Money was the theme as Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen sparred yesterday with his Republican opponent, businessman Roger Hayden, in a debate before video cameras that will be shown on television tomorrow.
The incumbent and the challenger, responding to questioners, disagreed on how Baltimore County should spend its money and how much the burden on local taxpayers can be traced to federal budget cuts.
Asked why it was necessary for the county payroll to increase by 1,000 employees during his administration, Mr. Rasmussen cited "greater demand for services" that has "primarily centered on the public's desire for more police protection, to accommodate more senior citizens, the county's growing homeless population and to protect its waterways.
"We have simply responded to what the community wanted," he said.
The Rasmussen administration, Mr. Hayden countered, has a lot of fat in its budget that could and should be cut off. He said his goal as county executive would be to make the government "more financially accountable."
"My sense is that people are concerned with how are you going to help my pocketbook," Mr. Hayden said.
Mr. Rasmussen said he is aware that people are frustrated over increasing property taxes. "Many people are frustrated, but most of that should be directed toward Washington," he said.
Local governments have had to do more with less federal money -- and have been forced to turn to property taxes, he said. "Local governments are really being squeezed very aggressively."
However, he said, local governments must find other ways of generating revenue besides depending heavily on property taxes.
The federal government cannot be blamed, Mr. Hayden said, for a 36 percent increase in the county's operating expenses. Mr. Hayden said he will "have a look at" high-paying jobs in the county government if he is elected.
"Should they be there -- if so, let's justify it. I think there is room for that," he said. He said he also intended to look at the feasibility of other county projects -- among them a planned $20 million fire-fighting training academy at Sparrows Point. "We can't be all things for all people," Mr. Hayden said.
He also took a shot at Mr. Rasmussen for the delay in start-up of the county's $32 million state-of-the-art emergency communications system -- scheduled to go on line Jan. 31, but still not operating. "It
has dragged and dragged and dragged," Mr. Hayden said.
Spending on education provided Mr. Rasmussen an opening for his sharpest criticism of Mr. Hayden.
Mr. Hayden said the current administration has not done enough to bring more computers into classrooms or to keep teacher salaries competitive. It is possible, he said, to make teacher salaries more competitive and cut cost in other areas.
Mr. Rasmussen accused his opponent of having a problem of consistency, wanting to cut the budget but increase salaries. "You can't have it both ways," the county executive said. "There are no free lunches."
The 30-minute debate -- with questions posed by TV newsman and host George Baumann, reporter Dennis O'Brien of The Sun and Bob Greene, public relations director for WYST radio -- will be aired at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow on WJZ-TV (Channel 13).