How is Anne Arundel County doing? Is it going in the right direction or the wrong direction?

Professor Dan Nataf, of Anne Arundel Community College (AACC), has been asking those kinds of questions for seven years in the public opinion poll he issues twice a year.

The good news from the poll last month is that 56% of the 553 Anne Arundel adults surveyed said the county was heading in the right direction, which is about the same percentage as in the spring. Perhaps more importantly, only 18% said the county was heading in the wrong direction. That 38-point spread between “right direction” and “wrong” is the largest it’s ever been, Nataf says in his analysis.

“The county percentage indicating ‘right’ direction has historically remained around 50%, with the fall ascent to 56% being part of the ‘Hogan honeymoon,’ which began in spring 2015 and has been demonstrated in generally rising ‘right direction’ percentages for the state and the county,” Nataf said. “By contrast, Hogan’s election has had no obvious and continuing impact on the percentage, citing the ‘right direction’ for the nation. Hogan’s high approval values (72% in fall 2016) help explain the ‘right’ direction scores, since those who approved were statistically significantly more likely.”

County Executive Steve Schuh might wonder why he gets only a 46% approval rating when a much larger percentage think the county is heading in the right direction. That’s mainly because 38% were not sure or gave no answer on the question about him, indicating to Nataf that “he remained unknown to many people.” But Schuh’s disapproval rating is only 16%.

Taxes, Economy

There was a slight five-point drop, to 60%, in people who viewed the county’s economy as excellent or good, but that was a lot better than they saw the state’s economy (49% excellent or good) or the national picture (20%). County residents saw their own economic well-being as fairly stable, with people making more than $70,000 feeling a lot better than those making under that.

The Nataf survey found the public’s attention shifting from economic issues to those dealing with quality of life.

“Four issues dominated the concerns of county residents: crime and drug abuse, a combined 19%, with drugs alone being 13%; growth and overpopulation, 14%; transportation, 11%; and the economy, 10%,” Nataf’s analysis said. “Taxes continued to decline as a focus of concern.”

In spring 2015, 25% of respondents thought taxes to be the most important problem, but last month, the figure was only 9%.

This is another good sign for both Hogan and Schuh. While their tax and fee cuts have been fairly small, they are heading in the right direction.

Clinton, Trump, Issues

Anne Arundel has long been known as a swing county in elections. If Nataf’s poll is accurate, it may point for an unusual win for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the county this year. She has 40% support, compared to 34% for Republican Donald Trump, 5% for Libertarian Gary Johnson, 1% for the Green Party’s Jill Stein and 11% undecided.

Another 10% said they would vote for neither Clinton or Trump. There were more Republicans than Democrats undecided, not voting, or voting for a third party candidate.

On other issues, respondents strongly agreed with Hogan’s order delaying the start of the school year until after Labor Day. Two-thirds (67%) completely or mostly agree.

County residents were also generally favorable to the idea of building another bridge to the Eastern Shore (60%), an expansion of the county’s mosquito spraying program (56%) and the idea that local government should not promote much more development (53%). But on the development issue, 20% only “somewhat” agreed with that slow-growth statement, and 21% didn’t agree at all.

Survey respondents did not think that former county executive John Leopold should again run for office, with only 18% supporting the idea, 58% opposed and 19% unsure.

Heroin, Development

Those surveyed were more evenly divided on statements that the county was currently doing enough to combat heroin use and addiction or that the county already has enough public access points to the Chesapeake Bay. Schuh is pushing for more bay beaches and boat ramps, and he is also advocating greater prevention and treatment programs for opioid addiction, as he did last month at a summit with Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.

The public was evenly divided on the question of whether the Board of Education should treat transgender students on the basis of their birth gender as opposed to the gender with which they identify.

The poll was taken in early October using landlines, cell phones and Internet, and has a margin of error of 4.5%.

On a side note, it was interesting to see the three Republican county executives, along with Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, at the Clarksville heroin and opioid meeting that drew more than 400 attendees. All three are in the middle of their first terms and are limited to two terms as executives. Might all three aspire to be governor or other statewide office one day? That is the kind of question political junkies love to speculate about, even six years out.

Revitalization Credits

Schuh last month signed legislation to encourage property owners, investors and even home flippers to renovate and rehabilitate homes in Glen Burnie and older areas of the county.

The legislation introduced by County Council Member John Grasso provides for $300,000 per year in fee relief, as well as property tax relief for five years after a homeowner improves his or her property with a home of increased value.

“This legislation is very rare in that it grants both tax and fee relief for citizens,” said Schuh. The fees for a home rehab could run from $1,000 to $2,000.

Schuh also promoted it as potential tax relief for every county property owner. Because of the county’s inflation-adjusted revenue cap, if remodeled homes generate more tax revenue than they had been before, they could force the county to lower the tax rate, he said.

Schuh also said he is also working on another proposal for revitalizing older neighborhoods.