BERLIN – The economy and financial matters will most likely dominate Worcester County Commissioner races this election season, according to a cross section of candidates for the highest offices in the county.
Not raising taxes, bringing in more jobs and general economic development have risen to the top in the political conversation in Worcester County, candidates are reporting.
In the past, residential growth and environmental issues have been at the top of election concerns.
“Taxes are always an issue,” said Commissioner Linda Busick, running for re-election in District 6, this week.
“Everyone I’m talking to is concerned about taxes,” said District 6 challenger Jim Bunting. “Nobody wants a tax increase.”
A lot of people are worried about potential tax increases because their finances cannot handle the increased financial burden, said District 4 challenger Ted Elder.
Commissioner Jim Purnell, seeking re-election in District 2, agreed, saying “money is on everybody’s mind.”
“We can’t afford to raise taxes in the county when our unemployment rate is as high as it is … people are mostly concerned about property taxes right now,” said Purnell. “A lot of people are running scared out here.”
Bunting sees the need for an economic development plan, especially for the northern portions of the county.
Growth may not be a big part of the county conversation right now, but sensible growth is needed to help the tax base, Bunting said.
John Bodnar, a challenger in District 5, said he hears more about job growth in the county than anything else, as well as the need for middle-income work such as light industry and high-tech manufacturing.
Several candidates mentioned that people are concerned that their children cannot find jobs locally when they finish their education and must move away.
Economic development is an issue, said Busick, but the county does not have the infrastructure, such as good broadband Internet service, which needs to be part of the conversation.
District 5 challenger Bob Thompson feels the county needs to be more business friendly, and many people, he says, agree.
The budget next year will be a struggle again, said sitting Commissioner Judy Boggs, running for re-election in District 5, with state funding in doubt.
“Next year is going to be a very difficult year,” Boggs said.
People want to know that the County Commissioners are spending wisely, said Thompson, especially in this recession.
Times are tough, said Purnell, but people want the schools to remain the best in the state.
Bunting said he’s been hearing a lot about education and the school system as well.
“Everybody wants to maintain the quality of education we have,” Bunting said.
The line needs to be held on the budget, Busick said, but public support for maintaining the high quality of the county’s public schools is strong.
Thompson added, “Support for our school system is critical.”
Some concerns may not dominate discussions of the county’s biggest issues, but they are important to smaller populations or neighborhoods within the county.
For example, people in her district are still unhappy over the defeat of the barking dogs ordinance, Busick said, despite a show of public support.
People in Ocean Pines are concerned about the upcoming, post-Census, redistricting, Boggs said. The people she has spoken with want Ocean Pines to be together when redistricting happens, because they share a viewpoint and concerns.
“People are very interested in that,” Boggs said.
Ocean Pines folks are also concerned about the impact of slot machines to be installed at Ocean Downs, both Boggs and Thompson said this week.
Route 589 is also an issue in Ocean Pines, both the need for relief from traffic congestion in general, and the new traffic expected from slots.
In Ocean Pines, Thompson has also heard a lot of concern about residential growth slated for the north and south borders of the Pines community.
Elsewhere in the county, people are concerned with property rights and feel there is too much regulation, said Elder.
Farmers are also either over-regulated or their interests are not supported, Elder said he is hearing from District 4 residents. Red tape in general is discouraging some from doing business in the county, Elder added.
In District 2, Purnell said he has heard questions and concerns about a north-end recreation center, maintaining the quality of the roads, and the continuing need for affordable housing.