BERLIN – Registered voters in the municipal limits of Berlin head to the polls next Tuesday to elect a mayor and a new council member for District 2.
As was the case with last week’s District 2 candidates, The Dispatch presented a series of questions on current events to mayoral candidates Gee Williams, the town’s interim mayor since May who has twice been elected to represent District 1 as a councilman, and Rex Hailey, a former two-term councilman and mayor from 1996-2004. The candidates were asked to keep their responses to 75 words. The following is a transcription of how they responded.
(BOLDQ. The Berlin electric rates and electric system have come under a great deal of scrutiny lately. What is your take? What would you do to resolve the issue?
Williams: Berlin’s electric utility challenges started under Mayor Hailey’s administration. Borrowing on the electric utility peaked during his last term in office at $11.2 million and that has limited the ability of the town to respond to rising power cost or make major repairs to electric generators at the power plant. I believe the Berlin Utilities Commission now should determine which of the recommendations made by our electrical engineering consultants ought to be enacted by the Mayor and Council.
Hailey: A. Don’t sell the electric company. Up to four years ago, we had the cheapest electric in the state. B. Up to four years ago, the Berlin Electric Company paid the General Fund $450,000 per year in lieu of taxes. C. Utility manager. The past mayor and the present acting mayor fired the utility manager and never replaced him. To fix the issue expand the generation to take care of the new growth, perform overdue maintenance on generators and hire an experienced manager.
Q. How should Berlin handle growth related to the expansion of the wastewater system? How should Berlin pay for the expansion and improvements? Should Berlin continue to pursue more capacity than granted?
Williams: The Town Council should adopt a capacity management plan for the allocation of all future EDUs. The wastewater plant upgrade to meet current environmental regulations should be paid by all wastewater utility customers as it will benefit everyone. Plant expansion cost must be paid solely by new development, but must be shared in a way that costs property owners who have been paying ready to serve fees less than properties that have not paid the fees. I don’t think we should add more capacity.
Hailey: In a market where homes are not selling we cannot afford to build an additional sewage plant. We would have to pay payments with no additional customers!
Q. People often say Berlin needs to be run more like a business. What do you think of this approach? How would you do this?
Williams: Absolutely, the Town of Berlin must run more like a business, but with a different bottom line: customer service, reliability and efficient cost effective services provided to all citizens. I have hired four new department heads that have both government and business backgrounds and the new administrative director must have proven private sector experience. In the future, department heads should be rewarded for pay based on performance and for their effectiveness in managing costs and delivering services.
Hailey: The town of Berlin is a non-profit business. We provide basic services. Streets and roads. Utilities. Police protection. Planning and zoning. Parks and recreation. A public forum.
Q. What would you like to see in the new Berlin Comprehensive Plan? What are the biggest issues for the future of Berlin?
Williams: I have written to the Planning and Zoning Commission members requesting that they consider establishing architectural standards that are neighborhood specific to each area of town. Four such districts could be the Historic Districts; Gateway Districts (our primary streets such as Main St., William St., Broad St. and Bay St.); Neighborhood Districts; and Commercial Districts. Such standards are necessary if we are to preserve the charm and character of our town as we grow.
Hailey: Main St. is the heart of downtown. Fill empty stores and encourage business development. Maintain our infrastructure. Communicate with our citizens.
Q. What should be done to attract more businesses to Berlin? Is Berlin unfriendly to business?
Williams: Berlin government has been more passive than supportive of business in the past, but that has changed since I became interim mayor. I aggressively and successfully sought the Maryland Main Street Program designation and pledged town financial support for this effort. I have challenged the Berlin business community to work together under the program. Since August six new committees have started meeting in a coordinated effort to create new business opportunities for the Berlin business community.
Hailey: Berlin has been unfriendly to business. In the last four years we have lost Main St. businesses. We must again become business friendly. In the last four years we had have three restaurants that wanted to move here turned down for one reason or another. We need to do more to make Berlin a tourist destination.
Q. Should the historic district be expanded? What criteria should be used to decide on new historic areas?
Williams: I believe that in addition to the Historic District Commission, the Berlin Planning and Zoning Commission should also make an independent recommendation to the Mayor and Council about where and to what extent the Historic District should be expanded. Expansions should be contiguous to existing boundaries and should be added incrementally only where a majority of properties have architectural features that are pre-20th Century in origin.
Hailey: The Historic District should be expanded to save the rich character of Berlin. We especially need to stop telling people what color they can paint their houses. Paint color is a personal matter of taste and is non-permanent.
Q. How should Berlin elected officials handle the economic downturn?
Williams: We must make the financial management of town government our highest priority by insisting on highly qualified professional oversight of all finances by the Town Hall department heads and staff. Finance has always been the Town of Berlin’s weakest link, but we must now make this an area of expertise. A much more rigorous review — quarterly, not just annually — of operational budgets must become standard procedure so that the Town can respond to changing economic conditions in a timely and responsible manner.
Hailey: Declare a moratorium on growth so we can put off having to expand out sewer system. Lower the tax rate to compensate for the last few years of inflated home values. Help create new jobs in our community.
Q. What long-term policies would you like to enact in Berlin?
Williams: Policies I would like to see include the adoption of a Master Plan for growth after the passage of the Berlin Comprehensive Plan; a policy requiring all wastewater treatment for future growth to be accomplished by spray irrigation to stop any additional degradation of the Coastal Bays watershed; and a financial investment by the town as a partner in the total replacement and upgrade of the Multi-Purpose building on Flower Street so it may be transformed into a first-class community center for Berlin.
Hailey: Get the drugs off our streets. A policy of financial responsibility. To continue with my policy of street repairs using the state street improvement funds. Be an active member of the Maryland Municipal League, who represent us at the state level. Be an active member of the National League of Cities, who represent us in Washington.