Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007

Mayoral candidates clash over growth

First forum of the season draws all contenders

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Candidates hoping to become the next mayor of Rockville carved out distinctive messages for themselves in one of the first forums of the election season last week.

Speaking at a candidate’s forum hosted by the Rockshire Association, City Councilwoman Susan R. Hoffmann touted what her two competitors lack: a voting record.

‘‘I am the only candidate for mayor with a record of controlling growth,” she said on more than one occasion.

As proof, Hoffmann cited her support of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, which restricts development if schools and roads are judged to be overcrowded, as well as the temporary moratorium on development and an excise tax on new development.

The three-term councilwoman also called for a greener, more environmentally friendly city, and giving residents the choice between weekly or twice-weekly garbage collection.

Sharply critical of the three-term councilwoman, Drew Powell, head of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery, a countywide watchdog group, waited until the end of the forum to launch his strongest salvo.

‘‘I have vowed never to accept campaign contributions from developers or companies doing business with the City of Rockville,” he said. ‘‘My opponent, on the other hand, received nearly half of all her 2005 campaign funds from the development industry. It is apparent that elected officials avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”

Powell’s numbers are larger than Hoffmann’s, who points out her 2005 campaign received no money from developers active in Rockville.

She did receive $2,500 from a developer, his wife and companies in which he has an ownership interest, but those, combined with receipts from people associated with development-related companies, do not come close to the $7,100 he counts as development related receipts.

After the forum, Hoffmann was asked about Powell’s parting comments.

‘‘I really am disappointed that we’re seeing a level of negative campaigning that Rockville’s not ever seen before,” Hoffmann said. ‘‘And that’s not the Rockville way.”

Powell offered himself as a slower growth candidate, saying the city cannot afford to build another Town Square.

Rockville cannot go green by increasing density levels and paying for more development subsidies like Town Square, which costs taxpayers approximately one-third of every one of the city’s tax dollars, Powell said.

Hoffmann disagreed with those numbers, saying about 5 percent of the city’s operating budget is used to run, promote and repay debt service on the city’s portion of the mixed-use development.

Rockville taxpayers are expected to put about 4 percent of the city’s general operating budget toward those costs in fiscal year 2008, according to city staff.

That number comes in far lower than the one-third Powell referenced in his speech. His figure is arrived at, he said, by comparing ongoing Town Square expenses and debt service to the city’s real property tax receipts, not the entire revenue stream. That number comes to about $11 million or $12 million a year, he said after the forum.

City staff estimates about $2.3 million in such expenses for this fiscal year. Ongoing expenses should be lower, as parking revenues kick in, according to staff.

When asked to clarify this week, Powell changed context, saying his $11 million to $12 million figure includes capital improvement projects that were delayed to make way for Town Square construction.

Mark Pierzchala, the last mayoral candidate to enter the race, portrayed himself as a more positive alternative to the troubled council on which Hoffmann served.

Jumping into the race in large part because of the protracted and contentious debate over refuse collection, the College Gardens Civic Association president said the choice is about change.

‘‘The mayor and council needs to work better and it needs to work better with city staff,” he said.

Praising the staff, he called for a more extensive city budget process and fiscal responsibility.

On the upcoming consideration of the citywide zoning rewrite, he promised a fair process.

While the mayoral candidates debated issues at greater length, the crowded field of 11 council candidates struggled to be heard, having just a few minutes each to introduce themselves.

The next forum is set for Thursday at 7 p.m. at the King Farm Community Center, 300 Saddle Ridge Circle. The forum will be rebroadcast on The Rockville Channel (cable channel 11).