ELKTON — Councilman Bill Coutz (R-District 2) announced Wednesday evening that he will be running for county executive as a Republican, entering a crowded field for the 2020 primary election.
Surrounded by friends and supporters, the freshman councilman from north Elkton ended weeks of speculation on whether he would run for the county’s top job with an announcement at Minihane’s Irish Pub and Restaurant on Wednesday evening.
Coutz, 54, is the business development manager for Rollease Acmedia and successfully parlayed his experience into a seat on the county council in the 2018 election. Back then, he ran a campaign on leveraging his experience in the business world and managerial role into helping out his fellow neighbors.
The core of Coutz’s message remains the same, but this time, he’s running to counteract the disparity in treatment for citizens versus corporations he sees from County Executive Alan McCarthy’s administration.
“I’m unsatisfied with the county executive’s treatment of Cecil County residents. With large corporations, we see tax incentives and breaks offered on the backs of our residents,” Coutz told the Whig in an interview.
Specifically, Coutz took issue with enterprise zone expansions, which offer property tax credits and income tax credits for up to 10 years. His argument is that business operations last just short of the 10 years.
According to Coutz, Cecil County’s natural advantages of Interstate 95 and close proximity to airports and Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., should provide enough of an incentive for economic development. Property values and the room to grow are other added benefits for expanding corporations.
“I believe that we can negotiate better with these inherent attributes instead of defaulting to tax incentives,” he said. “Especially since the residents have to pay for tax and fee increases. With these tax incentives, you and I are paying for them.”
When it comes to fiscal policy, Coutz said that he does not see a need for another tax increase.
Ending a longstanding policy of balancing the budget with fund balance money, McCarthy raised property and income taxes in FY 2018 but has not raised them since.
However, Coutz said if elected county executive, he would take a look at the county’s spending plan and would reprioritize it accordingly to fit within the means.
“It’s always a matter of budget priorities and allocating where the needs are. I will say that public safety will be my number one priority. We should not be having our firefighters wait until the fiscal year is over to get the funding for equipment that they need,” he said.
Coutz pointed out that the county is well in financial standing, with the county ending with a $7.5 million surplus in FY 2019 and with a $2.8 projected surplus in the first quarter of FY 2020.
“Either we’re not so great at forecasting or we’re underestimating our revenues,” he said. “With those numbers, I don’t believe there’s not room for tax relief. Even if it’s small, that has a tremendous psychological impact on the people.”
As the county has now taken the CECO sewer system into its operations, Coutz and 126 other residents will now be county customers. As a result, Coutz said his sewer bill is going up by 50%.
“This is an issue near and dear to me,” he said. “I think as reports come in, we’ll see that we’ve grown our customer base enough so I don’t see a need for another increase at this time.”
With the filing deadline one week away, Coutz is the latest person to declare his candidacy for county executive. He’ll be contending with a crowded field for the April primary, facing against McCarthy; Rising Sun farmer and state employee Ewing McDowell; and Danielle Hornberger, liaison for Rep. Andy Harris and wife of a state delegate.
Coutz has been no stranger to confrontation with the McCarthy administration. Notably, he challenged the administration during the FY 2020 budget process for not having an “open and productive environment” to questions, and he’s raised questions about attempts to expand the enterprise zone last fall. The administration later scaled back the number of properties it was seeking to add to the enterprise zone.
But the first-term councilman said that he does not see the 2020 election as a referendum on McCarthy’s time in office.
“I’m in this race because I’ve talked to a lot of people and what they’re looking for is an alternative to the way it is now,” Coutz said. “I’m running because I care about Cecil County residents, small businesses and our future generations.”