CENTREVILLE — For the second time, candidates for the Queen Anne’s County Commission faced off in a forum, this one hosted by the League of Women’s Voters on Monday, Oct. 15, in the county office building on Vincit Street.
On hand for the event, along with more than 90 voters, were all 10 candidates for commission: incumbents Steve Wilson for District 2, Jack Wilson for District 1, and Jim Moran for the At-Large seat, all Republicans; and challengers Democrat Deborah Krueger and Republican Chris Corchiarino, both for District 4; Democrat Jim Coulter and Republican Phil Dumenil, both for District 3; Democrat Benjamin Tilghman for District 2; Democrat Annette DiMaggio for District 1; and Democrat Elaine Harrison for At-Large.
Margery Elsberg, of the Kent County League of Women’s Voters, served as moderator, allowing candidates two minutes for opening statements. The audience was then allowed to ask questions to specific candidates with their opponent allowed to respond, although a rebuttal response was limited to one minute to the original minute and half.
Immediately, the public questioned Commission President Steve Wilson on business development and traffic issues affecting the county. Both Wilson and Tilghman seemingly agreed that long-term, high-paying jobs were key to the economic development of the county instead of businesses centered on passing motorists.
“We’re going to have a deluge of traffic and it’s not a welcome thing in this county. What I would like to see is not just a procession of gas stations and used car lots. Businesses that have large amounts of low-wage workers actually are more destructive to your tax base,” said Wilson.
Wilson added high-wage jobs have more of a lasting effect on the county’s tax base that can be built upon for future growth.
Tilghman talked about the challenges of bringing in such large amounts of business.
“The difficulty in the Route 301 (corridor) is the lack of infrastructure. We don’t have sewer or water, so it’s going to be a huge undertaking. We can put businesses there, but it’s going to take a good deal of thought and planning. We have to be cautious what we bring in,” said Tilghman.
Voters then took aim at the comprehensive plan and its difficulty in dealing with more north county towns. Candidates agreed to examining the plan and augmenting it accordingly to the needs of north county towns.
“We have a solid plan as it stands, and it needs to addressed,” said Coulter. “We need changes with the input of many of the organizations and citizens groups. We need to protect our farm land and look at traffic. But working with citizens, we can put together a plan for the next decade.”
A number of candidates said they often get underrepresented when it comes to issues like public infrastructure like sewage systems as in the case with the current woes with Sudlersville.
“Our comprehensive plan already has a vision. We’re a rural community that’s economically viable. The north part of the county has areas for growth to support our town centers and that should be part of (any changes),” said Dumenil.
When asked about a new bridge location, candidates rejected another span on Kent Island, but also said it was an uphill battle to find another location for the bridge. Candidates also noted a strong coalition of counties was needed, while Democratic candidates questioned the delay in establishing such a partnership.
“The right of refusal goes to any one county and that includes Queen Anne’s County,” said Jack Wilson. “Unless you’re going to fix everything from the Bay Bridge past Easton, then it’s a no deal for the county. We’re going to have a 15-year period from the time the environmental study is built, so that’s time that could be spent getting that ready by the (state).”
Citing that Kent County has already rejected any possibility of it as a location, candidates warned against delayed action on traffic headaches on behalf of the county or the state.
“We’re missing the boat on the bridge issue. Kent County is well-organized as we see, and we do have veto power. But at the same time, why haven’t we started building a coalition among the counties on the Eastern Shore?” Harrison said.
Krueger echoed Harrison’s sentiments stating partnerships with Kent County, Dorchester County and Anne Arundel County are necessary.
“I’ve already spoken to some people in the coalition in Kent County and discussed how they presented their position to the state. We should be working with all these counties for a strong coalition,” said Krueger.
Concerning broadband issues, a comprehensive approach was supported by candidates as Commissioner Jack Wilson updated the pubic about the recent response by the county to the state Request for Information for grant funding and preliminary infrastructure.
“You have give companies incentives to want to provide broadband internet. Some of the ways the county can do that is working with companies to help offset the costs. We can use different technologies like receptors to not have to lay cable. We have to use a combination of methods,” said Corchiarino.
DiMaggio explained the difficulties of accessing the internet as a north county resident. She said parents have to go out of their way for their children to complete school work.
“As a north county resident and a taxpayer, my dollars are just as good as anyone else’s. We don’t have internet service, and we have children that sit in their school parking lots to do their homework at 8 p.m. or later because their parents work and have to take them to get it done,” said DiMaggio.
Voters asked candidates why Queen Anne’s County has the highest tax rate allowed by law. Dumenil said he served on the commission when the rate was increased and it was caused by a steep budget shortfall.
His opponent Coulter decried the rationale behind the rate increase saying that more financial prudence would be required and not charge a rate that would create a surplus. Republican candidates agreed cutting the tax rate would wreak havoc on property taxes and county positions if there were to be a recession without a reasonable rainy day fund.
“Our services in this county are at a high level right now. If you want to cut the piggy-back tax, every 0.1 percent is $1.2 million. If you want to go back to 2.85 percent, that’s over $4 million. We’re extremely careful where we put the money and spend it,” said Moran.
During closing statements, each of the candidates crystallized why they were the best fit for a commission seat.
Voters like Lynn Mason of Grasonville already had an idea who she supported, but the forum provided new insight on other candidates as election day approached.
“I knew who I was voting for, but I listened to one candidate tonight and I may vote for him instead of somebody else. Many of the responses lacked details and candidates weren’t as specific as I hoped. The current slate did little to distinguish themselves. Their opponents were more individuals,” said Mason.