Taxes, hard times create problems for Rasmussen

October 28, 1990|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Because of incorrect information supplied by the Baltimore County government, an article in The Sun last Sunday incorrectly reported that a fire station opened in Perry Hall while Dennis F. Rasmussen was county executive. In fact, the station opened Oct. 8, 1985, before Mr. Rasmussen took office.

The Sun regrets the error.

In 1964, Dennis F. Rasmussen entered politics by running for president of his senior class at Kenwood High School.

He lost -- resoundingly.

"My wife and I still joke about that sometimes," said LarrHarmel, a high school friend of Mr. Rasmussen who married the victorious candidate, the former Elaine Shaw. "I tell her I wonder if she ever went into politics where she would be."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Mr. Rasmussen has not lost an election since then, but many are wondering where he will be after Nov. 6, when voters decide whether the 43-year-old Essex native has earned another four years as Baltimore County executive.

Few would have predicted four years ago that he would be in such a tough fight against a little-known Republican like Roger B. Hayden. Mr. Rasmussen swept into office with an impressive 82 percent margin of victory over a Robert Petr, another largely unknown Republican challenger.

A father of two and a born-again Christian, Mr. Rasmussen seemed a natural for the job. Having worked his way through Loyola College, he married his high school sweetheart, Joan, and worked as an operations officer for Equitable Trust Bank before winning a House seat in 1975 at age 27.

Four years later, he won a race for state Senate, where he earned a reputation as a serious-minded workaholic and consensus builder who spent long hours gathering his facts before reaching any decisions.

"There are times when we were betting Dennis just wouldn'make it through another session," said state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Anne Arundel, who worked on the Finance Committee that Mr. Rasmussen chaired in 1985. "He was the first one there and the last one to leave every day."

Mr. Rasmussen hasn't changed much as county executive.

State Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a supporter, said that many times he has been closing up his family's restaurant and lounge along Belair Road at 2 a.m. when he's seen Mr.Rasmussen's county-owned Lincoln Town Car taking him home after another long day.

In many ways, the work has paid off. Mr. Rasmussen can boast of making government more accessible to taxpayers, beefing up police and fire protection and bolstering environmental programs.

He has opened two family resource centers, where taxpayers can obtain services ranging from family counseling to nutrition advice, and four senior centers, with three more in the works.

He has hired 120 new police officers and 140 firefighters and opened a new fire station in Perry Hall and a new police station in White Marsh, with another planned for Woodlawn.

And he has created a Department of Environment and Resource Management that launched a curbside recycling program, a waterways restoration program and a forestry management program. Those efforts helped him win endorsements from a coalition of environmental groups that included Save Our Streams, Trout Unlimited and the Maryland Conservation Council.

Last year, City and State magazine named him the nation's "most valuable county official." Yet being county executive has meant thorns along with the roses.

Mr. Rasmussen faces unhappy taxpayer groups who say he spent too much government money on frills like the Town Car, renovations to the County Courthouse and maintaining an 11-member Office of Communications.

"There's a lot of fat in county government, and people are fed up with it," said Joseph Ingolia, president of Citizens for Representative Government, the group that started the petition drive to cap increases in property tax revenue at 2 percent annually.

Beverage dealers are angry with the executive because they believe his container tax -- 2 cents on small containers and 4 cents on large ones -- was unfair and hurt an already crippled industry.

"The whole thing's been a disaster," said Ivan Goldstein, a soft-drink distributor in Arbutus, who said the tax, coupled with the economic downturn, forced him to lay off two warehouse workers and a truck mechanic.

Some also have complained that Mr. Rasmussen spends too much time with department heads in his office and not enough time talking with voters to get a feel for their concerns.

"He's just not out talking to people," said Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Republican backing Mr. Hayden and whose district includes the Towson-Lutherville corridor. "There's just not been good communication on his part."

And there are a variety of complaints with the way Mr. Rasmussen has run the government.

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