In 2017 and 2018, I spent most of my evenings and weekends in communities, meeting constituents at their doors. It was an opportunity for you, the voter, to learn about me. More importantly, it gave me an opportunity to understand the issues that concerned you and your community. Time has passed, but those concerns are still at the forefront of my mind. So too are my commitments that I made, especially when it comes to spending your hard-earned tax dollars. I make no bones about it. I am a fiscal conservative.
It alarms me to hear what is happening across the street from council chambers in Annapolis. The halls have been abuzz with terms like “progressive tax,” “service tax” and “historic tax increases.” Bills have been introduced and are making their way through committees, the delegation and senate chambers. Let us not forget that Anne Arundel County residents are still adjusting to the “historic” tax increase under County Executive Steuart Pittman in 2019, an increase I did not support. The more that government reaches into your wallet, the more you have to adjust your family budget. Families will limit how much they invest in our locally owned businesses. Individuals will cut back on visiting their favorite local mom-and-pop store, in favor of the more affordable online option. Services that have been called a “luxury” will decline and threaten the existence of the very businesses that offer them.
“Historic” tax increases mean “historic” losses for small business, and those businesses are the backbone of our local economy. This is the reality of what we are facing. As a member of the county council, I cannot vote on state legislation, but tax increases and reckless fees come before the council as well.
In February, the county council passed bills 88-19 and 89-19. These bills, also known as the “short-term rental” bills, impose a hotel tax to anyone who rents their primary residence and/or second home on a hosting platform such as VRBO or Airbnb, and requires a registration with a $400 fee, respectively. Legislating short-term rentals is no easy task, in part because it is a growing and changing industry. Short-term rental owners range from the retiree who is sharing their home to supplement a fixed income, to someone who has a second home that is used primarily as a short-term rental, and everything in between.
Because of our proximity to Annapolis, the fifth district has many homeowners who use their home as a short-term rental on only one or two annual occasions. The most prominent of these occasions is Commissioning Week. It is unreasonable to me that someone who opens their home to support Navy families could now have to pay a $400 fee to register their home. This will deter families from participating in a decades-long tradition of supporting our only military academy in the county. While I believe we need to protect the integrity of our existing communities as this industry evolves, I could not support a bill that hurts local homeowners and families.
I will continue to take this fiscal conservative approach as we move through the Fiscal Year 2021 budget process that begins with the county executive’s budget presentation on May 1, 2020.
There are other key issues ahead in 2020 for the council, including the General Development Plan (GDP). The GDP will guide land use for the next 20 years in our county. Currently, the Office of Planning and Zoning is reviewing land use change applications that have been submitted for specific parcels all over the county. There will be an opportunity for public comment on those applications during town halls in the spring and summer; however, those dates and times have not yet been determined. The Department of Planning and Zoning will then formulate recommendations on each of these applications and present those recommendations to the county council within the GDP in September 2020. It is important to know that the recommendations for land use changes are a step in the process. I encourage you to visit the Anne Arundel County Planning and Zoning website (www.aacounty.org/departments/planning-and-zoning) and click on “Anne Arundel 2040” to understand the entire process.
Land use is a complicated area of our government. When I met District 5 residents at their doors, I also made a commitment to grow in a way that protects the characteristics of our existing communities. One of the communities I had the pleasure of visiting during the summer of 2018 was the White Hall Beach community. Like many neighborhoods in our district, they are a tight-knit group of families, some of whom have been there for decades. They shared with me the “gem” of their neighborhood: a residential property that had also been operating as a waterman’s commercial use as far back as the 1960s. The property had changed hands several times and had lessened in scope over the years, but the operation of crabbing and fishing has always remained. They offer such a benefit to our county by supplying locally owned restaurants with fresh seafood daily. A little piece of Americana tucked away in our district. Unfortunately, their ability to remain and survive in the community they had been a part of for so long was threatened by a flaw in our zoning code. I made a commitment to the community that if I were elected councilwoman, I would do all I could to fix it.
At the February 18 meeting of the Anne Arundel County Council, Bill 6-20 passed unanimously. Bill 6-20 adds a permitted use in certain residential areas, for watermen in existence since January 1, 1990. Council chambers were full of watermen who came to testify about the heritage of what they do, and explained that it is their livelihood. The council came together to support small business, and I am thankful for my colleagues support of my bill.
I take the commitments I made very seriously. Please remain engaged, in our county legislation and the budget process. Your voice is important to me.