Election Eve

The reasons I decided to run for Howard County Board of Education still exist. If you have a few minutes and enjoy accounting, take a look at this recent audit report. Len Lazarick makes a strong case for voting out the lone incumbent left in the race. If you’ve finished reading those, I’d like to add a couple of additional notes:

  • There were complaints about the length of time for the audit. Evidently, the Administration decided that a Board member had to attend every audit meeting. Think Mark Zuckerberg or Richard Branson hanging out with an auditor every couple of weeks. That doesn’t happen, my friends.
  • Ms. O’Connor’s letter did not go to the rest of the Board as that “cc” would seem to indicate. When a Board member finds out from the press asking for comments, dysfunction as a body is rampant.
  • I started my career as an auditor…In the ensuing years after I left public accounting, I continued to work with auditors as I was the client. I wanted clean opinions and minimal recommendations. Have I gotten annoyed while on either side? Of course.

This report and its scorched earth response “from” the current Chair of the Board are a tightly wrapped gift to the state as reasons to punish our school system.

Then fast forward to Thursday’s Board meeting where Board members voted to end discussion on the payroll errors. Which were NOT a minor issue. Thank heavens for Dr. Altwerger for pushing it back onto the agenda during her report. Of course, more ridiculous behavior ensued after that. One departing Board member wanted the Internal Auditor to answer questions on it, which is not his field. (She was later heard to be telling people “I didn’t say the things they say I did.” But…video…)

Whatever happens, I believe we’ve shown the endemic nature of this cancer. I have worked very hard over the past 19 or so months on this campaign to learn and understand the responsibilities of this office. But I know that my campaign is nothing compared to the hard job awaiting me.

I am super excited to meet people as they vote tomorrow. Thank you for all of your support and encouragement…and TIME.

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Town Center TIF

Last night, I wore my Town Center Village Board hat at a PATH meeting that provided useful information on Tax Increment Financing. This PDF explains the basics of TIF, so I’ll leave it at – A development increases the property or sales taxes on a piece of land, so they get to keep the increase, or increment. That reimburses them for some of their costs of the project. Howard County, or at least the County Executive’s administration, is thinking about doing this for the Downtown Columbia development. This proposal is also somewhat tied to the affordable housing that Howard Hughes wants to build…on county land. The article says that’s not true, but I don’t see how one can unlink them.

Usually, TIF is used for “blighted” areas – think unoccupied, dilapidated buildings.

During the recent primary campaign for Board of Education, many people were disturbed by one candidate’s use of “inner-city” Columbia.

These two things are not true. Yes, we have extreme poverty in parts of Howard County and yes, there are some homes that need external fixes. But blight? I live pretty much as close to the area being discussed as possible and I do not see blight. Maybe some run-down homes that need investment, but blight? Yes, we have some crime, but let’s get some perspective. We have a wide range of socioeconomic circumstances that we need to deal with.

But is giving away public dollars to a private corporation the solution? Usually, counties/cities needing renewal offer developers incentives to make a not-so-attractive spot more attractive. They forfeit the increase in tax dollars, hoping that other stars will align that make a good investment.

I wonder how much our County has appropriated forĀ  TIF for FY 2017. Oh, $70 million & more in 2018? That article, however, is outdated. Last night, County Council member Jen Terrasa said it is now $120 million with another $40 million more in future years.That’s not to say that it would all be for Downtown Columbia, but…probably fair to assume most of it would be.

Juxtapose that number with the “shortfall” between the County Council approved HCPSS budget and their request – $48 million. Granted, many of us do not believe that the increase needed to be that much. A bunch of the increase was in health insurance costs, which has been wrong for the last several years.

But…How much would I love to fund an increase in special education? More reading and math specialists? PARAEDUCATORS in Kindergarten? (Sorry, I’m yelling, that one is really irksome to me. “Other counties don’t use paraeducators as much as we do?” “We’re NOT other counties!”)

Politics and negotiations are about trade-offs. But this TIF proposal, regardless of what the number is, seems rather one-sided.

On a positive note, it seemed that 95% (and yes, that’s particularly specific) of the people at the meeting opposed using county money for a TIF incentive. But the way I see it now, I see a 3-2 vote in favor occurring in September.

Choose Advocacy

Over the past few years, I have learned a lot about the different advocacy groups here. We have so many intelligent, informed and caring people in Howard County. In recent days, I have been proud and impressed with my neighbors.

Monday night, I attended an event for Grassroots. If you aren’t familiar with their mission, please look at their website. They help displaced people with medical care, counseling, financial help and food & shelter.

At the Howard County state delegation forum Tuesday night, the Community Action Council asked for an expansion of their food bank facilities. Demands on the county food bank have been increasing exponentially. The amount requested seems rather small and Delegate Frank Turner asked whether our food bank compares to Anne Arundel County.

The Police Department and others supported a bill to combat human trafficking. Some activists had visited questionable establishments to gather information and provide resources to potential victims. Entering such places is risky, but they are trying to help innocent people.

Delegate Miller & Delegate Atterbeary proposed two bills regarding the Howard County Public School System on transparency and election system, respectively. School employees that testified opposed both bills, which concerns me. Residents supported both bills overwhelmingly.

There were dozens of people who came to Ellicott City on a cold, rainy night to advocate for their issues. While I might not agree with everyone’s viewpoints on a particular issue, I was happy to see an informed community willing to speak on the record.