than 65 and with incomes of less than $75,000 to defer property tax increases, Bates plans to try again with her bill, which would give them a permanent tax discount.

Her idea failed to pass muster with the mainly Democratic county House delegation the past three years, but Bates plans to revise it to include an income limit this time, she said.

The bill, which she might introduce as statewide legislation, would give residents age 65 and older who have lived at least 20 years in the same home a 30 percent discount on property taxes, rising to a 50 percent discount for those who have lived in the same house for 30 years or more.

The council bill "is only a deferral," Bates said. "This would make it permanent."

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