What are your views on the use of tax-increment financing as an incentive for private building and redevelopment projects, including remodeling blighted village centers in Columbia?
Hadgu: Howard County is considered a desirable place to live because of its schools. I prefer to use taxpayer money on schools than to provide corporate welfare. From the beginning, the TIF was a mistake. Proponents of the TIF say that growth in Downtown Columbia is inevitable but it would take more than 25 years without the additional incentive. Like taking steroids to accelerate muscle growth, proponents want to accelerate growth by using the TIF and bring about the inevitable sooner. This is a bad deal for tax-payers, for our students and teachers as it takes money away from essential needs. It will put additional burdens on our citizens as the County will be forced to raise more debt to deal with the negative consequences of accelerated growth. It risks the County’s AAA credit rating. This is especially egregious since Howard Hughes is exempt from the county’s APFO policy. TIF’s can lead to abuse of county taxpayer money and gentrification of neighborhoods.
With rising concern over school safety, should county police officers or sheriff’s deputies be assigned to all public schools, along with additional screening methods, such as metal detectors, student pat-downs and clear backpacks?
Hadgu: The debate surrounding school safety is just another example of special interest influence gone awry. Instead of discussing ways to increase gun safety and reducing access to weapons of mass murder, vulnerable populations with mental health needs are scapegoated and half-measures are proposed that seek to only militarize our schools. We have reached an inflection point in our society where the adults have lost the ability to take sensible decisions that are based on facts and data. Our democracy has been hijacked by interest groups who have bastardized the values of freedom and our rights enshrined in the Constitution just to sell weapons of mass murder that are being used to mow down children in the halls of learning. If we are to prevent gun violence and increase school safety, we need to take on the special interests and pass common sense gun reforms – universal background checks, taking guns away from domestic abusers, allowing the CDC and NIH to study gun violence as a public health issue, banning assault weapons – these are solutions favored by an overwhelming majority of citizens.
Are there any county government services that should be privatized to save money and improve efficiency?
Hadgu: I reject the premise embedded in the question that privatizing services saves money and improves efficiency. Any institution requires strict oversight and it is as effective as the individuals in charge. One of the areas of my campaign platform is to improve accountability by increasing the county’s audit function, increased oversight in county departments, and eliminating the revolving door that currently sets a one year period before which a former member of the County Council is allowed to represent special interests whose matter is “subject to legislative action”.
Is a provision in the county’s recently adopted Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that allows developers to build affordable housing in areas where a building moratorium is in place a responsible approach?
Hadgu: I reject the premise embedded in the question. There is NO building moratorium in place. The “affordable housing” loophole of APFO is just another cynical ploy used by developers to weaken growth management tools of the county. For many years, developers have weakened the affordable housing standards by requesting exemptions and paying below market fees-in-lieu. In its second annual report published in March 2014, the Columbia Downtown Housing Corporation (CDHC) said it is facing “major structural impediments to achieving [its] affordable housing goal”. One of them was “Developers do not have any legal or financial incentive to participate in helping us achieve our goal”. The most effective way to provide affordable housing is to not provide exemptions to developers.
Is it appropriate for Howard to be a “sanctuary county” and prohibit county police from reporting detainees in the county detention center to federal authorities?
Hadgu: Local law enforcement should be in the business of enforcing local law. From an economic standpoint, I do not want local taxpayer money to be used for immigration enforcement. I am running to be a steward of tax-payer money. We pay federal taxes to fund ICE. From a public safety standpoint, I want local law enforcement to be engaged in community policing. Furthermore, to the extent that our adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) does not have a way of measuring impact of growth on law enforcement, it is onerous to add scope to the duties of our local law enforcement. Communities are safer when they can feel safe to call the police without fear of attendant consequences. Lastly, I’m an immigrant. I am alarmed at the current anti-immigrant climate and the many untrue assertions about people like me.
What efforts, if any, should Howard County take to install more flood-control systems in and around Ellicott City, and how many tax dollars should be involved?
Hadgu: Ellicott City is an example of what happens when out-of-control, unmitigated growth meets environmentally sensitivity and geographically challenging terrain. With growth, proper storm water management systems were not implemented. Now the taxpayer will cover the cost of improvements that developers should have paid. We need to do everything we can prevent floods in Ellicott City.
How would you respond to the opiod overdose epidemic? Should Howard expedite construction of an in-patient drug treatment center?
Hadgu: I think every discussion about the opioid epidemic should start with a discussion about the crack-cocaine epidemic and how the response destroyed many African Americans over the years. It was a criminal justice response rather than the more compassionate health crisis response. Not only should we have an in-patient treatment center, we need to expand community training programs as well to help parents and family members cope with this crisis and give them the tools to identity symptoms and ideally prevention.
Has the county invested enough in public transportation projects, including the regional bus network and BikeHoward program?
Hadgu: No. For many years, the county’s priority has been providing unrestrained growth without collecting necessary mitigation impact fees for schools and roads. The tangible and intangible economic impacts of irresponsible growth has led to financial constraints. If we are to invest in important infrastructure such as public transportation that becomes the preferred choice for many, we need to reverse course and charge developers the market-rate impact fees needed. This way, we don’t use taxpayer money to service bonds and other expenses that developers should have paid for in the first place.
The state is recommending a constant yield property tax rate of 99 cents for the budget year ahead, below the current tax rate. Do you support reducing the tax rate to the constant yield level and adopting zero-based budgeting?
Hadgu: The constant yield property tax rate provision sets off a public hearing process if the local authority decides to raise the tax rate beyond the constant yield amount. Any effort to improve transparency of government action helps the county. There are some areas where zero-based budgeting is optimal and others where it is not. I support a combined approach where a focus is placed on the causes that create the majority of the effect.