Harford County's holding its own, despite the recession.
That wasthe essence of the state of the county message Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann delivered to the County Council Tuesday night.
"Of the many accomplishments this year, our financial strength isone of which I am most proud," said Rehrmann.
"This time last year, we were facing uncertain forecasts as to the length and depth of the recession. Regrettably, these concerns remain with us today. Despite these concerns, I said that Harford County would operate in the black -- not in the red. We did just that."
But County Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, took exception to Rehrmann's remarks.
"Harford County has never operated in the red," Parrott said Wednesday. "It's not earth-shattering news that we operated in the black. She inherited a county that was in excellent financial condition."
In her speech, Rehrmann noted that the county has withstood the loss of $6.2 million in state aid so far this year.
The executive attributed the county's financial strength to her efforts to create a surplus to provide a cushion against state budget cuts and to improve the county's financial picture for bond-rating houses. As of June 30,1991, Harford had a surplus of $9.8 million, part of which will be used to offset state cuts.
Rehrmann also took credit for maintaining a stable property tax rate -- $2.73 per $100 of assessed value for county residents and $2.34 per $100 of assessed value for residents of three municipalities.
But Parrott noted that Rehrmann has proposed other taxes, including a recent request for permission from the General Assembly to initiate a 1 percent property transfer tax and other local taxes.
If the General Assembly approves, the County Council would have to pass legislation before such tax rates could be set. An increase proposed by Rehrmann in the tax charged for recording legal papers was defeated by the council.
"As for keeping the tax rate stable, she signed into law a property tax assessment cap that wentfrom 6 percent to 10 percent," said Parrott, explaining that while the tax rate may not have been raised, the amount paid by property owners will go up.
Rehrmann's only acknowledgment that she is seekingnew sources of money to help make up for the state budget cuts came in a statement at the end of her speech. She said, "Our greatest challenge will be to establish priorities, identify and secure revenue sources and maintain essential government services."
"It was the sixth state of the county address I've heard, and it had all of the politically correct phrases in it -- jobs, recycling, Frito-Lay, Merry GoRound, the weekend college," said Parrott, referring to Rehrmann's promise to lure "clean" industry to provide jobs and improve the county's tax base.
One of Rehrmann's few proposals for action in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, was the start of a weekend college sponsored by Harford Community College.
She focused for the most part on campaign promises she had kept, with the council's help, such as creating adequate public facilities legislation to control development and stop school overcrowding, and the county's new recycling program scheduled to start this summer.
Other campaign promises, including tapping into Baltimore City's aqueduct (which runs from the Susquehanna River, parallel to Interstate 95, into the city) and a rural strategy for preserving agricultural land from development, were not mentioned in her speech.