Should county government incentivize growth in the county through zoning and, if so, what types of growth (residential, commercial, high density, etc.) should the county focus on and why? What steps should the county take to comply with state-mandated planning requirements?
Fuller: Zoning should be stable and reliable and not used as a tool to promote the ends of government. Residents in Carroll County District 5 are worried their communities will be negatively impacted by adverse changes in local zoning. The county is trying to incentivize growth in this district through zoning and that is bringing unwanted road and school congestion and a loss of the rural community we have enjoyed. Because county government is manipulating zoning to incentivize growth existing residents are concerned whether their properties will retain value. Frequent or unpredictable changes in zoning also make development an uncertain prospect and that is a disincentive to invest money in property. County government should “incentivize growth” by making Carroll the place people and businesses want to come and be part of due to lower costs, fewer mandates, less regulation, safer environment, nice communities, stability, etc. State-mandated planning requirements create many of the problems counties have to deal with. Carroll County already complies with state-mandated planning requirements, despite the problems they create.
What is your vision/strategy for economic development in the county. What incentives do you think are appropriate to lure businesses/employers to Carroll?
Fuller: My focus will be on economic growth achieved by low taxes and fewer regulations – proven vehicles for economic growth. Government shouldn’t be an impediment to business but create an environment in which business can be more profitable and grow more easily. Impediments to growth are burdensome regulations; adverse zoning changes endangering the intended use of property; and lengthy, unpredictable, hard to negotiate, repetitive permitting processes. The county should constantly monitor for these hindrances and remove them. Reducing the costs of doing business in Carroll will be incentive for business to locate in Carroll, stay in Carroll and continue to grow. Also, Carroll County is a bedroom community with an aging population. Successful development will recognize and support existing demographics rather than try to force changes in the demographics. Economic development tools that governments employ, like job training and entrepreneur development, can be business opportunities in themselves. Companies can and will operate these types of businesses if they do not have to compete with government agencies. The county must be diligent not to use taxpayer dollars to compete with private business in development and training.
Approximately 47 percent of the county’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget goes toward Carroll County Public Schools. Do you believe this number is appropriate, too low or too high? Should there be a set percentage of the budget dedicated to public education each year?
Fuller: The State sets each county’s yearly funding obligation called Maintenance of Effort (MoE). The State of Maryland funds its portion of each school budget based on the number of students in each county school system, with the amount rising as the student population increases and falls with falling population. The county does not adjust its funding similarly. In fact, as the State’s funding falls, the school asks the county to fund above MoE and pick up the difference in funding from the State. FY18: Carroll County government funded $198M for the schools State and Federal governments added $151M to the school system CCPS’ total operating school budget is $345M Carroll County’s remaining operating funds are $201M to fund all other county services (Public Safety and Corrections budget $48M, which is the next largest budget funded by the county) In 2016 three schools closed. CCPS’ total budgets were: $329M in FY16 $335M in FY17 $345M in FY18 proposed FY19 $350M That was a $20M budget growth over 4 years while 3 schools closed and the student population continues to fall from a high of 28900 students in 2005 to 25,290 students, or back to 1996 levels. Under MOE, per student funding cannot decrease, so the more the county funds per student each year the higher the floor becomes. As long as the student population is falling per student costs have less impact, but if the student population starts to rise MOE will force increased spending.
Do you believe existing revenue sources are sufficient to effectively cover necessary expenditures in Carroll County? Currently a supermajority (4-1 vote) is required to raise taxes. Do you think that is appropriate or should only a simple majority (3-2 vote) be required?
Fuller: County tax collections are sufficient to cover needed expenditures but no amount is ever sufficient to cover wanted expenditures. County budgets, like all other budgets in government are growing because government officials fail to distinguish between needs and wants. Government must live within the means of the taxpayers. It cannot continue to grow in size and expense while the private sector, which funds it, does not. A supermajority vote is appropriate for raising taxes. In a districted county as Carroll is, a unanimous vote to raise taxes would better protect an area of the county which may not have the wealth to support an increase in taxes. The Commissioner of one less wealthy area may be out voted by Commissioners of the other more wealthy areas who do not care about the impact to residents outside of their voting district. If Commissioners were elected at large they would all be accountable to all the residents in the county. As things stand now they are not.
Do you support or oppose a move from the commissioner form of government to charter government?
Fuller: I oppose moving to charter government. When proponents say charter is local control, taxpayers should hear ‘they can raise their own salaries’. Commissioners cannot. Hardly the local control voters have in mind. When proponent say it’s separation of executive and legislative power, taxpayers should hear ‘it adds an additional layer of bureaucracy on top of what we already have.’ We have 5 Commissioners, but charter has 5 to 9 councilmen and a County Executive plus the Executive’s staff. All to do what’s already being done by 5 Commissioners, and was being done by 3 Commissioners just two terms ago. When proponents of charter say it places checks and balances on government, voters should think about Frederick’s Executive who consolidated power in her hands not allowing the council to speak with county employees. Councilmen must go through her office, so she controls all the power. This is not good government. In Commissioner Government the Commissioners share power equally. That’s true checks and balances. When proponents say that Commissioner Government is messy, voters should know all Commissioner Government decisions must be made in a public forum with discussion of the issues. Not so in charter. Open meetings are only required where there are multiple elected officials. County Executive decisions are made without public insight into the decision-making because one elected official has no one to meet with so no open meetings. Pro-charter folks say government works faster with a County Executive, but greased wheels of government tend to roll over taxpayers.
Enabling legislation in the Maryland General Assembly gives county government authority over fire and emergency services. What do you see as the best path forward for emergency services in Carroll County?
Fuller: Carroll County values its volunteer emergency services and all our firemen and women and emergency medical personnel. Our communities come together every year around the carnivals, bingos and bull roasts that raise the money to help fund our fire halls. The spirit of service is strong in Carroll County even if the numbers of volunteers are not always quite what we’d like. That is a common problem across all volunteer organizations. Incentives in the form of property tax breaks or community college discounts could be offered to volunteers and to local businesses that support employees volunteering. Stepping up some of the existing benefits could also encourage more volunteers. The school system should be encouraging service hours be earned in the fire halls. Creative programs that bring high school students into fire halls like the Volunteer/Cadet Program (V.C.P.) should be given more attention and support to encourage participate by high school students. College tuition support could be earned by high school volunteers in these programs with the support of county funding. A nationwide research project was conducted by VFIS Consulting to gain insight into why people are not volunteering as firefighters and how to bring more volunteers in. Their practical conclusions are in a 90 page document that covers everything from advertising to leadership training, from evaluating potential benefits to the need for continuous recruitment. The methods outlined in this document should be fully investigated along with others before Carroll considers any move away from our valuable volunteer fire fighting force.
What do you believe county government’s role should be in combating the opioid epidemic?
Fuller: Many necessary measures to combat this particular drug problem are not within the power of the Commissioner’s office, like training doctors to use less addictive medications or alternative pain. Or, bringing hope and a sense of personal value back by reintroducing God so people can better cope with pain. Necessary things, but outside the scope of Commissioner. Commissioners can support programs that have been effective, like the D.A.R.E. program, which was funded by the school system until 2013. The Commissioners can urge the Board of Education to bring this program back into the schools. The State Police facility in Warfield does D.A.R.E. training, so that should be a relatively easy thing for the schools. Commissioners should support the Sheriff’s Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office where they can in order to stopping illicit distribution of these drugs. Accurate accounting and reporting of deaths and overdoses help raise awareness of the depth and breadth of the problem, where incidents are happening and which age groups are impacted so Commissioners can help getting that information more widely distributed. They can also help the hospital get out information on alternatives to pain medications and what drugs create the greatest risk. Carroll County government has a cable channel, sends out emails to various subscribers, has moveable billboards to place on roadsides, and regularly sends out bills all of which could hold or transmit informative opioid messages. Raising awareness of how these opioid addictions start may keep some people away from them to begin with.