Belt-tightening talk resounds at area counties'inaugurals

December 04, 1990|By Norris West, Larry Carson, Bruce Reid, Jay Merwin and Marina Sarris contributed to this story.

At inaugurals for new county governments around the region, much of the talk centered on how government will have to make do with less.

When Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker assumed office last night at Howard High School in Columbia, he also assumed a projected deficit of $18 million. He promised a "lean government."

"It will not be easy," Ecker told the 800 people who attended the inaugural ceremonies for Ecker and the County Council. "Some of the public wants more and more services, yet they want the taxes cut. We all know this is impossible."

He asked for patience.

"There are no quick fixes, no Band-Aid solutions to the problems we face," Ecker said. "I wish I could wave a magic wand and come up with Utopia. But I can't."

Instead, he said, we must enlist all of our energies and creative abilities to find solutions.

Ecker said he has started by making cuts in his own office. He has pledged to carry only one administrative assistant instead of two as did his predecessor, Elizabeth Bobo. He also said he has asked for the resignation of Robert E. Vogel, one of the county's two deputy administrators.

"I think those positions serve at the executive's pleasure and I'm going to cut back on that staff," he said.

All five council members sworn in last night by the newly elected court clerk, Margaret D. Rappaport, talked of belt-tightening, including C. Vernon Gray, who later was elected to a one-year term as council chairman.

In Towson yesterday, rain forced the Baltimore County inaugural ceremonies indoors. About 2,000 people tried to squeeze into a ceremonial courtroom on the second floor of the 19th century portion of the old courthouse.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden's speech was short and lacked specifics. He did say that his mandate from the voters was "to promote openness in government" and "to pay strict attention to cost control and efficiency in government."

Hayden shed little light on his firing of four county department heads Friday and the possible demotion of two others, except to say he plans no more mass firings in the next few weeks. A number of lower-level appointees from the previous administration are nervously awaiting word on their jobs.

Hayden did say he plans to keep his campaign office open for four years, adding that it will be staffed by volunteers to help keep his political activities strictly separate from his official duties.

Those who were fired -- the directors of environment, aging, community development and central services departments, were each removed for reasons specific to their performance, he said, and not just because they may have been politically active in support of former County Executive Dennis Rasmussen.

Some senior citizens, Hayden said, felt they had too little say in how their senior centers were run. The Department of Environment, he said, was criticized as being too slow in processing paperwork and too fuzzy in giving people instructions on what they needed for building projects.

Outgoing environmental chief Robert Sheesley said, however, that Hayden told him the department was too restrictive in protecting the environment, had slowed development to a crawl and that Hayden wanted the department to go in "a different direction."

Hayden denied wanting to loosen any environmental controls or lessen enforcement.

Sheesley got a warm farewell at the County Council meeting from Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, D-2nd, one of only two incumbents to be retained by voters. He called Sheesley "a tremendous example of how a department head should operate."

In Bel Air, Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann, who was sworn in yesterday as Harford County executive, started with a sobering talk about a drop in tax revenue.

Speaking to about 1,500 people at Harford Community College, Rehrmann said an $18 million budget surplus once projected for the current fiscal year will not materialize. "The cupboard is bare," she said.

The previous administration of Habern W. Freeman Jr. had experienced regular budget surpluses and spent them on capital projects in subsequent years.

George F. Harrison Jr., who is heading Rehrmann's transition team, said the lack of a surplus does not mean layoffs of county workers. It may mean postponing some new programs, he said.

In Westminster, the Carroll County commissioners, who were sworn in yesterday, said they plan to spend more time than the previous commissioners in the county office, working with the staff and voting on issues.

Previously, the commissioners met twice a week to deliberate and vote. The new three-member commission plans to expand that schedule to Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. At least one of the commissioners will be in the office Wednesdays and Fridays.

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