Annapolis in miniature

April 21, 1992

Maryland describes itself as "America in Miniature." With budget season, some counties may have to avoid becoming "Annapolis in Miniature."

With the embarrassing budget stalemate in the state capital behind us, some local subdivisions are set to take up their annual budgets amid circumstances similar to those that confounded the legislature. The Baltimore County executive, for example, must work with council members who fear or befriend rabid taxpayer groups; in Harford County, meanwhile, members of executive and legislative branches refuse to communicate.

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden unveils his budget Thursday. He'll have to smooth some feathers on his county's council should he request an increase in the piggyback income tax. While Mr. Hayden has detached himself from the taxpayer movement that helped get him elected, some council members remain more beholden to the anti-tax activists.

In other suburbs, Anne Arundel Executive Robert Neall shouldn't run into major roadblocks after he presents a budget May 1. Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker seems unlikely to raise much ire with the budget he presented yesterday, which calls for no tax increase and modest pay raises or bonuses for most employees. And Carroll County's non-charter form of government, with three commissioners acting as judge and jury, has facilitated a relatively peaceful process.

Most convulsive of all may be Harford County, where County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and the council seem to disrespect one another thoroughly in addition to a fundamental disagreement about their respective roles in government.

Last week, a majority on the council killed three bills that would have raised $750,000 in fee and fine increases, forcing the administration to re-enter the budget for as much in cuts. It's not that the council should have automatically rubber-stamped the proposed increases; in fact, one proposal for a $10 monthly increase on mobile home residents seemed quite onerous.

But beyond the merits of the proposals themselves lay a deeper fault in the bedrock of the government in Bel Air: The Harford council trod on administrative turf with its philosophical refusal to deal with any fee increase during budget season, even though revenue sources and spending plans would seem a logical pairing. Conversely, the administration exudes the impression that it doesn't see lawmakers as equal partners in running the county. Both sides must take another serious crack at communicating and understanding the other's point of view lest they harm the county they're charged with managing.

As politicians in Annapolis demonstrated for their colleagues on the local level, who face their most challenging budget season in many a spring, the branches of government are designed as checks and balances, not as irresistible forces and immovable objects.

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