Candidates for county council were asked the following questions by The Washington Post:
Housing: What should the county do, if anything, to forestall the continued conversion of middle-income rental housing to condos? What zoning changes or incentives would encourage developers to build more moderate-rent apartments?
Taxes: Should the county subsidize federal social service programs now being cut and would you support increased taxes in the next four years to pay these costs?
Disposal: How can Montgomery County best deal with its long-range waste disposal problems: rail hauling, the new incinerator, new landfills etc.?
Malcolm Lawrence (R), 57, of 3807 Taylor St., Chevy Chase, Md., is an economic consultant and free-lance writer. He retired in 1978 from a career as a Foreign Service officer. An Air Force veteran, he has 30 years experience in monetary and industrial research and analysis, commercial policy, budget presentation and speech writing.
Housing: According to the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs (OLTA), as of the end of September overall vacancy rates for rental units have increased to 5 percent, from a low of 3.1 percent in 1979. OLTA claims that the tide of condominium conversation has not significantly cut rental housing stock. The total number of units, at 57,659, is not much lower than the 1979 total, because new units are approximately equal in number to those removed from the market by conversions. Moreover, about 5,000 units in condo and cooperative complexes have been purchased by investors and offered for rent (e.g., Rock Creek Gardens). If and when housing market conditions improve, these units no doubt will return to condo and co-op status. Thus, new rental units will be needed in the county. Some help is coming from the Housing Opportunities Commission's recent bond issue of $12.5 million in tax-exempt bonds to finance two long-term projects for rental housing, one in Montgomery Village and the other at Blair Gardens. Obviously, more bonding operations in areas with adequate hookup facilities would further alleviate the expected shortage of rental units.
Taxes: No, on both counts. The federal government will keep responsibility for food stamps and Medicaid. Federal grants will help offset some of the other costs. I am, therefore, in agreement with the basic thrust of President Reagan's New Federalism plan -- a proposal soon to become a fact of life -- which will reassign primary responsibility for a number of services to state and local governments where greater degrees of economy and effectiveness can be achieved. All of the social services programs are currently undergoing reexamination and reevaluation in the light of budgetary constraints. In many communities, including Montgomery County, there have been elements of excessive overhead costs, duplication of efforts and abuse through false claims and poor record keeping (consider the "food-stamps-for-heroin" caper recently uncovered in Baltimore). I am in favor of efficient delivery systems for necessary social services in bona fide cases of need. For more efficiency, services with computer application could be contracted out.
Disposal: Despite citizens' protests, the present County Council members approved the Laytonsville landfill with a liner; seepage of harmful substances into the water supply is already occurring. This was local government at its worst. Now, after spending millions of dollars on misguided research, the council is moving toward an incinerator at Shady Grove Road and Rte. 355, which, according to the Concerned Citizens and Scientists for a Healthful Environment, would result in emission of toxic metals, including cadmium, lead, tin, mercury and antimony, into the surrounding atmosphere. Organic emissions would include polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), dioxins, PCBs and PBBs, as well as formaldehyde byproducts. These are known to be mutagenic and carcinogenic. Also, hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid gasses would be released. I am, therefore, unalterably opposed to both the location and the recommended process for the so-called "trash-to-energy" plant. I am currently exploring more effective and healthful ways of dealing with Montgomery County's solid waste problem, such as rail hauling, presorting and extremely high-temperature burning techniques.
Neal Potter (D), incumbent, 67, of 6801 Brookville Rd., Chevy Chase, has served on the County Council since 1970 and was president for three years. He has been president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the county's Citizens Planning Association. An economist, his principal work is in areas of public finance and natural resources.
Housing: The county government has taken several important steps to slow condo conversion: requiring 180-day notices to tenants before conversion, and life tenancy for the elderly and disabled tenants. It also levies a 4 percent tax on the conversion, using the funds to help finance rehabilitation of rental apartments. The main reasons for apartment shortages are: 1) the rapid increase in construction costs during the 1970s, and the slower rise in rents; 2) removal of the big income tax shelters that had favored apartment construction, and 3) a big increase in financing costs (interest rates). Added incentives for apartment construction are being provided by county aid to deal with the high cost of financing. Additional zoning is not needed.
Taxes: The county can take over some of the costs, but its abilities are very limited because local taxing powers are limited by the state. And neither the state nor the counties can levy any tax that produces as much revenue as the federal income tax. However, the county can, and should, by careful administration, with greater efficiency in screening cases than is provided by federal programs, take care of the most needy cases. I would support increased taxes to pay for essential needs and more careful administration; I also will continue, as I have done in the past, to seek and find revenue sources less burdensome than increased property taxes, such as increased use of fees for services, more adequate assessments on speculative lands and increased profits from the county's liquor monopoly.
Disposal: After intensive examination of all alternatives during the past several years, the county now looks to a mass-burn incinerator, using the latest technology to prevent or limit harmful emissions from the stack, as the best long-term solution. This would provide the most efficient recovery of natural resources -- an energy-recovery system, producing electricity and perhaps steam heating -- and limit further losses of good farmlands for landfills. (Landfill is still needed for ash disposal and emergencies when incinerator is not working.) The expected high costs of an energy recovery system -- and concerns over possible dangers of stack gasses -- prompts further study of rail haul to abandoned strip mines. Rail haul may be chosen if study in the next six months indicates it would be as economical and as dependable as an energy recovery system.
Leonard H. Robinson Jr. (R), 39, of 3401 Pauline Dr., Chevy Chase, is director of international development for Battelle Memorial Institute. A former Peace Corps volunteer and associate director, he also has worked for the Agency for International Development, Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Housing: Condo conversion exacerbates the county's housing crisis for the elderly, for the young, who are moving to neighboring counties, and for moderate- to low-income people. The county government has an obligation to fulfill the housing needs and aspirations of everyone, not just a fortunate few.When elected to the council, I will propose amendments to the master plan, allowing for increased housing density in those vacant areas where public services and facilities are in place. I also will initiate action to reduce unnecessary and costly procedures, red tape that developers are subjected to in their objectives of building housing units throughout the county. Finally, I will organize a meeting of builders, developers, bankers, housing specialists, real estate brokers and council members, and charge them with the responsibility of determining, through brainstorming sessions, ideas on how the county government can make use of federal, state and county resources to effectively resolve Montgomery County's housing crisis.
Taxes: Montgomery County has the highest tax base in Maryland; thus, reluctant to raise taxes without a thorough examination of existing programs and services. Efficient and fiscally responsible county government, which has been lacking for 12 years, would cut waste, thereby enabling us to continue funding some social programs. If left with no other feasible solution, I would support a tax increase, however, to provide for the truly needy, especially families with dependent children, our senior citizens and the low-income citizens throughout the county.
Disposal: Over 12 years have elapsed with an estimated expenditure of $25 million, and still the County Council has failed to solve the problem of solid waste disposal. I am opposed to dumping our trash in somebody else's backyard; it's a stop-gap measure at best and does not solve the problem ultimately. While the proposed incinerator may be, technologically speaking, our best solution, it should not be constructed at the intersection of Rte. 355 and Shady Grove Road, a high-density area. It will emit ashes -- a potential health hazard to our citizens. The projected cost to build the facility is also exhorbitant and will initially increase costs to citizens. There are no "magic bullet" solutions to this one. I favor going back to the drawing board until we can come up with a solution that is environmentally sound, economical and has the support of county residents. I submit that a newly elected County Council characterized by some new, fresh, professional input will commit itself to solving the solid waste problem quickly and decisively, and will effectively involve the people of Montgomery County in the process of decision-making.
David L. Scull (D), incumbent, 39, of 9315 Greyrock Rd., Silver Spring, a lawyer, has been a member of the County Council since 1981, when he was named to replace the late Elizabeth Scull. Previously, he was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1974 to 1981. He has been cited by Common Cause for his legislative skills.
Housing: The county already gives maximum tenant protections allowed by state law: lifetime tenancies for senior citizens and "right of first refusal" to the county to buy a building. The county subsidizes tenants (with rent supplements) and owners of moderate-rent apartments (with tax deferrals). The county recently initiated a multimillion-dollar program of assistance for building and rehabilitation of moderate-rent apartments. The county should study a zoning change to allow elderly homeowners to rent an unused part of their homes to renters such as single parents, under controlled conditions.
Taxes: To maximize our ability to relieve needy victims of federal cuts (we substituted county funding for the working poor and handicapped this year) and minimize local layoffs, we must control county spending, maintain an adequate reserve and improve tax equity. I would support increased taxes if necessary to maintain essential services.
Disposal: We apparently have already spent as much time and money as any jurisdiction in the nation seeking waste disposal solutions. The newly opened landfill and the incinerator (proposed to replace the landfill in about six years) include advanced and very costly technology and amenities, with significant impact on the public (the disposal cost is rising from $8 per ton at the old landfill to $40 per ton at Laytonsville, then to $80 per ton at the incinerator). Prince George's County's landfill, by comparison, costs less than $5 per ton and will last many years into the future. Rail hauling trash to abandoned strip mines in the Appalachians is very desirable and possibly less costly, and is under intensive study by us right now, but it has proven unattainable in all past attempts because of opposition in the receiving jurisdictions.