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?
Kittleman: I believe that tax increment financing (TIF) is a tool that can be used to encourage development projects that will improve blighted areas or create enhanced economic benefit for the County. Thus far, Howard County has only approved two TIF proposals: Annapolis Junction and Downtown Columbia. In Downtown Columbia, a TIF was successfully used to spur long awaited development, development that will fuel an economic engine for Howard County that will yield hundreds of millions of additional tax dollars to the County.. TIFs could also be helpful in redeveloping some of our older Columbia villages; that said, the Reimagine Long Reach effort has been able to proceed without using TIFs. Future uses of TIFs will have to be carefully reviewed to ensure that each TIF is fiscally prudent and provides sustained revenue growth.
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?
Kittleman: No student, parent, teacher or administrator should have to worry about his or her safety while in school. Our schools are among the best in the state, but we cannot expect our students to excel if they do not have a safe and secure learning environment. We currently have school resource officers (SROs) in all 12 of our high schools and three SROs available to our middle schools. In my FY 2019 budget, I will be including funding for additional SROs for our middle schools. Working with the HCPSS, the Howard County Police Department is conducting regular “foot patrols” in our schools, focusing primarily on the schools that currently do not have a SRO. These actions will not only serve to better protect our students and teachers, but will also continue our community policing efforts. In this day and age, schools face a range of safety threats, all of which must be taken seriously and addressed. As County Executive, I have organized my Administration to address both existing and new school safety concerns quickly, and I am proud to say, since the new Superintendent was appointed, we have jointly proposed several new safety measures including new resources to improve security at high schools. On this issue, I believe agility and an open-minded approach to new safety ideas is key. I want the HCPSS community to know, as long as I am County Executive, we will stop at nothing to ensure a safe and secure learning environment in HCPSS facilities.
Are there any county government services that should be privatized to save money and improve efficiency?
Kittleman: While I believe that we must continue to look for ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of county government, I typically do not promote the privatization of County services. However, as described below, there are two current examples where the private sector has been invited to participate with government to provide needed public services. Over the past three years, the County has been investing more public health dollars in community providers who deliver essential health services. This benefits the County in a number of ways. First, community providers have the clinical expertise to deliver services more effectively. Second, more health services are becoming billable to Medicaid, which allows the County dollar to go further. Third, community providers already understand reimbursement practices to maximize repayments of health services to residents, allowing the County to serve the health needs of a broader spectrum of the population. In another scenario, the County, under my leadership, is making greater use of Public Private Partnerships to accelerate needed capital projects that have a strong community benefit and alleviate pressures on the capital budget so that the taxpayers’ dollars go further. Two key examples are the construction of a new courthouse that has been sorely needed in Howard County for over 40 years, and the restoration of 60 impervious acres in a single project that will improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
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?
Kittleman: When I took office, I made it a priority to have the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) reviewed and strengthened. APFO was last examined and modified when I served on the County Council in 2002. Therefore, when I established the APFO task force comprising of individuals representing all the stakeholders and including a representative appointed by each of the five council members, it was the first time in 15 years that APFO was carefully evaluated through a transparent, public process. This review resulted in stronger infrastructure requirements for future developments. During the County Council consideration of the APFO legislation, the Council adopted an amendment to exempt certain affordable housing projects from the APFO regulations. Considering the high housing prices in Howard County and the need for affordable housing, I believe that the exemption was a reasonable approach. I will continue to work with the Board of Education, Howard County Public School System and the Howard County State Delegation to make the revised APFO work for our residents.
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?
Kittleman: No. As County Executive, I vetoed the 2017 proposal (CB9) to make Howard County a “Sanctuary County” because that bill neither provided sanctuary to anyone nor helped our public safety officers protect our residents. Howard County has long been known for valuing diversity, inclusion and civility. These have been the guiding principles throughout my life and why I have championed efforts such as #OneHoward, and stood up with others in my community against acts of hatred and bigotry. This commitment is demonstrated by the strong partnership that has been forged between the Howard County Police Department (HCPD) and the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network (FIRN). This partnership includes having FIRN representatives participate at our police academies and other training activities. The HCPD participates in many FIRN events which allows the officers to meet with members of our immigrant community. This commitment extends to all other County agencies where no person is asked about their immigration status unless it is required by federal or state law. The HCPD does not enforce immigration laws. However, to prohibit our police from working with the federal government in certain situations could seriously hinder our efforts to stop crimes such as child pornography, human trafficking and gang violence. This is consistent with actions taken during the prior administration when Howard County was successful in locating, arresting and prosecuting MS-13 gang members. Consequently, I do believe such cooperation is in the best interest of our residents to promote public safety.
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?
Kittleman: After July 30, 2016, my Administration began an unprecedented effort to evaluate the Tiber-Hudson Watershed in a holistic manner through a comprehensive Hydrologic and Hydraulic analysis that examined what measures could be taken to make Ellicott City more resilient to future flooding. The results from this analysis identified four priority projects, consisting of three large retention facilities and a better conveyance system through the town. Once these projects were identified, my Administration began pursuing them and is continuing to work toward their implementation with key partners at the state and federal level. My Administration also commissioned the US Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a floodproofing study that would inform property owners what measures they could take to fortify their buildings from future flooding. We will continue to work with property owners to implement key recommendations. In addition, we will also continue to help inform property owners about flood insurance opportunities. In fact, due to recent efforts throughout the County, FEMA upgraded our community rating system which will provide further relief to property owners that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program through lower insurance premiums. Studies have shown that every $1 spent on mitigation saves $6-$7 in the response. With that in mind, I will continue to focus our efforts in continuing to make Ellicott City a resilient community.
How would you respond to the opiod overdose epidemic? Should Howard expedite construction of an in-patient drug treatment center?
Kittleman: My Administration has developed a four-pronged approach to addressing the opioid epidemic: prevention; treatment; recovery; and adjudication. All of our appropriate County agencies have been deployed to address the growing number of non-fatal and fatal overdoses, and to prevent future overdoses. We have built effective partnerships with Howard County General Hospital and treatment providers to increase access to treatment, and have worked collaboratively with other jurisdictions in Maryland to share in best practices and integrate efforts to maximize the impact of our interventions. This crisis will be an evolutionary battle that cannot be combated in a finite period of time. In addition to the above, it will be important to destigmatize addiction so that people can feel safe when interacting with law enforcement or while seeking treatment. I remain committed to building a complete system of care in Howard County, which includes establishing an in-patient drug treatment facility for residents regardless of what type of health insurance they may have. The building blocks to this system continue to be positioned so that Howard County can act quickly and responsibly to all individuals struggling with addiction, no matter where they fall on the spectrum.
Has the county invested enough in public transportation projects, including the regional bus network and BikeHoward program?
Kittleman: Over the past three years, we have worked diligently to improve a dilapidated bus network that suffered from an aging fleet and an outdated route structure that had not been examined for close to a decade. We have been able to tackle both issues through replacing a significant number of buses, and by establishing a review process for the current routes that included significant input from the community. That review culminated in a Transit Development Plan that will guide how to adjust our routes over the next five years so that we are more effectively getting people where they need and want to go. These efforts are transforming an unreliable system into one that Howard County residents deserve and can trust. We have also worked to improve other modes of transportation, including biking. After this summer, we will have more than tripled the amount of bike lanes from when I took office. I have also crafted BikeHoward Express which will provide a network of nearly 50 miles of bicycle infrastructure in the core of the county over the next three years. The FY19 budget contains the largest single year investment ever dedicated to bicycle infrastructure in our history. It is my goal to provide our community with more improved transportation options through a context-sensitive complete streets approach, and the actions we have taken over the past three years have put our community on track to achieving this goal.
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?
Kittleman: I am always open to new fiscal tools that enable us to keep the tax burden on Howard County taxpayers as low as possible. For example, my Administration has made innovative use of tax credits, such as credits to benefit seniors, members of our military and public safety officers. However, as County Executive, it is also my responsibility to provide prudent financial management of county revenues and expenses so that our AAA bond rating and long-term fiscal health stay intact for the foreseeable future. With respect to zero-based budgeting, Howard County has a strong track record of passing balanced budgets every year that do not compromise services to residents. I see no need for Howard County to change its budgeting practices at this time when the system is working as evidenced by 21 consecutive years of AAA bond ratings.