Answers from Alan Walden
Do you believe that the City property tax rate is a deterrent to attracting new residents and businesses to locate in Baltimore City?
If you answered "yes" to Qt. 1, what is your strategy for reducing the tax rate?
The best way to reduce the property tax rate is to (1) attract more residents to the city and (2) more careful in the allocation of tax credits to business and industry. It's not that tax credits are bad per se; they can and do encourage more development in Baltimore City. But, without a reduction in the residential property tax, the population will continue to shrink and business needs a good and growing work force.
Given the inequity between what residents pay in real estate taxes and corporations and nonprofits do and don't pay, what is your plan to reduce the disparities in property taxes so that everyone pays their share in keeping the city financially solvent?
The word "fairness" is difficult to define. Fair according to whom? Fiscal solvency is not an issue unique to Baltimore. What's required is a reduction in taxes and a willingness to accept a temporary loss of income while encouraging residential redevelopment by private industry in those neighborhoods that require it in order to expand the tax base.
Would you consider increasing taxes on vacant property, while lowering them on occupied property? Can you be specific?
To increase taxes on what doesn't exist seems an odd way to deal with the problem. When something of value is built on vacant property, whatever taxes are levied can be more easily justified.
Describe your vision for our ten year financial plan?
It's all about people and jobs. What's needed over the next decade is the creation of a fiscal and social environment that attracts both business and residents. Nothing else is as important. Reduce taxes, reallocate funds to where they are needed most, promote Baltimore relentlessly as a destination for conventions and tourism, form new partnerships with business and labor, and get everyone working together toward the same goal: A city where people can live, and work, and play.
How would you propose compelling the City Schools Administration to do a top-to-bottom overhaul of its operating inefficiencies?
Despite new statistics that show a measurable increase in the graduation rate, city schools have and are still failing to teach students how to work. The mayor, as chief executive of the city, must drive home to need for a much greater emphasis on vocational education. While many students may be inclined to pursue higher education and college degrees, it's others and most concern me: Those who, when they leave high school, need jobs. They should be taught the skills to get those jobs. We need carpenters, mechanics, steel workers, brick layers, masons, electricians, et al. If it falls to me to help change the system, I would recommend a major shift in emphasis from strictly academic to vocational pursuits.
Explain the role of charter schools for Baltimore. Do you think charter schools help the City retain families who do have the resources to relocate to other jurisdictions? Please explain.
Most charter schools neatly fill the gap between conventional public schools and the private schools which are out of reach for many city residents. And while their somewhat hybrid has attracted vocal criticism in some quarters, their supporters correctly point out that they are a viable option for students who want more they can get on other public schools.
Describe, with specific examples, how you would expand and diversify the city's economy.
Baltimore, like many other of the older cities in America, has suffered from a loss of manufacturing jobs which has resulted in a shift to a service economy. But the pendulum is swinging back and we should be able to benefit from that swing. We must be able to convince manufacturers that if they want to build something, anything, they can build it here because we have the land, and the facilities, and the workers that are needed. Also, as mentioned earlier, this must become a destination. Baltimore has a stunning wealth of historic, cultural, and recreations attractions. The city must be defined by them.
What is your strategy to boost neighborhood commercial business districts and small businesses? Is there specific red tape to be cut?
Neighborhoods need neighborhood business, convenient to those who live nearby and, ideally, owned and operated by local residents. So-called "Mom and Pop" stores are often the anchors of neighborhoods and whatever unreasonable restrictions on their development should be reviewed and revised.
What would be your plan to address the city's vacant houses and abandoned lots?
Vacant homes that are beyond rehabilitation should be razed without delay and the land made available to private developers willing to replace them. Private industry should also be encouraged to repair and rehabilitate those buildings that can be saved and offer them to the public at fair market value either as ownership or rental opportunities.
What do you propose to do with city owned buildings, such as schools, offices, public works, yards, etc. that are no longer needed or in service?
Close them and offer them as new opportunities for private sector development.
Which City agencies are in the greatest need of reform and what specific reforms to do you have in mind?
(1) Schools. (2) Housing (3) Transportation. I have discussed the schools in response to a previous question. The Housing Department is suspect on a number of levels. It is bloated, inefficient, and unresponsive to needs of those it is supposed to serve. As for transportation, bus routes are in need of realignment. And the need for efficient east-west rail service still exists.
What would be your first priority to reduce crime in the city? Please specifically address violent and property crimes separately. What administrative reforms that you would prioritize for the police department?
Drugs remain the biggest problem we face in Baltimore. And while I don't believe that drug addicts should, automatically, be treated as criminals, drug dealers are the scourge of the city and should be dealt with as such: arrested, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms.
Property crime must be more carefully defined. As for the police department: While it has become the favorite target of opportunity for both public officials and some private citizens, I think it's high time we remembered that its principal job is law enforcement. We send the men and women of the police department into harm's way, day in and day out, to serve and protect the citizenry, to confront and apprehend the lawbreakers; to do their level best to keep us safe and secure. They are not social workers. They are the police and their job is to enforce the law. And while I believe a realignment and redeployment of assets may be helpful, I do not believe that any wholesale reform is required
What will you do about Baltimore's aging infrastructure from old sewers to bridges and roads and water lines?
Baltimore is an old city. And when things get old, they are more likely to break. We must repaired what can be fixed, and replace what cannot. It's really no more complicated than that.
What specific strategies will you use to increase the City's population, and specifically to attract and retain such expanding population groups as millennials and immigrants?
Better and more attractive housing, better and more work-related education, more jobs, and more security.