Cecil County Executive: Howard, Moore Contrasts in Style, Issues
Regardless of the outcome of November‚Äôs election, Cecil County will be making history when citizens elect the county‚Äôs first County Executive, who will join the ranks of the few jurisdictions in the state, including Anne Arundel County and Baltimore city, that have been led by women.
Pam Howard, the Democratic candidate, or Tari Moore, the Republican candidate, will preside over the shift from a commissioner form of government to charter government, which will place the county executive in charge of day-to-day government operations as well as providing political leadership to a five-member County Council.
Moore and Howard provided glimpses of their leadership and management styles during a candidates‚Äô forum last Thursday night hosted by the Cecil County Patriots, the local ‚Äėtea party‚Äô group.
Howard, who served for 12 years as the county‚Äôs independently elected Treasurer before losing by a sliver of votes in the 2010 election, said she was ‚Äúable to eliminate the fluff and make tough decisions,‚ÄĚ and knew the ins and outs of the county‚Äôs budget and departmental operations based on her Treasurer post and over 20 years experience in local government. She characterized herself as ‚Äúan independent thinker,‚ÄĚ with ‚Äúno partisan bias,‚ÄĚ and said she would ‚Äúbuild consensus.‚ÄĚ
Moore said her two years as a county commissioner, preceded by work as executive director of the county Chamber of Commerce, gave her experience in local budget and management matters. She said the county executive would be the ‚Äúface‚ÄĚ of the county to state government and cited her work on the board of the Maryland Association of Counties and testimony before various panels in Annapolis. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs all about relationships,‚ÄĚ she said, and with ‚Äúone boss‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒthe county executive‚ÄĒit would be easier to rein in the ‚Äúvery difficult‚ÄĚ political climate of the currently feuding commissioners.
Asked what their first legislative proposal to the County Council would be, Moore said she would propose a bill to allow ‚Äúgrowlers,‚ÄĚ or large take-out containers of beer sold by bars or brewpubs, a legislative provision requested by local bar-owners last year but which the General Assembly did not act upon. As a charter county, she pointed out, Cecil County will no longer need state approval and could enact such legislation locally.
After joking that she would like to outlaw ‚ÄėCeciltucky‚Äô tee shirts, Howard said she felt ‚Äúless legislation is better,‚ÄĚ so ‚Äúunless it‚Äôs legislation we really need, I probably won‚Äôt propose it.‚ÄĚ But, she added, she would take action on her ‚Äúpet peeve‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒthe business inventory tax, or ‚Äúpersonal property tax,‚ÄĚ and begin steps to reduce it.
Howard proposed a phase-out of the inventory tax, over a period of five to ten years, as a way to attract new business to the county. She said she would not include utilities in the plan, which would cost $4 million a year in revenues when fully operational but could be offset by other fees and potential income as new economic development activity comes to the county.
A similar proposal was advanced in the Republican primary for county executive by Harry Hepbron, a former county commissioner who came in fourth in a seven-candidate field.
On economic development, Moore said she favored using ‚Äúlottery revenues‚ÄĚ to hire a business development staff position in the county‚Äôs office of Economic Development to focus on bringing new employers to the county.
An audience member asked the candidates if they would support a five percent property tax cut for senior citizens. Moore said, ‚ÄúI would be open to looking at that, yes,‚ÄĚ but she noted that reductions for one group meant the revenues would need to be raised from others.
Howard said there were several property tax relief programs in place for homeowners, such as the homestead credit, but questioned whether age should be the criteria, since many seniors have paid off mortgages and might be more ‚Äúwell off‚ÄĚ than younger homeowners. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think I would support an age-only tax credit or tax reduction,‚ÄĚ Howard said.