What do you consider the greatest accomplishments and failings of the Kamenetz administration?
Ebacher: Baltimore County Executive Kamentez has been a strong leader for Baltimore County by maintaining the already high standard of living enjoyed by many Baltimore County residents. He has managed to keep Baltimore Counties AAA bond rating and has been able to balance the counties budget each year. However, the next council will inherit some real problems from the last 8 years. The Spending Affordability Committee recently issued its annual report indicating that the county is in danger of falling short of its ability to pay its debt and set aside required savings each year. His proposal for free community college for recent high school graduates is welcome but does not go far enough. The decision to pay for a new Dulaney High School is likely the right one, though the plan for paying for it is not adequate, and the Towson Gateway project exemplifies pay-to play politics in the county.
Does Baltimore County have adequate resources to meet its needs, particularly to renovate or replace aging schools? Do you support increasing the property tax or local income tax?
Ebacher: Baltimore County government has done a remarkable job over the last quarter century of providing services for its residents while holding its tax rate steady. Indeed over the last 18 years, Baltimore County has attracted 75,000 more residents and has not had to raise its property nor income tax rates. Those rates have stayed where they are for the last 29 years. However, we are beginning to see strains where affordability is becoming a real issue. Pension and health care costs for the county continue to grow, many of our schools are crumbling and are in need of replacement, and our transportation infrastructure needs to be upgraded for the 21st century. If we want to continue to provide the opportunity and quality of life that Baltimore County can rightly be proud of, it would be negligent to not look at a range of revenue increases from impact fees from developers to examining tax rates.
Do you support Baltimore County's federal housing consent decree? In particular, do you support a prohibition on rental discrimination against those who use federal housing vouchers?
Ebacher: I do support the federal housing consent decree and will push for passage of the HOME act. There is an affordable housing crisis in Baltimore County. The current wait time for housing with a voucher in the county is nine years. Contrary to some common beliefs, these housing vouchers are used by people who are senior citizens 32%, people with disabilities 30%, and low wage workers 25%. The HOME act simply eliminates a form of discrimination that prevents landlords from discriminating against applicants on the basis of their source of income. Landlords may still decline to rent to individuals with criminal histories, poor credit ratings or any other criteria that is not prohibited by law. This is not an experiment that Baltimore County is trying; similar laws exist in Howard and Montgomery counties. By outlawing discrimination against voucher holders, Baltimore County can work towards eliminating the pockets of poverty plaguing many areas of the county. Research also shows that academic success is closely linked to economic opportunity. Passage of The HOME Act will significantly increase the likelihood that a family with a Housing Choice Voucher will be able to move to a high opportunity area and put their child in a good school thus beginning to break some of the bonds of poverty that hold back some from a brighter future.
Does the county government exercise adequate oversight over the school system?
Ebacher: The Baltimore County School Board should make sure that it conducts its business in a transparent and ethical manner. The recent lapses by the leadership of Baltimore County Schools demonstrate negligence in regard to ethical rules that must end. Similar problems with financial disclosers and procurement practices show that only with audit oversight by the Baltimore County Government can we ensure that the board is operating in the best interests of all of its stakeholders.
What role can the county play in assisting in the preservation or revitalization of aging communities?
Ebacher: The Baltimore County government should be an advocate for its existing neighborhoods and should work hard to make sure they are as livable as any new development. Many of our older communities have much to offer. They are already served by public water and sewer, roads, public transportation, and schools, and all have a valuable community history. The county should build and increase community based capacity to acquire and rehabilitate existing stock. They should promote the use of modern sustainable and green design in all the rehabilitative plans. We should also provide assistance so that first time and low and moderate income homebuyers may purchase existing homes in our community conservation areas.
How would you characterize the relationship between the Baltimore County police and the communities they serve? Are any reforms necessary?
Ebacher: Baltimore County police have worked hard to be responsive and professional in their duty to serve and protect the public. Maintaining good relations with the community is crucial to ensuring harmony between the police and the communities they serve. Recent reforms requiring all officers to wear body cameras, and increased training to equip officers with strategies to deal with people who may have mental health issues are welcome. Another positive step is the agreement with the Maryland Coalition against Sexual Assault to review the way county police respond to sexual assaults. Efforts to build trust between the police and the people of Baltimore county must be ongoing to maintain what has been generally good relations.
Baltimore County was a pioneer in rural land preservation. Do its zoning policies and the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line continue to serve the county's needs?
Ebacher: Baltimore County’s planning decision in 1967 to create the Urban Rural Demarcation Line has been one of the wisest and most far reaching municipal designing decisions ever reached. The county voluntarily decided to keep two thirds of its area rural and direct urban development in the remaining areas. Despite growing pressures on the rural side of the line for increased development that original vision is still a model we should follow. Its success will be guided by cooperation with local communities, like the Valleys Planning Council who were instrumental in developing the line, and working hard to revitalize the existing commercial corridors and focus urban development in the places originally envisioned. Baltimore County is a special place to live because of how well these two seemingly contradictory areas coexist. This must be preserved. Residents enjoy the beauty of the countryside while remaining close to urban conveniences.
Is Baltimore County's support for cultural institutions in Baltimore City too little, too much or just right?
Ebacher: Baltimore County is blessed by proximity to the cultural life of Baltimore City. Last year over 70,0000 county residents visited the city to enjoy Orioles, Raven and Blast games, they attended the BSO and saw shows at Center Stage, the Hippodrome and dozens of smaller theaters, they attended openings and exhibitions at the BMA, the Walters, and Visionary Art Museum among literally dozens of other culturally rich venues. Over the last eight years, Baltimore County has awarded $26 million dollars in grants to art and cultural institutions in both the city and county. Baltimore County is richer for its association with the vibrant cultural life of the city and the county should continue to ensure that those opportunities continue to exist and thrive for generations to come.
Is Baltimore County adequately served by mass transit?
Ebacher: Baltimore County is not adequately served by our existing mass transit system. The County growing rapidly and needs a variety of strategies to move citizens to their places of work and recreation. Our current transportation network has not grown and adapted with the pace and direction of development to both grow our economy and to protect the environment. Baltimore County transportation is a hodgepodge of incomplete plans from the subway connecting Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins to the light rail linking Hunt Valley to BWI. Both systems were designed as the first leg of more extensive networks that were never completed. The loss of the Red Line project on the east and west side of Baltimore County cost us a significant investment in moving beyond a car-centric system, and valuable time in beginning to move toward a transportation system that is more than the addition of lanes to the beltway. Real vision and committed work will be required to bring our fractured transportation network up to the standards of other metro areas like Cleveland, St. Louis, Seattle and Denver. We know that regions that invest in transportation will attract new residents and give existing residents more reason to stay. We can do better!