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?
Hunt: I take a traditional view of TIF’s in that they are appropriate tools to apply to areas where development – or redevelopment – would otherwise not happen. Port Covington n Baltimore is a good example of where a TIF was a useful tool to spur development. I would be open to looking at the possibility of utilizing TIF’s for some of certain of our struggling village centers, as well as the Laurel Park Station project that has languished in North Laurel.
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?
Hunt: As a parent of two children in our public school system, there are few items more important to me than the safety of the children in our schools. I applaud our HCPSS Superintendent for looking to immediately improve security at high schools in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings, as well as collaborating with the County Administration and Police Department to improve safety across all schools. However, we need to strike a balance between security and maintaining a healthy educational environment, which is why I’m opposed, for example, to arming teachers. There should also be a wider community conversation involving the Board of Education, County Council and other stakeholders before implementing something as critical as this. In terms of utilizing law enforcement, I believe we should leverage those resources to augment our trained Security Resource Officers (or SRO’s), rather than serve as a substitute to them. This is of special concern to students of color, as well as our immigrant student population. I also feel that we should, in addition to making sure we have SRO’s at all of our schools, make better use of technology to enhance SRO’s, and other safety protocols, as opposed to traditional screening methods like metal detectors and student pat-downs.
Are there any county government services that should be privatized to save money and improve efficiency?
Hunt: I think there are certain “back-office” functions where outsourcing could allow the county to operate more efficiently, and in a more cost-effective manner. Facilities management and operations would be an example of this. However, this should be limited to non-critical functions, departments, etc. More importantly, I believe we should look to engage in public-private partnerships in the construction of new buildings. As a member of the Spending Affordability Committee, I was involved in the review process of the construction of our new courthouse, and found that we gain a good amount of efficiencies throughout that building’s lifecycle, both construction completion ahead of traditional government procurement methods, as well as building operations and maintenance. We should look to leverage partnerships in the future for our correctional facility and other government buildings, including schools.
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?
Hunt: While I support the idea of increasing the amount of available affordable housing in our county, and appreciate that this allowance is subject to County Council review for each project, I don’t believe the amendment passed was overall a responsible approach. Under the provision, it does not stop at the construction of affordable housing; rather, it allows for a full range of residential units to be built, provided the project includes the required amount of affordable housing. This opens the door to further impacting schools, roads and other infrastructure in areas that are already stressed; a better approach would be to allow APFO constraints to kick in, allowing infrastructure in those areas impacted to catch up with development that has already occurred. I believe we should have a larger conversation to address our growing need – and current shortage – of affordable housing, but I don’t believe this is the solution.
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?
Hunt: I don’t believe we need to have that designation in Howard County, as we already operating as such. As a result of discussions surround Council Bill 9, an agreement was negotiated between FIRM, Councilman Weinstein, County Administration and the Howard County Police Department that codified existing police policy where they do not enter into 287(g) agreements, or otherwise participate in mass deportation activities. I believe this agreement provides certainty to the county as well as our immigrant communities; however, should I find that the policy that came from the agreement is being violated, I would work to put in place corrective measures, up to and including the reintroduction of sanctuary legislation. I do believe, however, that the county police should not be prohibited from reporting those that have committed crimes – especially violent crimes – to federal authorities, as any protections should apply to those that are obeying the laws of our county, state and country.
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?
Hunt: I believe we should continue to implement the recommendations presented in the Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan. This includes addressing conveyance systems, in conjunction with other means such as retention basins and prevention of additional runoff. We also need to be mindful of the effect of any new development in and around Ellicott City, requiring that any development mimics runoff capacity of “woods in good condition”. In terms of tax dollars, implementation of the Plan will take a number of years, if not, decades, so I don’t see why we can allocate funds accordingly, including the use of bond financing as necessary for certain construction projects necessary to achieve proper stormwater management.
How would you respond to the opiod overdose epidemic? Should Howard expedite construction of an in-patient drug treatment center?
Hunt: I believe the opioid epidemic is not only a health crisis, but one of public safety. We are already on pace to break last year’s record of overdoses and deaths, which broke the previous year’s mark. In responding to this, we should take into consideration that this epidemic involves those engaged in criminal activities, as well as those that are victims, and any affected communities. In terms of the criminal aspects of this growing crisis, I would fully support the necessary funding to give our police department the tools to get distributors and other criminals off of the streets of our county, and the State Attorney’s Office in prosecuting any and all perpetrators. I would, however, also look support those victims of this growing epidemic, including the construction of an in-patient drug treatment center (similar to the resource center we built in response to the chronic homelessness we have in our county).
Has the county invested enough in public transportation projects, including the regional bus network and BikeHoward program?
Hunt: As a county, we definitely need to increase our investment in all elements of public transportation. With respect to public transportation, we should go beyond making it something that certain segments of our population have to use, but something that all segments want to use. We should work harder with our partners at the RTA to make it a true regional network, and should require that any major development includes a traffic plan that addresses how public transportation will be incorporated. We should also increase funding to accelerate the construction of the BikeHoward network. Walking and biking will never be viable forms of transportation in our county unless there are safe means by which to do so. This is especially true of areas like the Route 1 corridor where I live, it is dangerous right now to walk or bike along that roadway to the point where it unusable to anything other than travel by motor vehicle.
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?
Hunt: I do not support the recommendation of reducing the tax rate at this time. While it would be nice to be able to reduce taxes, we are already facing budgetary issues in Howard County, which will be exacerbated by the recently passed federal tax cut package. In fact, I would recommend that we as a county to a comprehensive view of our fiscal situation, both in terms of revenues and expenditures, to see how we can continue to deliver the services that contribute to the quality of life that we enjoy here, but in a fiscally responsible manner. As part of our review, I would be open to exploring the possibility of adopting zero-based budgeting, as all indications are that it allows organizations to build a more structured approach to cost management, governance and accountability. Again, we need to be more fiscally responsible going forward, so we need to be open to any and all tools that facilitate that behavior.