County executive candidates Geoffrey R. Close and Delegate Eileen M.
Rehrmann, D-District 34, say they each want to lure more jobs to Harford to strengthen the county tax base.
But at the same time, Close and Rehrmann agreed in a debate, the next executive must take steps to slow Harford's rapid growth before the county's roads, schools and social service programs become too strained.
"Growth is the No. 1 issue," Rehrmann said. "Every one running for office knows that."
Rehrmann, a Democrat, and Close, a Republican, squared off at North Harford Elementary School on Tuesday. Few differences between the candidates emerged.
About 60 citizens attended the debate, which also included candidates for County Council president and the District D seat on the County Council.
District D includes most of northern Harford County.
The debate, sponsored by the county Parent-Teachers Association, was supposed to focus on education issues. While the candidates addressed education, most questions from the audience focused on growth and economic development.
In his opening statement, Close said he is the best candidate for the executive's job because of his administrative experience as a former Bel Air town commissioner and mayor.
As Bel Air mayor, Close said he oversaw the downtown's revitalization.
That experience, combined with knowledge on planning and zoning issues, will help him contain growth and enhance the county's potential for a strong industrial base, he said.
"I'm the one who can lead us into the 1990s," Close said.
In her opening statement, Rehrmann said she is the best candidate because of experience in eight years as a state delegate and former Bel Air town commissioner. Rehrmann said she also has the experience in planning and zoning issues to address the county's growth issues.
Rehrmann stressed her years as a state delegate provided her with experience in issues such as law enforcement, transportation and agricultural preservation, which will help her lead Harford County.
As chairwoman of the Harford County General Assembly delegation, Rehrmann said she played a crucial role in getting state funding for the new North Bend Elementary School this year and two more new schools next year.
"That's what leadership is all about -- taking difficult problems and finding solutions," Rehrmann said.
To address the growth issue, Close said he would support passage of a new adequate facilities program. The law, now under consideration, would prevent development where the county's infrastructure cannot handle more growth.
Close added that he would consider expanding the adequate facilities law to cover intersections. In this case, Close said, development in a certain area would not be allowed if the roads can't handle more traffic.
Rehrmann noted that the success of the adequate facilities law depends on how strongly it is administered by the county executive.
As executive, Rehrmann said she would stress teamwork among the county's departments, such as the public works and planning and zoning staffs, to develop a strong plan to control growth.
To bring jobs to the county, Close said he would expand the county Economic Development Office to put greater attention on attracting high-technology companies.
Close added that he would focus on revitalizing the U.S. 40 corridor in the Edgewood-Joppatowne area.
"That whole area is ripe for revitalization," Close said. "But it's not going to happen overnight."
Rehrmann said she would use the county's qualities -- easy access to Interstate 95, reasonable land prices and quality workers -- to bring new companies to Harford.
The county also should use its ties to Harford Community College, Aberdeen Proving Ground and their staffs of scientists and educators to attract high-tech companies, she said.
It's vital that the county attract industry to decrease the reliance on residential developments for income, Rehrmann said. Only 17 percent of the county's tax base now comes from commercial and industrial sources, she said.
Rehrmann and Close meet in the Nov. 6 general election. The winner of the race will replace Habern W. Freeman, who after eight years as executive was elected in the primary to serve as the District 34 state senator.