Current County Council Convenes For The Last Time

October 14, 1990|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

The County Council that gave Anne Arundel impact fees, 16-story buildings in Parole and the toughest sediment and tree preservation laws in Maryland meets for the last time Monday night.

At least three of the seven council members, six of whom have worked together since 1982, will not be returning after the Nov. 6 general election.

Councilman Theodore J. Sophocleus, D-Linthicum, is vying with Republican Robert R. Neall to become the next county executive. Councilman Michael F.

Gilligan, D-Glen Burnie, lost to Sophocleus in the Sept. 11 primary and will return full-time to his law practice. Councilwoman Carole B. Baker, D-Severna Park, is leaving public office voluntarily after accepting a promotion in her job with the United Way.

Three other council members -- Edward C. "Buddy" Ahern, D-Pasadena; Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River; and Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis -- are seeking re-election. Only Councilman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, who is unopposed in the general election, is assured of a place on the council when it reconvenes in December.

The breakup of the all-Democratic panel, together with the impending departure of Democratic County Executive O. James Lighthizer, signals the end of an eight-year era marked by financial prosperity and rapid growth.

Already, the signs of change have arrived. Growing ranks of Republican voters and a bleak economic forecast threaten the Democrats' long dominance of county politics and promise a new era of fiscal conservatism. Citizens are crying out for tax relief, and political challengers and critics charge incumbents with a decade's worth of excessive spending.

Lighthizer and the council defend themselves against charges of irresponsible spending, pointing out that they have left the new government in good financial shape as the economy turns downward. The county's bond rating, which was falling in 1982, has been upgraded to AA-plus, and the current budget includes a surplus.

Faced with a $7 million deficit in 1982, the council, in what Gilligan called its "darkest hour," raised taxes by 38 cents, pared budgets and froze salaries. Since then, a thriving economy and planned budget surpluses have allowed the council to lower the tax rate three times and to expand programs and services in a way the next government probably cannot afford to do.

"Economic times were good, people were demanding more, we had the money and we spent it," Gilligan said.

Some of the money went to schools and teacher salaries. Five new schools have been built and another 16 either expanded or renovated since 1982, while teacher salaries increased from an average of $21,350 to $37,226.

The council spent money on parks and recreational facilities, such as the $18 million Quiet Waters Park on Annapolis Neck, the B&A Trail and the just-opened Joe Cannon Baseball stadium in Hanover.

The council also spent to upgrade the county's infrastructure -- police cars, county trucks, roads, buildings and utilities plants that were "falling apart," Gilligan said.

Council members consider the upgrade of the utilities department one of its major achievements. In 1983, the department was responsible for 53 sewage spills, compared to four so far this year. Recently, the department won a national award for excellence.

Correcting the utility department's problems "was the (council's) premier issue," Baker said. "There's been a 360-degree turnaround," one that reflects a similar reversal in attitudes on environmental issues.

In contrast to county governments before 1982, which were perceived as less sensitive to environmental issues, this council passed a number of environmental laws and funded several environmental programs. They include: * Building restrictions on Anne Arundel's share of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, a 1,000-foot wide buffer around the bay and its tidal tributaries. The program was mandated by the state.

* A tough sediment and grading law designed to crack down on developers whose projects send excessive soil runoff into streams and creeks. That law, sponsored by Lighthizer, allows civil fines of up to $1,000 for sediment control violations and mandates daily inspections of sediment control devices.

* Anne Arundel's first recycling program, which included the first curbside recycling pickup in Maryland.

* A stricter version of Clagett's 1981 law limiting development in agricultural districts.

* Baker's tree preservation bill -- the strictest in the state -- requiring developers either to save a certain percentage of trees or pay to replace them.

Responding to cries for controlled, responsible growth, the council targeted developers with several measures that have drawn criticism as well as praise.

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