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?
Williams: The primary reason why the Downtown Columbia TIF has been criticized is because there are many residents who do not share the decision-makers’ vision of an urbanized downtown, like Bethesda and Arlington. Columbia is not an inner-ring suburb and high-density, mixed-use development will put pressure on an already maxed-out infrastructure that lacks adequate public transportation, roadways, and school capacity. Public financing should not be used to urbanize a suburban grid. The TIF plan also lacked the comprehensive financial analysis to determine if it was truly necessary and would yield projected revenue.
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?
Williams: I have elementary-aged children and I do not want their schools to become guarded fortresses. The buildings need to be safe (locked doors, emergency preparedness plans). But schools need to be welcoming places where children grow and learn and any safety measures need to have a child-centric perspective. The best tool for identifying and engaging with isolated and potentially violent students is to have small class sizes. Schools need to have the staffing and the resources to be proactive with students with mental health issues. We also need common sense gun reforms at the state level.
Are there any county government services that should be privatized to save money and improve efficiency?
Williams: Privatization as a principle for reducing budgets is often a short-term fix with long-term financial consequences. In cases where services are already outsourced, it is vital for the county government to have an effective oversight department that conducts accurate cost-benefit analyses, monitors costs and quality, and ensures transparency and due diligence. Outsourcing can not be done without these oversights.
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?
Williams: I view this provision as a loophole for developers to circumvent the lowered school capacity thresholds instead of an attempt to address affordable housing issues in the county. I think it significantly weakened APFO’s ability to control growth. Moving forward, the provision needs to be careful scrutinized to determine if it achieved its stated goals.
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?
Williams: I support the current policy that the police will cooperate with ICE only in criminal matters.
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?
Williams: Flood controls should be a combination of public investment, growth management, and incentives. The county should invest in stormwater-management improvements in flood-prone areas, such as Old Ellicott City, Valley Mede, and Dunloggin. The county should also consider flooding and stormwater management in all zoning matters and add a related test to APFO, like neighboring counties. As older retail centers are redeveloped, reducing impervious surfaces should be a design requirement.
How would you respond to the opiod overdose epidemic? Should Howard expedite construction of an in-patient drug treatment center?
Williams: The epidemic requires a multilevel approach from public education and public health services to legal action. HC Drug Free works tirelessly to educate the public on the risks of opioid addiction and outreach programs to dispose of unused prescriptions. Public health and safety workers should have access and training in administering naloxone. Howard County needs to keep a deliberate path on plans for a residential detox treatment center that would provide wraparound services to address addiction issues after an overdose. The county’s decision to participate in a class-action lawsuit against drug manufactures will help pay for the public health costs related to the epidemic.
Has the county invested enough in public transportation projects, including the regional bus network and BikeHoward program?
Williams: There is never enough investment in public projects, including the trickiest of them all, transportation. The county needs to do a better job linking workers and career-training students to job centers efficiently and affordably. The county also needs to reorient the services to include the needs of an aging population. The transit system should also consider integrating technological trends of ride-sharing to provide more flexible service in under-served areas. Replacing the system’s aging fleet is also an additional resource concern that could be addressed through ride-sharing models. The BikeHoward Express plan is a positive step towards expanding bike networks in the county and should be just the first step in alternative transportation investment.
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?
Williams: Currently Howard County’s constant yield property tax rate is $0.9910 per $100 assessment and its real property rate is $1.014 per $100 assessment. The County Council has entered into the budget hearing sessions and will consider rates for FY2019. Considering the county’s need for increased infrastructure and the Spending & Affordability’s report that revenues will decline as the population grows older, it is advisable to maintain current real property rates. According to analysis by Deloitte, zero-based budgeting in the public sector is not a cost-effective strategy because of the manpower requirements. The report suggests less labor-intensive methods to achieve the goals of greater transparency, cooperation, and realignment .