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Closing Argument of My Campaign for County Council

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Closing Argument of My Campaign for County Council

Hiruy Hadgu

Some may know that I earned my U.S. Citizenship in 2014. I was born in a country and continent where the majority of the people live their entire lives without voting in a free and fair election and I was very excited to vote in that year's general election.

I decided to actively participate in our political system after the 2016 elections, because I am innately someone who takes ownership of his surroundings to fix what's broken.

In Howard County, the growth-management process is broken. We have seen in the last two years the impacts of years of unmitigated growth and developer-influenced zoning decisions.

The school overcrowding led many parents to push for the new adequate public facilities ordinance.

We also witnessed the damage of inadequate storm-water management in Ellicott City. Twice.

I am running for county council to break the grip developers have on county government.

Many candidates have pointed to some nice attributes as qualification for the role of county council.

Experience, being a life-long Howard County resident, or having children have all been cited.

Let’s remember however, that many Howard County voters are not happy with some of the existing county leaders who have all of those attributes.

The questions a voter needs to ask are the following: who will question and push back against special interests, who will not succumb to political party influence, and who will ultimately make decisions based on data?

My platform called “The Preferred Future”, is developed with the input of many community leaders and activists and it is county-specific, which is why it has received some key endorsements in the county.

It is not enough to say "I want to fully fund education and pay our teachers".

Candidates should explain and call out the reasons for these shortfalls.

For months, I have been doing exactly that.

Fully funding the school system will require:

  • zoning laws that protect the county’s economic welfare,
  • Market based developer impact fees for new homes,
  • saying no to TIFs and other financial schemes that seek to siphon taxpayer dollars,
  • a strong adequate public facilities ordinance to effectively manage growth, and
  • a candidate who is willing to call out developers.

A few days ago, I met a woman who described to me some of the challenges senior citizens face in Howard County. The main source of income for those with fixed income is Social Security.

A typical Social Security check is around $1,300 and varies based on income history. According to the county's self-sufficiency index, the housing cost for a single adult is $1,265.

To make matters more complicated, one’s birth date determines when the checks are delivered.

For example: someone born between the 11th and 20th of the month would expect the checks to be deposited on the 3rd Wednesday of each month.

So how do people on fixed income manage to live in Howard County? Another woman told me that she is fortunate to have a friend that lends her money until she receives her Social Security Check. Every month.

Affordable housing is just one aspect of the challenge that senior citizens face in Howard County. I covered it in more detail here.

At the same time, senior citizens are just one block of the population facing affordable housing challenges in Howard County. I covered it in more detail here.

Many of the challenges we face are self-inflicted.

Consider for example the issue of school impact fees.

Nearly 15 years ago, the county accepted an artificial limit on the maximum allowable school impact fees the county can charge and set the value at $1/sq. ft. This value was allowed to increase with inflation.

According to the county’s own numbers, an average of $5,000 was collected per new home in 2017.

Meanwhile, a school costs anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 per new student. I covered impact fees in some detail here.

I think the county has been busy catering to special interest influence for many years, and many who need help are forgotten.

As stated, many county problems have been actively created by self-inflicted policies – the county’s MIHU and affordable housing policy, low school-impact fees and weak growth management policies, giving free money to developers using tax increment financing, and developer-friendly zoning regulations are but a few of these examples.

In the past few months, I have been astounded at the extent to which developers run this county.

They would sit at the same table as the county council during work sessions and sell their highly slanted data, the county bends over backwards to produce its own flawed reports, and in many cases, they make up the majority of committees formed to guide county policy.

Consider for example the hit-piece report drafted by the Howard County Economic Development Authority to derail the recently adopted adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) and the latest Spending Affordability Committee report that conveniently leaves out school impact fees as a potential source of revenue.

Or consider the manner by which certain county leaders responded to the concerns raised by residents about school overcrowding.

Perhaps the starkest example of government paralysis was on display after the school shooting at Parkland. County leaders came together to assure the community of all their efforts to protect children.

Except, this was in the midst of budget cuts to critical school programs and while the school system purchased additional trailer classrooms that are more susceptible to a potential shooting.

This was also while the State Legislature was still in session and there was an opportunity to increase school impact fees to provide additional funding for schools.

Government is paralyzed and cannot solve simple problems because of special interest influence. Voters are losing faith and are increasingly getting cynical.

I am running for county council to break this special-interest-grip on county government and challenge flawed assumptions that lead us to budget problems.

For example, many jurisdictions including Howard County have a flawed assumption about residential development.

The logic goes “more homes mean more county revenue”.

This orthodoxy has created budget problems because residential development is actually a cost-center. The attendant impact on public facilities is conveniently ignored when making this assumption and leads to deterioration of services that ultimately impact quality of living standards.

The next county council will face some challenges in the coming years that will affect every single resident for many more years.

The county council will deal with a major zoning regulation rewrite, the budget will face additional problems and developers will blame it on a yet-to-be-implemented APFO policy, affordable housing will continue to be a challenge for many including our older adult community, and many other challenges.

    My positions on these issues are clear and I have been the most outspoken candidate on these issues. If a candidate is not willing to explicitly say what they will do before they get elected, how can we expect them to do what we need after they get elected?