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?
Siddiqui: Using tax-increment financing in vibrant and thriving cities that are already attractive to developers is hard to justify and, in most cases, is not in the best interest for the community. While it is supposed to increase tax revenues from business and housing, that may not transpire for many years, if at all. If we are going to subsidize business development, then we should invest in minority and women owned businesses. Research shows that investing in minority owned business has a larger impact on the community through job creation, income, and tax revenues. We are living in a minority-majority county and attention must be placed on the growth of a younger multiracial population.
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?
Siddiqui: School safety must be our top priority. There is no argument that every citizen wants the safety and security for themselves, their loved ones, and their neighbors. Our students need to feel safe in school and not threatened or scared by teachers with guns, metal detectors or pat downs. At the time of the Sandy Hook shooting, as a member of the Board of Education I immediately reached out to the County Executive and Superintendent to find ways to secure our schools. As a result, the board moved forward with investing in security measures at the entrances to all of the elementary schools. We should consider increasing police patrols within school communities, however the implementation and process of establishing security measures needs to involve the community for their input with an open and transparent conversation involving all stakeholders; students, parents, teachers, staff, police and school system officials to come up with the best methods to ensure a safe learning environment for our children.
Are there any county government services that should be privatized to save money and improve efficiency?
Siddiqui: Outsourcing does not necessarily improve efficiency or save money. Privatization erodes transparency and accountability. Only if there is a centralized government office to manage and oversee operations, contracts, and vender selection, can you consider such an option. Supporting local businesses will cut costs and put the tax payer money back into community. All procurements, both public and private should include priority for minority-owned, women-owned, and locally-owned businesses. Looking for ways to cut costs should not be done at the expense of county workers. Howard County government and community has a talented and professional workforce. Professional development and training is a way to save money and increase efficiency, and unionized workforces will help to assure safe working environments.
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?
Siddiqui: Only a small percentage of a developer’s project is typically set aside for affordable housing. The entire development moving forward puts a burden on the school system with overcrowding of schools, roads and infrastructure. If higher fees are imposed, the developers may pass those on to the home buyer. We have to be firm in our decisions to reduce overcrowding in our schools while balancing any housing growth in the county. There needs to be expansion of rehabilitating existing housing throughout the county with grants and partnerships to increase the stock of affordable housing units. The county needs to continue to find ways to support affordable housing for our senior citizens, veterans, disabled, and homeless populations. Having supportive community housing for those with greater needs forms a foundation of care and trust, helping those most vulnerable.
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?
Siddiqui: We are a nation of immigrants and it is a human right to feel safe in the community and not fear bias and retaliation based on your nation of origin, color of your skin, race, gender, language preference, or socioeconomic status. People living in fear of retaliation are at risk of isolation, poverty, lack of healthcare and food insecurity. It was James Rouse’s vision for Columbia to promote unity and the growth of its people. When you invest in people and bring them out of poverty, you get a hard-working community that gives back.
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?
Siddiqui: Inadequate infrastructure and drainage of the communities than surround the tributaries contribute to flooding in low line areas, and while some measures were taken in the past, it could not compete with mother nature in 2016. Preservation of this historic area is important for the county. The state, county, and public/private partnership needs to develop a structural engineering solution to the flooding in this region with shared costs for short and long-term solutions.
How would you respond to the opiod overdose epidemic? Should Howard expedite construction of an in-patient drug treatment center?
Siddiqui: As physician working at Johns Hopkins for 23 years, I have been taking care of families and understand the toll that drug addiction takes on the family and community. This problem of epidemic proportion is impacting our county residents. We urgently need an inpatient and outpatient treatment facility that provides supportive treatment options. The facility should be staffed with high quality physicians, nurses, psychologists with expertise in drug treatment and mental health issues with the latest therapies and interventions. Pain treatment programs, Naloxone access and educations programs for patients, families and healthcare workers are opportunities to intervene. Mental health care is also a crisis in our community. We need of high quality healthcare access for all with more inpatient and outpatient mental health facilities, for prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety in our children and adults. Currently there is a lack of psychiatric beds in the community for children and adults. I support the addition for the inpatient psychiatric unit at the Hospital. I look forward to working with our local health department, local hospital and physicians and community in addressing this problem.
Has the county invested enough in public transportation projects, including the regional bus network and BikeHoward program?
Siddiqui: Investing in our public transportation system is beneficial for people and the environment. It helps those with disabilities and senior citizens, while preventing social isolation and fostering independent living. It’s also an opportunity to combat climate change. We need to improve regional service within Columbia, as well as to other areas of the county including service to our major employers. I would also like to work with the county and state to look at a mass transit project between Anne Arundel County near NSA /Fort Meade and Howard County. Our bus stops should to be connected with safe walkways, accessible and ADA compliant and weather friendly bus stops. Additionally, safe biking and walking paths are needed to connect communities and parks.
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?
Siddiqui: The constant yield property tax level is in place for county residents and maintains stability for those on fixed incomes. Local officials should still have the authority to adjust the property tax rate up or down based on the projected revenues for the year and give the public advanced notice with the opportunity to hear from constituents. I will support a citizen task force to explore different opportunities for tax revenues to support the county budget. Vital services to the county must not be put at risk by zero based budgeting. Certain county departments may benefit from zero-based budgeting for one-time costs or specific programs or projects.