Cecil County Council Dist. 5: Hodge, Crouse Offer Polite, Subtle Differences
The two contenders in Novemberâ€™s election for the District 5 Cecil County Council seat agreed on many issues in a candidatesâ€™ forum, especially ending the political bloodbaths that have marked the county commissionersâ€™ governing of the county for more than a year. But they offered some subtle, yet significant, differences on how they would bring infrastructure to the growth corridor, handle animal control, and bring jobs to the county.
Incumbent County Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) and Democratic challenger James Crouse, the former mayor of Elkton, spoke before an audience of about 100 people Thursday night in a candidatesâ€™ forum sponsored by the Cecil County Patriots, the local â€śtea partyâ€ť group.
Hodge has been a frequent opponent of the so-called â€śThree Amigosâ€ť majority faction of the current five-member commissioners board, which will be replaced by a five-member County Council and a County Executive under the new charter form of government that takes effect in December.
Hodge admitted he was â€śdepressedâ€ť by some of the actions taken by the current majority, but said he was â€śnot going to give upâ€ť and his work for the past four years â€śin the trenchesâ€ť of county government proved he had â€śthe right stuff and the experience to be a good councilman.â€ť He also cited his experience as a business owner and vowed to make the county much more â€śbusiness-friendlyâ€ť to attract employers and create jobs.
Crouse cited his more than two decades in Elkton town government, as a council member and then mayor, as well as past work for Union Hospital and current employment by NBRS Financial, as his qualifications for office. Crouse also served briefly in the state House of Delegates to fill a vacancy but was defeated for election by Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) and he has been out of government for a decade.
Both candidates agreed that the current majority of the commissioners had made county government â€śdysfunctional.â€ť Crouse said the new council must â€śwork togetherâ€ť and he suggested â€śtear[ing] down the wallsâ€ť at the county building and forcing elected officials to â€ślearn how to speak to each other.â€ť He drew a laugh from the audience when he declared, â€śWe also need to learn how to hug each other.â€ť
Both candidates took issue with the recently adopted overhaul of the countyâ€™s animal control ordinance, which Hodge voted against. The Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) terminated its contract to provide services to the county due to the mandates of the new ordinance which its attorney said were costly, unenforceable and in part illegal. The county is currently using a trapper and private kennel to provide emergency-only services dispatched by the 911 emergency center.
A majority of the current commissioners â€śscrewed up,â€ť Hodge said, and the new ordinance is â€śunenforceable, impracticalâ€ť and imposes â€śway too much government intrusion.â€ť Rather than seeking a practical solution for helping animals and resolving animal-human problems in the community, he said, the majority put out 32 pages of regulations that were actually aimed at trying â€śto penalize the current animal care and control provider.â€ť
â€śWe put the screws to the current provider and they got pissed and walked away,â€ť Hodge said bluntly.
Crouse expressed support for the CCSPCA, saying â€śtheyâ€™ve done a tremendous job in the countyâ€ť in the past and he said there should be â€śa re-thinking and a re-draftingâ€ť of the ordinance. â€śI hope the SPCA would come back and be a bidder of services,â€ť he said, under a Request for Proposal for animal control services that has been issued by the county. Crouse said he would not support creation of a county government agency to take over animal control duties and instead such services should be rendered by an outside contractor.
Hodge responded that â€śthe SPCA may be doing a good job but there is always room for improvementâ€¦I donâ€™t want to imply the SPCA is the best agency in town.â€ť
Both candidates agreed that a key stumbling block to economic development in the county is the lack of water and sewer infrastructure in the countyâ€™s Route 40/I-95 growth corridor. Crouse said extension of infrastructure needed to be done â€śASAPâ€ť but he was vague on how to accomplish the solution that has eluded the county for decades. He suggested charging property owners substantial fees to hook up to services but did not elaborate on how the infrastructure would be built.
â€śThe closest thing to a silver bullet to solve the problems of Cecil County is infrastructureâ€ť Hodge said. And he advocated re-opening talks with the private Artesian firm that had signed a contract to provide sewer lines and treatment services in the countyâ€”a deal that was terminated by the Three Amigos majority last year.
â€śThey sabotaged the plan we had worked hard on,â€ť Hodge said. The majority of current commissioners â€śput us backwards for decades.â€ť But election of â€śnew leadershipâ€ť could re-open the privatization option, he said.
Hodge said that Artesian has built many miles of water pipes in the few months since the Delaware-based company took over water services from the countyâ€”the only part of the package that was allowed to proceedâ€”but Artesian could not feasibly put water lines in the crucial growth area because there is no plan for sewer services and business needs both services before locating in the area.
â€śThe county has no plan,â€ť Hodge said, and â€śthe county is going to be the holdup againâ€ť to getting needed services to promote business and job growth in the area.
Hodge emphasized the need to bring new employers and business opportunities to the county, with infrastructure services a key element in achieving that goal, along with â€śkeeping taxes low.â€ť
But Crouse said before seeking new business investment, the county should work first with existing businesses to make sure they are â€śhappy.â€ť Crouse suggested the county use its bond authority to pass on low-interest financing opportunities to existing businesses. He also said he supported â€śadequate and affordable housingâ€ť in the county.