Baltimore County Executive candidates Kevin Kamenetz and Kenneth C. Holt aired competing views on the budget, schools and economic development in a forum at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Tuesday night, as the Democrat Kamenetz defended the current administration's record of management and the Republican Holt insisted more could be done to save money.
County Councilman Kamenetz, 52, a lawyer from Owings Mills who has served on the council since 1994, touted the county's record of balanced budgets, Triple-A ratings with the three major bond rating services and avoiding the layoffs and furloughs that have hit other jurisdictions.
He said he understood tougher economic times lie ahead that will test the county's ability to "do more with less." He said he looked "forward to the opportunity to have challenging times."
Holt, 59, a senior vice president with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates from Kingsville, criticized the approach the county has taken in forecasting its revenues. He warned of projected shortfalls of up to $300 million in the budget, which now stands at $2.5 billion, and said a number of small steps could be taken that would cut the budget 3 to 5 percent. He said those could include savings in electricity and fuel.
Kamenetz dismissed Holt's figures on shortfalls and savings as "made-up numbers," pointing out that the budget is balanced, as it has to be by law. He stood by the county's approach to projecting revenue and managing its money.
Taking questions from four panelists and members of an audience of more than 100 at the University Center, the two men disagreed on how to offer the best education options. Holt urged a wide range of choices, including more charter schools, vouchers and expanded vocational schools.
Kamenetz said he didn't want vouchers or charter schools. "I think that's offensive," as it suggests "we're not doing a proper job" in public schools. He said he wanted to emphasize schools that would prepare students for college and the best jobs.
In response to a question about revitalizing Liberty Road, the candidates floated different proposals.
Holt said he would advocate for a museum devoted to Negro Leagues baseball as the center of a complex that would include a baseball diamond. Such an attraction would not only draw visitors and spark business activity, it would "be the heart and soul of the African-American community."
Kamenetz brushed that idea aside.
"It's nice to have a 'Field of Dreams,'" said Kamenetz. He said the residents of that rundown area need "not symbols, but action and reality."
He proposed a restaurant and office park associated with Northwest Hospital, a key jobs center in Randallstown, and said he would create a task force to work with the county Revenue Authority to draft a plan to develop it.
Both men said they favored planning for the Red Line rail transit link as another potential spur to economic development.